On June 14th the Kansas Supreme Court released two monumental rulings. The first was Gannon v. State and the second was Hilburn v. Enerpipe LTD.
We are all familiar that the Gannon decision refers to the school finance lawsuit that stretches into a decade of legal arguments. This past session, the Kansas Legislature added nearly $360 million to K-12 school funding over the next four years. The legislature was hopeful that the Supremes would find this amount constitutional and end the lawsuit; the legislature got half of its wish. The Court found that SB 16’s financial adjustments to the safe harbor plan brings the State into substantial compliance with previous Gannon rulings. However, the court retains jurisdiction to ensure that the four-year plan is implemented. The court justified retaining jurisdiction by stating:
"[T]he judiciary clearly has the power to review a law and potentially declare it unconstitutional. But this power is not limited solely to review. It also includes the inherent power to enforce our holdings. [Citations omitted.] Without the inherent power to impose remedies and otherwise enforce our holdings, our power to review would be virtually meaningless. See Kjellander v. Kjellander, 90 Kan. 112, 114, 132 P. 1170 (1913) ('The appellate jurisdiction conferred carries with it, by implication, the power to protect that jurisdiction and to make the decisions of the court thereunder effective.')." Gannon II, 303 Kan. at 737-38.
Once the legislature appropriates the remainder of the funds outlined in SBS 16, the Gannon case should come to a close.
The second big case is Hilbrun v. Enerpipe Ltd. This case was widely discussed within the personal injury arena. This case deals with the constitutionality of the State’s cap on noneconomic damages in personal injury actions. In this case, the plaintiff, Diana Hilburn, was awarded a judgment for an auto accident when her truck was rear-ended by a semi owned by Enerpipe Ltd. The jury awarded Hilburn $301,509.14. The judge reduced the award to coincide with the noneconomic cap of $250,000. Under KSA 60-19a02, the cap will increase to $350,000 by 2022. Hilburn appealed on the ground that KSA 60-19a02 is unconstitutional because it violates her right to a jury trial. A plurality of the Kansas Supreme Court agreed with Hilburn and struck down the cap. The final tally was 3-1-2, with Justice Nuss not participating.
This ruling will have far-reaching implications and sets up a legislative fight in 2020. Several powerful special interest groups will attempt to reinstitute the caps with a statutory proposal. Others may attempt to alter the constitutional by proposing a cap be added to the founding document. Either way, this will draw significant attention and money to the 2020 session.
Besides the noneconomic cap battle, we can expect merit selection to be up for debate. We will also see Medicaid expansion grab headlines. The 2019 legislative session may have just ended, but battle lines are already being drawn for 2020.