Saturday, April 19, 2014

A slow week at the Kentucky Court of Appeals

It wasn't really a slow week, but of the Court of Appeals' fourteen opinions released on Friday, thirteen were unpublished and only one was published. Wilson v. Haney, 2012-CA-001790-MR, April 18, 2014, (Link to PDF) is an inmate declaratory judgment appeal from the Lyon Circuit Court. The judgment was affirmed. Kentucky declaratory judgment procedures are interesting, but stupid inmate tricks are not. The scheme was to smuggle prescription pills to an inmate by including them in a mail package containing legal documents purportedly sent from an attorney who did not represent, and had not ever represented, the inmate. It didn't work.The inmate was disciplined.

The inmate felt aggrieved because no evidence linked him directly to the scheme. Given the choice between an anonymous unsolicited and unexpected gift of thirty Suboxone pills hidden in mail disguised to look  like it was from the inmate's lawyer and an inference based upon circumstantial evidence the inmate had a sufficient culpable participation in the fraud, the Circuit Court ran with the latter. The Court of Appeals was not willing to impose a contrary interpretation of the evidence.  

One moderately interesting point in this appeal was the inmate's argument that the disciplinary Adjustment Officer Appellees filed their answer to the complaint for declaratory judgment late and without first obtaining leave of court upon a showing of excusable neglect. Appellant relied upon Puryear v. City of Greenville, 432 SW 2d 437 (Ky. App. 1968) for the proposition that a showing of excusable neglect was a condition precedent for a late filing and it was error to deny a motion to strike and enter a default judgment. Puryear might not have been the best case for this purpose since on appeal the court held the objection to have been waived by agreement, but the point was made.

The court in Wilson, supra, cited Knight v. Sale, 257 S.W.2d 889, 891 (Ky. 1953) and Board of Education of Berea v. Muncy, 239 S.W.2d 471, 473 (Ky. 1951) for the proposition that "in declaratory actions, strict rules of pleading are not followed." Likewise, these two cases may not have been the best precedents to rely upon since they each predate Civil Rule 57's provision, "The procedure for obtaining a declaratory judgment pursuant to statute shall be in accordance with these rules . . . . "

More to the point, the court cited Osborne v. Hewitt, 335 S.W.2d 922 (Ky. 1960), which stated,
The appellants maintain that under CR 8.04 the averments in their complaint were required to be taken as admitted, because no responsive pleading was filed. However, we think no responsive pleading was required, because in stating the nature of the controversy upon which a declaratory judgment was sought the complaint alleged not only the contentions of the plaintiffs but also those of the defendants.
 This brings us head-on to the existential conflict between KRS § 418.015 which provides that an action for declaratory judgment, "may be heard and determined upon or without written pleadings," and Civil Rule 57 which suggests otherwise.

The unresolved tension between KRS §§ 418.005, et seq., Declaratory Judgment, and Civil Rule 57, Declaratory Judgment, notwithstanding, when a defendant prevails in part upon the merits, it's hard to argue that denying a motion for default was a mistake. Maybe I'll look for such a case sometime, but not today.

I think everyone involved should receive special thanks for never mentioning KRS § 454.405.

For what it's worth,. the Kentucky Court of Appeals releases its opinions every Friday. They can be located by looking at the Court of Appeals' minutes, here.

The Kentucky Supreme Court renders its opinions once a month, on or about the 20th. The Supreme Court minutes are found here.

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