Estate of Randolph v. City of Wichita

Citation459 P.3d 802
Decision Date21 January 2020
Docket NumberNo. 118,842,118,842
Parties ESTATE OF Icarus RANDOLPH, et al., Appellants, v. CITY OF WICHITA, Kansas, et al., Appellees.
CourtCourt of Appeals of Kansas

John A. Kitchens, of Wakarusa, and Lee R. Barnett, of Lee R. Barnett, P.A., of Wakarusa, for appellants.

Samuel A. Green and J. Steven Pigg, of Fisher, Patterson, Sayler & Smith, L.L.P., of Topeka, for appellees.

Before Atcheson, P.J., Malone and Leben, JJ.

Atcheson, J.:

A Wichita police officer fatally shot Icarus Randolph in the front yard of his home shortly after noon on July 4, 2014, as family members gathered there to celebrate the holiday. Randolph had a history of mental illness. He seemed upset or angry that morning and had become nonresponsive to his family. Randolph's mother called 911 to secure assistance in transporting him to a mental health facility. Two officers separately responded to the call. Less than 13 minutes later, Officer Ryan Snyder shot Randolph four times.

Randolph's estate and members of his family who witnessed the shooting filed a civil action for damages under the Kansas Tort Claims Act (KTCA), K.S.A. 75-6101 et seq., against Snyder, the other officer at the scene, and the City of Wichita as their employer. The suit alleges various theories of liability grounded in negligence and intentional tortious conduct. The City and the officers denied any liability. The Sedgwick County District Court granted summary judgment to the defendants on all of the claims against them. The plaintiffs have appealed. The summary judgment record contains disputed issues of material fact bearing particularly on the intentional torts, so the district court erred in its blanket dismissal. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand for further proceedings.

Summary Judgment Standards

Because the plaintiffs have appealed a summary judgment entered against them, we begin by outlining the standards district courts are to apply in making those rulings and we then use in reviewing them. The standards guide how we consider the competing descriptions of the relevant facts the parties say depict the final minutes of Randolph's life and how he came to die.

The defendants, as the parties seeking summary judgment, had the obligation to show the district court, based on appropriate evidentiary materials, there were no disputed issues of material fact and judgment could, therefore, be entered in their favor as a matter of law. Trear v. Chamberlain , 308 Kan. 932, 935, 425 P.3d 297 (2018) ; Shamberg, Johnson & Bergman, Chtd. v. Oliver , 289 Kan. 891, 900, 220 P.3d 333 (2009). In essence, they argued there was nothing for a jury or a district court judge sitting as fact-finder to decide that would make any difference. Where, as here, the parties seeking summary judgment rely on affirmative defenses, avoidances, or other legal grounds on which they would bear the burden of proof at trial, they must identify undisputed evidence establishing those points. Golden v. Den-Mat Corporation , 47 Kan. App. 2d 450, Syl. ¶ 2, 276 P.3d 773 (2012).

In opposing summary judgment, the plaintiffs had to cite record evidence calling into question a material factual representation defendants made in support of their motion. Trear , 308 Kan. at 935-36, 425 P.3d 297 ; Shamberg , 289 Kan. at 900, 220 P.3d 333. When a party has identified disputed material facts, the motion should be denied in favor of a trial to permit a judge or jury to resolve those disputes after hearing witnesses testify in court and reviewing any relevant documentary evidence.

In addressing a request for summary judgment, the district court must view the evidence most favorably to the party opposing the motion and give that party the benefit of every reasonable inference that might be drawn from the evidentiary record. Trear , 308 Kan. at 935-36, 425 P.3d 297 ; Shamberg , 289 Kan. at 900, 220 P.3d 333. An appellate court applies the same standards in reviewing the entry of a summary judgment. Because a summary judgment presents a question of law—it entails the application of legal principles to uncontroverted facts—an appellate court owes no deference to the district court's decision to grant the motion, and review is unlimited. See Adams v. Board of Sedgwick County Comm'rs , 289 Kan. 577, 584, 214 P.3d 1173 (2009).

In its journal entry, the district court made no effort to outline the controlling factual representations or to determine if any of them were materially disputed. Rather, the district court simply adopted by rote all of the individual factual representations the defendants offered in support of their motion and virtually all of the counter representations the plaintiffs submitted in opposition. The journal entry, thus, contains nearly 1,000 purported statements of uncontroverted fact. Most of the factual statements aren't especially relevant to the issues on summary judgment. And a number of them really are opinions or conclusory assertions. As we discuss, some of the most salient facts actually have been disputed in the evidentiary record submitted to the district court.

Although we have, of course, looked at the factual findings set out in the district court's journal entry, we have been principally guided by the parties' references in their appellate briefs to those findings and the corresponding parts of the record they consider salient to their legal arguments. As to the affirmative defenses, for example, the defendants have an obligation to set out in their brief the facts material to those issues with citations to where we may find evidence in the record supporting each fact. See Kansas Supreme Court Rule 6.03(a)(3) (2019 Kan. S. Ct. R. 35). We have relied on what the parties have done to satisfy that obligation.

Factual and Procedural History

We offer a condensed factual account focusing on the events directly and immediately bearing on the legal claims. The parties are familiar with the extensive background circumstances developed in discovery and outlined in the summary judgment papers, so we do not recite all of that here. Consistent with the standard of review, we offer a narrative in a light favoring the plaintiffs, recognizing there are differing accounts of some of the facts. We mention some of the central discrepancies, but it is not up to us to resolve them now.

Randolph was 26 years old when he died. He had a history of significant and sometimes debilitating mental illness. For several years, Randolph had been living with his mother Beverly Alford-Allen. The summary judgment evidence does not provide a formal clinical diagnosis of Randolph. But the materials include records from several mental health care providers who had seen Randolph in the preceding several months. The records variously described Randolph as sometimes delusional, semi-catatonic, and disordered in his thinking.

The morning of July 4 family members began arriving at the home in anticipation of a cookout later in the day. As we indicated, Randolph was out of sorts—some family members later characterized his disposition as upset or angry. He rebuffed efforts to improve his mood. As the morning wore on, Randolph became more withdrawn and ultimately unresponsive. He had an open pocket knife in his hand much of the time. Although Randolph did not threaten his relatives, they were concerned about his immediate well-being and concluded he probably again needed to be admitted to a mental health facility.

About eight weeks earlier, Randolph had become similarly unresponsive, prompting his mother to seek assistance by calling 911 or having a neighbor call on her behalf. The police officers dispatched to the home then helped in getting Randolph transported by ambulance to an in-patient treatment center in Wichita.

So on July 4, Randolph's mother called 911. Police Officer Danny Brown was the first to arrive at the house. He met Randolph's mother and other family members in the front yard and had begun talking with them when Officer Snyder arrived. Randolph remained inside. Snyder immediately took control of the discussion. Based on the summary judgment evidence, Brown then literally and figuratively stood aside. Both officers knew they had been sent to assist with a mentally ill person rather than to investigate a crime.

Alford-Allen and the other family members perceived Snyder as dismissive of their concerns and unwilling to call for an ambulance. He indicated that unless Randolph was dangerous to himself or others or consented to treatment, the authorities could not intervene. An increasingly exasperated Alford-Allen explained what had happened before when she contacted 911. She asked that Snyder have a supervising officer come out. In the meantime, at least one family member called 911 and was forwarded to Snyder.

Sometime after Snyder arrived—how long isn't particularly clear—Randolph became noticeably agitated. The people in the front yard could hear him making indistinct noises and moving or throwing furniture around. Suddenly, Randolph burst through a screen door and began walking across the front yard. In later accounts, those in the front yard offered differing descriptions of Randolph's movements. Family members said he was strolling almost aimlessly with what has been called a thousand-yard stare—meaning a vacant, unfocused gaze—and his hands at his sides. Snyder described Randolph as walking quickly and "aggressively"; he said Randolph looked directly at him.

Briana Alford, one of Randolph's sisters, said everyone except Snyder stepped away from Randolph. She described Snyder as moving into Randolph's path. Ida Allen, another sister, said Snyder went toward Randolph and "put himself there" as if he "went like to engage" Randolph. Several family members told Randolph to go back into the house, but he appeared oblivious to their requests. Randolph still had the knife in one of his hands, although everyone seems to agree that he had not raised...

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