Kuchcinski v. Box Elder Cnty., 20160674

CourtSupreme Court of Utah
Citation450 P.3d 1056
Docket NumberNo. 20160674,20160674
Parties Robert KUCHCINSKI, Appellant, v. BOX ELDER COUNTY, and The Office of the Box Elder County Sheriff, Appellees.
Decision Date03 June 2019

450 P.3d 1056

Robert KUCHCINSKI, Appellant,
BOX ELDER COUNTY, and The Office of the Box Elder County Sheriff, Appellees.

No. 20160674

Supreme Court of Utah.

Filed June 3, 2019
Rehearing Denied August 27, 2019

On Direct Appeal

Chief Justice Durrant, opinion of the Court:


¶1 Robert Kuchcinski was held in the Box Elder County Jail for seventeen days on a justice court’s probable cause determination that he was driving under the influence. Neither a breathalyzer test nor a blood test showed that he was actually driving impaired. During these seventeen days in jail, he was never brought before a judge for his initial appearance and was never formally charged with any crimes. And, although a judge set bail, Mr. Kuchcinski claims that the bail amount was never communicated to him. Finally, on day sixteen, Mr. Kuchcinski was able to contact an attorney, who notified the County prosecutor of Mr. Kuchcinski’s prolonged detention. The prosecutor immediately asked the court to issue an order mandating

450 P.3d 1060

Mr. Kuchcinski’s release. The court ordered his release the next day.

¶2 He eventually brought several claims against the County and the County Sheriff’s Office, including claims of violations of his rights to due process and bail. The district court dismissed his claims on summary judgment, concluding that he had not suffered a flagrant violation of his constitutional rights and that he could not identify a specific municipal employee who had violated his rights. Mr. Kuchcinski appealed. We are asked to determine whether the district court erred in dismissing his claims under the bail and due process clauses of the Utah Constitution. We hold that the court did not err in dismissing Mr. Kuchcinski’s bail clause claims, because he has failed to demonstrate that the bail clause is self-executing. But the court did err in dismissing his due process claims. It incorrectly applied the standard for determining when a municipal employee is liable for damages for a constitutional violation. Accordingly, we set forth the correct standard for reviewing constitutional claims for damages when brought solely against a municipality.1


¶3 Robert Kuchcinski was driving a tractor-trailer rig when he was pulled over by Utah Highway Patrol (UHP) for failing to stay in one lane. After issuing Mr. Kuchcinski a citation for his traffic violation, the UHP trooper asked Mr. Kuchcinski to take a portable breathalyzer test. He passed the breathalyzer test, but the trooper continued with a series of field sobriety tests. Mr. Kuchcinski, who was suffering from an inner ear infection, failed the balance-related sobriety tests. The UHP trooper arrested Mr. Kuchcinski for driving under the influence.3

¶4 Mr. Kuchcinski was booked into the Box Elder County Jail (Jail) on June 16, 2012. The next day, the Box Elder County Justice Court entered its finding of probable cause based on the UHP trooper’s statement. The court found that probable cause existed for the arrest without a warrant, that "the detention of [Mr. Kuchcinski] may continue," and that Mr. Kuchcinski could post bail in the amount of $ 1,350. Mr. Kuchcinski was not present at the probable cause determination and alleges that he was not made aware of the bail amount.

¶5 Mr. Kuchcinski remained in jail for seventeen days. He was not arraigned during that time and never appeared before the justice court. It is unclear from the record if and when he learned that bail had been set, but he discussed bail in a phone call with his fiancée’s brother on June 26, 2012, and in subsequent phone calls. He explained to his fiancée and her brother that he could not make bail without a co-signer, which he did not have.

¶6 He also told those he spoke with on the phone that he was waiting to appear before a judge to ask to be released from jail. At no point during his incarceration was he taken before a magistrate. Each Wednesday—the day justice court was held—the Jail apparently transported those detainees who had been scheduled to appear before the justice court. For some reason Mr. Kuchcinski was not taken with other inmates to the justice court on Wednesday, June 20. And because the judge who was scheduled to preside over the justice court was on vacation on the next Wednesday, June 27, Mr. Kuchcinski did not

450 P.3d 1061

see a judge the second week of his incarceration. Then, on June 28, he was informed by a Jail employee that he would not be able to appear before the justice court the following Wednesday, because that day was July 4th, a national holiday, and court would not be held. So Mr. Kuchcinski continued to sit in jail.

¶7 On July 2, 2012, another inmate contacted his attorney, Art Lauritzen, on behalf of Mr. Kuchcinski. Mr. Lauritzen contacted the Box Elder County prosecutor, who in turn contacted the justice court to request Mr. Kuchcinski’s immediate release. Mr. Kuchcinski was released the next day, without posting any bail or bond. An information was not filed charging Mr. Kuchcinski until July 18, 2012, two weeks after his release. The DUI charge was dismissed on August 27, 2012.

¶8 Due to his time in jail and the allegation that he was driving under the influence, Mr. Kuchcinski lost his job as a truck driver, the only employment he has held as an adult. Since his incarceration he has also experienced post-traumatic stress disorder and "debilitating anxiety attacks whenever [he has] to drive more than a few miles."

¶9 Mr. Kuchcinski filed suit against Box Elder County and the Box Elder County Sheriff’s Office in federal district court. He brought a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim for violations of his civil rights, as well as Utah state law claims. That court dismissed his Section 1983 claim, but declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the state law claims and instructed Mr. Kuchcinski to refile in state court.

¶10 In state district court, Mr. Kuchcinski brought causes of action against the County and the Jail for violations of his right to bail and his right to due process under article I, sections 7 and 8 of the Utah Constitution. He also alleged the County was negligent and had falsely imprisoned him. He later withdrew his negligence claim, and the court dismissed it. The court then entered summary judgment against Mr. Kuchcinski, concluding that the false imprisonment claim was barred by both the Governmental Immunity Act and the justice court’s probable cause finding. It further concluded that Mr. Kuchcinski’s bail and due process claims failed because he could not "show any flagrant violation of his Utah constitutional rights" or "identify any Box Elder County individual who flagrantly violated his Utah constitutional rights." Mr. Kuchcinski timely appealed to this court, challenging only the district court’s determinations as to the County’s alleged constitutional violations. We have jurisdiction pursuant to section 78A-3-102(3)(j) of the Utah Code.

Standard of Review

¶11 Mr. Kuchcinski appeals the district court’s dismissal of his state constitutional claims. He argues that the district court erred in dismissing his claims on summary judgment because he demonstrated the elements necessary to proceed with a claim for money damages under the Utah Constitution. Summary judgment is appropriate only where "there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law."4 We "review[ ] a summary judgment for correctness, giving no deference to the [district] court’s decision."5


¶12 Mr. Kuchcinski argues that his constitutional rights were violated under the bail and due process clauses of the Utah Constitution.6 He contends that he had a right under the due process clause to be taken before a judge for a determination of probable cause. He also argues that even if he did not have a right to be present at his probable cause determination, he had a right to appear before a judge before he was detained for an extended period of time. He also asserts that he had the right to be "timely admitted to bail" under the bail clause. And he maintains that these violations warrant an award of damages under Utah law.

¶13 "[T]he Utah Constitution does not expressly provide damage remedies for constitutional

450 P.3d 1062

violations."7 So a "plaintiff’s remedy for [a] state constitutional violation rests in the common law," which "gives Utah courts the authority to ‘accord an appropriate remedy to one injured from the violation of a constitutional provision.’ "8

¶14 Relying on our common law, we first address Mr. Kuchcinski’s argument under the bail clause. We hold that because he failed to conduct the necessary "self-executing" analysis under Spackman , he failed to carry his burden of persuasion on this claim. Next, we address his claims under the due process clause. We hold that the district court erred when it dismissed Mr. Kuchcinski’s due process claims for failing to identify an individual at the County who committed a flagrant violation. A plaintiff need not identify a specific government employee in order to hold a municipality liable under the Utah Constitution. We also hold that the district court applied the...

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7 cases
  • Porter v. Daggett Cnty.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. United States District Court of Utah
    • February 24, 2022
    ...be inflicted. Persons arrested or imprisoned shall not be treated with unnecessary rigor.").183 Kuchcinski v. Box Elder Cty. , 450 P.3d 1056, 1067 (Utah 2019). Plaintiffs must also demonstrate that the constitutional provision is self-executing—the Utah Supreme Court has established that "A......
  • Porter v. Daggett Cnty., 2:18-cv-00389-DBB
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. United States District Court of Utah
    • February 16, 2022
    ...be inflicted. Persons arrested or imprisoned shall not be treated with unnecessary rigor."). [183] Kuchcinski v. Box Elder Cty., 450 P.3d 1056, 1067 (Utah 2019). Plaintiffs must also demonstrate that the constitutional provision is self-executing-the Utah Supreme Court has established that ......
  • Christensen v. Salt Lake Cnty.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Utah
    • April 14, 2022
    ...liability, which requires a showing that the violation was flagrant, is satisfied. See Kuchcinski v. Box Elder County, 2019 UT 21, ¶ 37, 450 P.3d 1056; see also Spackman ex rel. Spackman v. Board of Educ. of Box Elder County School Dist., 2000 UT 87, ¶¶ 22-25, 16 P.3d 553 (explaining that u......
  • McDonald v. Davis Cnty.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. United States District Court of Utah
    • July 13, 2021
    ...any other tort claim." Id. at 539. The same framework is used to evaluate municipal liability suits. Kuchcinski v. Box Elder County, 450 P.3d 1056, 1067 (Utah 2019). The Utah Supreme Court has held that article I, section 9 of the Utah constitution is self-executing. Bott, 922 P.2d at 737. ......
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