Schreiner v. Hodge, 117

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Kansas
Writing for the CourtWall, J.
PartiesMark T. Schreiner, Appellant, v. Chad S. Hodge and Danny Smith, Appellees.
Decision Date18 February 2022
Docket Number034,117

Mark T. Schreiner, Appellant,
v.

Chad S. Hodge and Danny Smith, Appellees.

No. 117, 034

Supreme Court of Kansas

February 18, 2022


Mark T. Schreiner, appellant pro se, argued the cause, and was on the briefs.

Christopher L. Heigele, of Coronado Katz LLC, of Kansas City, Missouri, argued the cause, and was on the brief for appellees.

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

1.

When the material facts are not in dispute, an order granting summary judgment presents only a question of law subject to de novo review.

2.

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits state actors from performing unreasonable searches or seizures. An officer effects a seizure when the officer, through physical force or show of authority, has in some way restrained the liberty of a citizen.

3.

A brief seizure is reasonable for purposes of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution when the officer has an articulable and reasonable suspicion, based in fact, that the detained person is committing, has committed, or is about to commit a crime.

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4.

Whether a governmental entity is immune from liability under an immunity exception of the Kansas Tort Claims Act, K.S.A. 75-6101 et seq., is a question of law subject to de novo review. A governmental entity bears the burden to establish immunity under an immunity exception to the Act.

5.

In determining whether a governmental action is a discretionary function for the purposes of immunity under K.S.A. 75-6104(e), courts consider whether the judgment of the governmental employee is of the nature and quality which the Legislature intended to put beyond judicial review. The more a judgment involves the making of policy, the more it is of a nature and quality to be recognized as inappropriate for judicial review. However, Kansas Tort Claims Act immunity does not depend on the status of the individual exercising discretion and thus may apply to discretionary decisions made at the operational level as well as at the planning level.

6.

The determination of whether reasonable suspicion exists is an inherently discretionary act because it requires officers to evaluate the totality of the circumstances and make a judgment in light of their experience and training. And, generally, the types of decisions officers make over the course of an investigation, including whether reasonable suspicion exists to detain a person, are sufficiently grounded in policy to fall within the discretionary function immunity provision of K.S.A. 75-6104(e).

7.

The plain language of K.S.A. 75-6104(e) shows that the Legislature intended for immunity to apply to discretionary functions even when the exercise of discretion could be characterized as erroneous or mistaken under the facts.

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8.

The breach of a legal duty does not necessarily foreclose discretionary function immunity as a defense against a tort claim.

9.

If an officer acts wantonly or maliciously, or if the officer breaches a specific duty owed to an individual rather than the public at large, then discretionary function immunity under K.S.A. 75-6104(e) does not apply.

Review of the judgment of the Court of Appeals in 55 Kan.App.2d 50, 407 P.3d 264 (2017). Appeal from Johnson District Court; James F. Vano, judge. Opinion filed February 18, 2022. Judgment of the Court of Appeals affirming the district court is affirmed. Judgment of the district court is affirmed.

OPINION

Wall, J.

On an afternoon in June 2014, a police officer responded to a report of suspicious activity in a residential area of Johnson County. During the investigation, the officer encountered Mark T. Schreiner and detained him. Several other officers arrived at the scene before Schreiner was eventually released. Schreiner later filed suit against two of the responding officers to recover money damages under various state law tort theories, which allegedly arose from this encounter.

The district court granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment. The district court found the officers' conduct was privileged under common law because they had reasonable suspicion to detain Schreiner. The district court also found the officers

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were entitled to discretionary function immunity under the Kansas Tort Claims Act (KTCA), K.S.A. 75-6101 et seq. The Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's order in a split decision, and we granted Schreiner's petition for review.

After thorough review of the summary judgment record and analysis of the legal arguments, we conclude the officers lacked reasonable suspicion to detain Schreiner as part of their investigation. Thus, the officers' conduct was not privileged. Given this holding, the controlling question on appeal is whether the KTCA grants the officers immunity from Schreiner's state law tort claims. To resolve this question, we must interpret K.S.A. 75-6104(e) to determine whether the Legislature intended discretionary function immunity to apply, even though the officers' investigation did not satisfy Fourth Amendment scrutiny.

Ultimately, we conclude the officers' reasonable suspicion determination inherently required them to exercise judgment and discretion based largely on experience and training. While the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Kansas statute require officers to have reasonable suspicion before they may lawfully detain a person without a warrant, that requirement does not alter the discretionary nature of the officers' reasonable suspicion determination in the field. The plain language of the KTCA extends immunity to government employees performing discretionary functions "whether or not the discretion is abused." K.S.A. 75-6104(e).

Of course, the KTCA does not protect malicious or wanton misconduct or other conduct in breach of a specific legal duty. But without evidence of such misconduct, we conclude the officers are entitled to discretionary function immunity, even though their reasonable suspicion determination ultimately proved to be mistaken when subjected to after-the-fact scrutiny.

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Therefore, we affirm the district court order granting summary judgment to the defendants.

Factual and Procedural Background

On June 5, 2014, at approximately 12 p.m., Schreiner legally parked his truck, which had Missouri license plates, on a residential street in Mission, Kansas. Schreiner then exited his truck and walked south through a nearby wooded area.

Sometime later, someone called the police and reported Schreiner's truck as "suspicious." Officer Chad Hodge was dispatched to investigate the truck. While en route, Hodge learned that someone had previously reported the same vehicle parked in the area and the same individual leaving that vehicle and entering the wooded area. In his deposition, Hodge testified that he was also aware there had been peeping Toms, break-ins, and car burglaries in the area. When Hodge arrived, Schreiner was not present. Hodge collected the vehicle information and called it into dispatch.

At approximately 3 p.m., Schreiner returned to his truck through the wooded area. Hodge had just finished calling Schreiner's information into dispatch and approached Schreiner as he walked to his truck. Hodge asked Schreiner if the truck belonged to him. Schreiner told Hodge he refused to answer any questions and asked if he was free to go. Hodge told him yes, he was free to leave. Schreiner got into his truck, but Hodge took control of his left arm and ordered him back out.

Hodge asked Schreiner his name and Schreiner provided his driver's license. Hodge did not return the license when Schreiner asked for it back. After being denied his license, Schreiner began walking away. He did not get far before Hodge "took control of his right arm" and told Schreiner he was not under arrest, but not free to leave until the investigation was complete. Schreiner yelled, "If I'm not free to leave then I'm under

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arrest." Then, Schreiner spontaneously lay down on the ground in a "defensive position." Undeterred, Hodge told Schreiner to get up and sit on the curb. Schreiner asked Hodge to call his supervisor.

Eventually, Hodge's supervisor, Sergeant Danny Smith, arrived at the scene along with two other officers. One of the officers was instructed to stand in front of Schreiner and prevent him from leaving. Schreiner first told the officers that he would not answer questions, but he ultimately relented. In his complaint, Schreiner alleged that he was detained for over an hour. However, in his deposition, Schreiner did not dispute the accuracy of dispatch records, which reflected that the encounter lasted less than an hour.

Hodge completed the investigation and determined that Schreiner had committed no crime. In his deposition, Hodge estimated that the entire encounter lasted 20 to 25 minutes.

Acting pro se, Schreiner sued the officers for various state law tort claims allegedly arising from his interaction with the officers. In his amended complaint, Schreiner asserted claims for assault, battery, unlawful seizure, false arrest, and false imprisonment against Hodge. Schreiner asserted claims for false arrest and false imprisonment against Smith. Hodge and Smith moved for summary judgment. They argued that Schreiner could not establish the elements of his claims because reasonable suspicion of criminal activity rendered their actions privileged under common law. They also asserted they were entitled to discretionary function immunity under the KTCA.

After a hearing, the district court granted summary judgment for the defendants. From the bench, the district court ruled that the officers' actions were "justified" because they were supported by reasonable suspicion of criminal activity and that the officers were entitled to immunity under the KTCA because they were performing a discretionary function. The district court's findings of fact and conclusions of law in support of the

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