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Big Sandy Regional Jail Authority v. Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government

Supreme Court of Kentucky

November 2, 2017

BIG SANDY REGIONAL JAIL AUTHORITY APPELLANT
v.
LEXINGTON-FAYETTE URBAN COUNTY GOVERNMENT APPELLEE

         ON APPEAL FROM COURT OF APPEALS CASE NO. 2015-CA-001464-DR FAYETTE CIRCUIT COURT NOS. 13-C-08761 & 15-XX-00009

          COUNSEL FOR APPELLANT: Nelson Theodore Sparks.

          COUNSEL FOR APPELLEE: Charles Edwards III Michael Keith Horn LFUCG Department of Law.

          OPINION

          KELLER JUSTICE.

         Big Sandy Regional Jail Authority (the Authority) sued the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government (the Urban County Government) in district court seeking reimbursement for the cost of housing prisoners held pursuant to warrants issued by Fayette County courts. The district court found that the Urban County Government is entitled to sovereign immunity, and it granted the Urban County Government's motion to dismiss. The Authority appealed to the circuit court, which affirmed, based on its finding that the county of arrest controls responsibility for incarceration costs. The circuit court did not address the issue of sovereign immunity, which it deemed moot. The Authority filed a motion for discretionary review before the Court of Appeals, a motion that Court denied. The Authority then sought discretionary review before this Court, which we granted. Having reviewed the record, we affirm the circuit court but for different reasons.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In the 1980s, the Kentucky Department of Corrections closed or threatened to close county jails in Johnson, Lawrence, Magoffin, and Martin Counties. In order to meet their statutory obligation to provide facilities for incarcerating prisoners, the four counties formed the Authority whose purpose was to construct and operate a regional jail, the Big Sandy Regional Detention Center (the Detention Center).

         The Authority consists of ten members. Each of the founding counties appoints two members, with Johnson County, the most populous of the counties, receiving an additional member. The final member is the Johnson County Jailer, because the Detention Center is in Johnson County. The Authority is an independent body, and the only input the founding counties have in the operation of the Detention Center is by way of appointment of the Authority's members through the respective counties' judge executives.

         The Authority has contracts with the state, the four founding counties, and Elliott and Morgan Counties to house their prisoners in the Detention Center. In exchange for housing those prisoners, the Authority is paid a per diem by the counties and the state, with the four founding counties paying a little less than the others. This per diem, along with a small amount from the Detention Center's commissary, constitutes the entirety of the revenue available to operate the Detention Center.

         On March 21, 2013, the Authority filed suit against the Urban County Government in district court.[1] In its complaint, the Authority listed a number of prisoners who had been arrested by an officer from one of the four founding counties based on warrants issued by Fayette County courts. Although the Authority believed it had no contractual obligation to do so, the Authority agreed to house those prisoners in the Detention Center until officials from the Urban County Government could arrange for their transfer to an Urban County Government facility. The Authority considered those prisoners to be "Fayette County prisoners" and billed the Urban County Government the per diem for each prisoner's stay in the Detention Center. The Urban County Government refused to pay, which led to this action.

         The Urban County Government filed a motion to dismiss, and the Authority filed a motion for summary judgment. In its motion, the Urban County Government argued that it was immune from suit and, if not immune, the obligation to pay for the incarceration of prisoners falls on the arresting county, not on the county that issued the warrant. In its motion, the Authority argued that the Urban County Government had a statutory obligation to pay for the incarceration of prisoners who were being held pursuant to a warrant issued by a Fayette County court. In its response to the Urban County Government's motion, the Authority argued that the statute imposing the duty on counties to provide for the incarceration of prisoners waives immunity by implication.

         The district court found in favor of the Urban County Government and dismissed the Authority's complaint. In doing so, the court determined that the Urban County Government is immune and that immunity had not been waived either explicitly or implicitly. The Authority appealed to the circuit court, which affirmed, based on its finding that the county of arrest controls responsibility for incarceration. The circuit court did not address the issue of sovereign immunity.

         On appeal, the Authority argues, as it did below, that Kentucky Revised Statute (KRS) 411.025 requires a county that issues an arrest warrant to provide for the incarceration of the prisoner arrested pursuant to that warrant, regardless of where the arrest occurs. The Urban County Government argues that KRS 411.025, when read in its entirety and in conjunction with other statutory provisions, requires the arresting county to provide for that incarceration, regardless of what county issued the arrest warrant. The Urban County Government also argues that it has immunity, which the Authority disputes.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Resolution of this appeal primarily requires us to undertake interpretation of a statute. The construction and application of statutes is a matter of law, which we review de novo, Bob Hook Chevrolet Isuzu, Inc. v. Com. Transp. Cabinet, 983 S.W.2d 488, 490 (Ky. 1998), without any deference to the interpretation afforded by the circuit court. Cinelli v. Ward, 997 S.W.2d 474, 476 (Ky. App. 1998) (citing Louisville Edible Oil Products, Inc. v. Revenue Cabinet Commonwealth of Kentucky, 957 S.W.2d 272 (Ky. App. 1997)).

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Statutory Interpretation

         1. ...


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