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Baker v. Fields

Supreme Court of Kentucky

March 22, 2018

KAMRYN BAKER APPELLANT
v.
LYNN FIELDS AND BO RAINS APPELLEES

          ON REVIEW FROM COURT OF APPEALS CASE NO. 2015-CA-001673 LAUREL CIRCUIT COURT NO. 13-CI-01000

          COUNSEL FOR APPELLANT: E. Liddell Vaughn Anderson Vaughn & Allen, PLLC

          COUNSEL FOR APPELLEES: Larry Glenn Bryson Larry G. Bryson, PSC

          OPINION

          MINTON, CHIEF JUSTICE.

         In Breathitt County Bd. of Educ. v. Prater, this court announced a new rule of law allowing an interlocutory appeal of a trial court's ruling on an immunity defense.[1] We granted discretionary review of this case to determine if the Court of Appeals exceeded the scope of appellate review in this interlocutory appeal when it not only agreed with the trial court that the defendants were not entitled to qualified immunity but went further and conclusively determined that these defendants were not negligent as a matter of law. We hold that the scope of appellate review of an interlocutory appeal of the trial court's determination of qualified official immunity is limited to the specific issue of whether immunity was properly denied. So we must reverse the Court of Appeals and remand this case to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         I. BACKGROUND.

         Kamryn Baker, a student at North Laurel High School, brought suit against various school officials, in their individual and official capacities, after slipping on a patch of black ice in the school's parking lot. The trial court dismissed the suit against all but two defendants, Lynn Fields and Bo Rains, who are two grounds crew members allegedly responsible for removing snow and ice from the school's parking lot.

         After some discovery took place, Fields and Rains moved for summary judgment, claiming protection under the qualified official immunity doctrine.[2]The trial court denied their motion, concluding that snow and ice removal duties are ministerial in nature. Fields and Rains filed a motion to alter, amend, or vacate the trial court's order denying immunity, which the trial court denied, as well.

         Fields and Rains timely appealed to the Court of Appeals. In their Notice of Appeal, Fields and Rains indicated they were appealing the trial court's denial of their motion for summary judgment regarding their protection under the qualified official immunity doctrine. In their Preheating Statements, Fields and Rains listed as issues to be raised in the appeal, "Qualified Official Immunity" and the discretionary nature of the duties of Fields and Rains. Finally, both parties only briefed the qualified immunity issue.

         The Court of Appeals agreed with the trial court that snow and ice removal is a ministerial duty not affording qualified immunity protection. But the Court of Appeals further decided that Fields and Rains were entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law based on the facts of the case- specifically, that Fields and Rains did not have a duty to remove the snow and ice. Baker then appealed to this Court, arguing that the Court of Appeals exceeded the scope of appellate review in deciding the substantive issue of negligence. We granted discretionary review.

         II. ANALYSIS.

         The sole issue we must address is whether the Court of Appeals exceeded its scope of appellate review when it addressed the substantive claim of negligence on an interlocutory appeal of a decision about qualified official immunity. We find that the Court of Appeals did exceed its authority by addressing the claim of negligence. Because determining the proper scope of appellate review of an interlocutory appeal is a question of law, we review the Court of Appeals' decision de novo.

         Procedurally, Fields and Rains' appeal to the Court of Appeals constituted an interlocutory appeal. When the trial court denied Fields and Rains' summary judgment motion, it only concluded that Fields and Rains were not entitled qualified official immunity protection. This did not constitute a final judgment under Kentucky Civil Rule ("CR") 54.01 because the substantive claim of negligence still needed to be decided.[3] Generally, appeals may only be made from final judgments, per the plain language of CR 54.01. But in rare cases, Kentucky affords a party the opportunity to appeal certain issues in a case before final judgment has been issued, termed an interlocutory appeal.[4]

         This Court in Prater specified that a ruling on an immunity defense is an appealable issue by interlocutory appeal.[5] We explained that the purpose of allowing an immunity issue to be raised by interlocutory appeal is "to address substantial claims of right which would be rendered moot by litigation and thus are not subject to meaningful review in the ordinary course following a final judgment."[6] We then "agree[d]...that orders denying ...


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