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Estate of Reeder v. Ashland Police Department

Court of Appeals of Kentucky

October 18, 2019

ESTATE OF JUSTIN REEDER APPELLANT
v.
ASHLAND POLICE DEPARTMENT; AND JUSTICE T. KEZIAH APPELLEES

          APPEAL FROM BOYD CIRCUIT COURT HONORABLE GEORGE W. DAVIS, III, JUDGE ACTION NO. 17-CI-00335

          BRIEFS FOR APPELLANT: Sebastian M. Joy Catlettsburg, Kentucky

          BRIEF FOR APPELLEE ASHLAND POLICE DEPARTMENT: James H. Moore, III Ashland, Kentucky

          OPINION

          BEFORE: COMBS, GOODWINE, AND TAYLOR, JUDGES.

          GOODWINE, JUDGE

         The Estate of Justin Reeder ("the Estate") appeals the Boyd Circuit Court's order granting Appellee, Ashland Police Department's ("APD"), motion for summary judgment. Appellant argues: (1) the trial court improperly granted summary judgment based on the doctrine of res judicata; (2) the trial court improperly granted summary judgment because genuine issues of material fact existed; and (3) failure to timely appeal the Boyd Circuit Court's denial of its motion to intervene was excusable neglect. Finding no error, we affirm.

         BACKGROUND

         On October 17, 2016, APD received a missing person report on Justin Reeder. The report noted Reeder was last seen with Jacob Lane. Two days later, APD officers initiated a formal investigation after receiving reports that Reeder's body was found in an unknown field. Upon hearing this report, APD officers interviewed Reeder's parents at their home.

         During the interview, Reeder's mother consented to a search of Reeder's bedroom. In its search, the officers discovered items believed to be related to drug trafficking.[1] After that, the officers furthered their investigation by traveling to Reeder's residence. Upon arrival, Reeder's roommate, Justice Keziah, answered the door. Keziah invited the officers into the residence. Once inside, the officers smelled the strong odor of marijuana. Keziah admitted to having marijuana in the house and consented to the officers searching his room.

         Once officers entered Keziah's room, they saw marijuana, weapons, drug paraphernalia, and a small amount of cash in plain view. After searching the room, officers discovered: (1) an AR-15 semi-automatic weapon with a full magazine of armor-piercing ammunition; (2) a 12-gauge shotgun; and (3) a five-pound bucket with numerous bags of marijuana, pipes, and other items related to drug trafficking. Upon finding these items, the officers arrested Keziah. Later in the investigation, APD officers obtained a search warrant for Reeder's home, enabling them to search the entirety of the premises. In their search, officers seized items indicative of drug trafficking, including: (1) brownies/cookies believed to contain marijuana; (2) gun parts; (3) ammunition; and (4) $123, 000 in cash. A grand jury indicted Keziah for felony trafficking of marijuana and misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia.[2]

         In November 2016, Tim Reeder, Justin Reeder's father, petitioned the Boyd Circuit Court to be appointed Administrator of the Estate, which the court granted. On February 13, 2017, the Estate filed a motion to intervene in Keziah's criminal case, requesting to be made a party and asserting its interest in $120, 050[3]of the seized funds. It argued in the motion that the amount listed belonged to Reeder, was not involved in Keziah's criminal case, and rightfully belonged to the Estate.

         On February 24, 2017, the Commonwealth of Kentucky offered a recommendation upon a guilty plea of Keziah. In this, the Commonwealth stated it would recommend a sentence of two years for the trafficking of marijuana charge and one year on the possession of drug paraphernalia charge. Further, both counts would run concurrently and be probated for two years, upon the condition that the contraband seized, including the $123, 000, be forfeited to APD. That same day, Keziah pleaded guilty to the charges.

         During Keziah's sentencing, Judge Hagerman[4] indicated forfeiture would not be adjudicated on that date. Also, he stated the motion to intervene was not well taken and the Estate should file a separate civil action. On May 1, 2017, Judge Hagerman entered an order denying the Estate's motion to intervene and, in a separate order, ruled the seized money be forfeited to APD. The Boyd Circuit Court, Criminal Division, did not serve the Estate with the order. Two days later, Judge Hagerman entered an amended forfeiture order. And again, the Estate was not served.

         On May 4, 2017, the Estate filed a complaint in the Boyd Circuit Court, Civil Division, naming APD and Keziah defendants.[5] In its complaint, the Estate alleged the court had jurisdiction to adjudicate the forfeiture issue, determining ownership of the $120, 050. In December 2017, APD filed a motion for summary judgment in the civil case, arguing no issues of material fact existed because KRS[6] 218A.460 vests exclusive jurisdiction to determine forfeiture issues in the court in which the forfeiture proceeding has been requested.[7] Also, it argued the funds in question were properly ordered forfeited to APD under the court's May 1 and May 3, 2017, orders, which were final orders that the Estate never appealed.

         On December 22, 2017, the Estate filed a motion for an extension of time to file an appeal in the Keziah criminal case, 17-CR-00029. In its motion, the Estate argued for an extension of time under CR[8] 6.02, CR 73.02, and CR 77.04. Further, it argued: (1) Judge Hagerman ruled the Estate had no standing to intervene in the case; (2) no written orders reflecting said ruling were entered until two months after the hearing; and (3) the Boyd Circuit Court Clerk's Office did not serve it with either order; thus, its failure to appeal within the mandated time constituted excusable neglect. The Boyd Circuit Court, Criminal Division, denied the motion and also denied the Estate's motion to alter, amend, or vacate. The Estate appealed the denial to this Court.[9] We dismissed the appeal.[10]

         On January 23, 2018, the Boyd Circuit Court, Civil Division, granted summary judgment in the case before us today. In its judgment, the trial court ruled that under KRS 24A.460, [11] "a separate [civil] action . . . is not maintainable . . . [because] the only jurisdiction for the contest of the forfeited property would have been in 17-CR-29 in the Boyd Circuit Court." R. at 42. It further found that "[t]he remedy of the [Estate] would have been to file an appeal from the Court's Order denying the motion to intervene . . . . [And since] the appeal was not taken by the [Estate], in the criminal action, this action is now barred by res judicata." Id. (internal citations omitted). The Estate filed a motion to alter, amend, or vacate the trial court's judgment, but it was denied. This appeal followed.

         ANALYSIS

         The Estate argues three reasons why we should rule in its favor and overturn the trial court's ruling: (1) the trial court improperly granted summary judgment based on the doctrine of res judicata; (2) the trial court improperly granted summary judgment because genuine issues of material fact existed; and (3) failure to timely appeal the Boyd Circuit Court's denial of its motion to intervene was excusable neglect. While, at its core, this case hinges on the Estate's standing-or lack thereof-we address each argument in turn.

         In its judgment, the trial court ruled that the doctrine of res judicata barred the action at hand. The Estate argues res judicata does not apply here because the doctrine only applies to named parties and those in privity with the parties of the previous action. Newman v. Newman, 451 S.W.2d 417 (Ky. 1970). But what the Estate did not mention is that res judicata encompasses both claim and issue preclusion. Yeoman v. Commonwealth, Health Policy Bd., 983 S.W.2d 459, 464-65 (Ky. 1998).

         While courts generally use "res judicata" to describe both claim and issue preclusion, the doctrines differ. "Claim preclusion bars a party from re-litigating a previously adjudicated cause of action and entirely bars a new lawsuit on the same cause of action. Issue preclusion bars the parties from relitigating any issue actually litigated and finally decided in an earlier action." Id. at 465 (citations omitted).

         As stated above, courts use "res judicata" as a general, blanketed phrase, which encompasses both claim and issue preclusion. For the sake of jurisprudential clarity, we must parse this phrase, showing the differences between the two doctrines. Often, a court's use of the phrase "res judicata" is indicative of claim preclusion. This is most likely because until 1970, Kentucky courts only recognized the doctrine of claim preclusion. Sedley v. City of West ...


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