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Merryfield v. Sullivan

Supreme Court of Kansas

February 27, 2015

DUSTIN J. MERRYFIELD, Appellant,
v.
SHAWN SULLIVAN, Secretary of Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, et al., Appellees. RICHARD A. QUILLEN, Appellant,
v.
SHAWN SULLIVAN, Secretary of Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, et al., Appellees

Review of the judgment of the Court of Appeals in 50 Kan.App.2d 313, 324 P.3d 1132 (2014). Appeal from Pawnee District Court; BRUCE T. GATTERMAN, judge.

SYLLABUS

1. It is a general rule of statutory interpretation that, when both a general statute and a specific statute govern the same topic, the specific statute controls.

2. The fundamental rule of statutory interpretation is that the intent of the legislature is dispositive if it is possible to ascertain that intent. The language of a statute is the primary consideration in ascertaining the intent of the legislature because the best and only safe rule for determining the intent of the creators of a written law is to abide by the language that they have chosen to use.

3. K.S.A. 2014 Supp. 59-29a23 requires that, when a person who has been civilly committed as a sexually violent predator files a petition for relief under K.S.A. 60-1501 et seq., the costs incurred by the filing of the action are to be assessed to the county responsible for the costs.

Dustin J. Merryfield and Richard A. Quillen, appellants, were on the brief, Pro se.

Ryan W. Thornton and Kimberly M. J. Lynch, of Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, of Topeka, were on the briefs for appellees.

OPINION

Page 516

ROSEN, J.

Dustin J. Merryfield and Richard A. Quillen are residents of the Larned State Hospital and are involuntary participants [301 Kan. 398] in the Kansas Sexual Predator Treatment Program there. They filed petitions challenging the Program's implementation of a new administrative grievance procedure and sought habeas corpus relief under K.S.A. 60-1501 et seq.

Without conducting a hearing, the district court summarily denied the petitions. The court held that the petitioners lacked standing to challenge the grievance procedure, that they had failed to assert a constitutionally protected due process right, and that the procedure did not constitute shocking or intolerable conduct. The district court then assessed the costs of filing the action, $178, against each petitioner. The petitioners filed timely motions for reconsideration of the assessment of costs. The district court denied the motions, holding that the statutory assessment of costs is discretionary.

Having consolidated the appeals from the judgments, the Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of the petitions but reversed the assignment of costs to the petitioners in Merryfield v. Sullivan, 50 Kan.App.2d 313, 324 P.3d 1132. Secretary Sullivan filed a petition for review, and Merryfield and Quillen filed a cross-petition for review. This court granted the Secretary's petition and denied the cross-petition. As a consequence, the only issue before this court is whether the Kansas statutory scheme provides district courts with the discretion to assess costs against the petitioners or do the statutes require courts to impose filing costs on the counties in which the petitioners were determined to be sexually violent predators.

The interpretation and construction of statutes is a matter of law that is subject to unlimited review on appeal. Stanley v. Sullivan, 300 Kan. 1015,, 336 P.3d 870, 872 (2014).

It is a general rule of statutory interpretation that, when both a general statute and a specific statute govern the same topic, the specific statute controls. See, e.g., State v. Williams, 299 Kan. 911, 930, 329 P.3d 400 (2014). Whether and how ...


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