Crossing a State Line to Present a Fraudulent Claim Doesn’t Work
Under K.S.A. 2020 Supp. 21-5106(a)(1) and (b)(3), a Kansas court has jurisdiction over a crime partly committed in Kansas by a criminal actor who commits either (1) an act that constitutes a constituent and material element of the offense or (2) an act that is a substantial and integral part of an overall continuing criminal plan and the act causes an effect or consequence in Kansas close enough in time or cause to be a proximate result. Two courts found no jurisdiction but the Supreme Court read the whole statute and found jurisdiction in State of Kansas v. Ivan Rozell, No. 121, 094, Supreme Court of Kansas (April 22, 2022)
The State’s burden of proof at a preliminary hearing is not proof beyond a reasonable doubt, only probable cause. Probable cause at a preliminary examination signifies evidence sufficient to cause a person of ordinary prudence and caution to conscientiously entertain a reasonable belief of the accused’s guilt. To determine whether the State has met this burden, a preliminary hearing judge does not pass on credibility, and, when evidence conflicts, the judge must accept the version of the testimony most favorable to the State.
Rozell committed no acts related to the insurance fraud charges while physically in Kansas. Given that, Rozell argues the Wyandotte County District Court lacked jurisdiction to prosecute him because Kansas laws have no extraterritorial effect.
Crimes sometimes involve multistate conduct. And the United States Supreme Court has recognized that “[a]cts done outside a jurisdiction, but intended to produce and producing detrimental effects within it, justify a state in punishing the cause of the harm as if [the defendant] had been present at the effect.” [Strassheim v. Daily, 221 U.S. 280, 285, 31 S.Ct. 558, 55 L.Ed. 735 (1911).] Both the district court and the Court of Appeals disagreed with the State.
Rozell was in a minor vehicle collision with Saul Lopez at an intersection in Kansas City, Missouri. Lopez did not obey the right of way and hit Rozell’s vehicle, but any contact between the vehicles was minimal. Lopez gave Rozell insurance information. Rozell told Lopez he was fine and declined Lopez’ offer to call police.
Lopez’ father held title to and insured the vehicle Lopez was driving at the time of the accident. His father lived in Kansas City, Kansas, and was insured under a Kansas insurance policy issued by State Farm Insurance through an agent based in Kansas. Lopez also lived in Kansas City, Kansas.
Rozell faxed a copy of a hospital bill to State Farm. The bill was for services received at Research Medical Center in Missouri. The State Farm representative thought the amount of the bill-around $52,000- was disproportionate to the severity of the collision. He contacted Rozell and asked whether Rozell had submitted the correct document. Rozell confirmed he had. The representative transferred the claim to a special investigations department at State Farm.
The special investigator, Michael Haire, was based out of a State Farm office in Kansas. Haire reviewed the original medical bill Rozell had submitted to State Farm and a second one Rozell sent after his initial claim. Haire determined the first bill was for medical expenses incurred two days before the vehicle collision.
A records custodian for Research Medical Center also reviewed the original bill and noticed its discharge date did not match the hospital records. State Farm declined to pay Rozell’s claim and submitted a fraud report to the Kansas Insurance Department. The State then charged Rozell with insurance fraud and making a false information.
The preliminary hearing judge found probable cause to bind over Rozell for trial for insurance fraud and making a false information.
A different judge than the one who heard the preliminary hearing conducted a hearing on Rozell’s second motion. The judge granted the motion to dismiss based on lack of jurisdiction.
The State appealed arguing Kansas courts had jurisdiction. Rozell did not file briefs or appear during the appeal. The Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal, holding the State had not established jurisdiction. The State timely petitioned for review, which the Supreme Court granted.
The issue presented to the district court was whether the State presented sufficient evidence at the preliminary hearing to establish probable cause that Kansas had jurisdiction. Resolving this issue required the Supreme Court to interpret the statutes.
Legal Framework For Proximate Cause Jurisdiction
Rozell focused on constitutional and statutory provisions about a defendant’s right to have a trial in the county or district where the crime, or one or more elements of the crime, were committed. Consistent with Strassheim, 221 U.S. at 285, the United States Supreme Court has held that this Sixth Amendment provision does not defeat a state’s territorial jurisdiction over a crime partly committed in multiple states. The Court considered United States v. Rodriguez-Moreno, 526 U.S. 275, 281, 119 S.Ct. 1239, 143 L.Ed.2d 388 (1999) which held that “‘[W]here a crime consists of distinct parts which have different localities the whole may be tried where any part can be proved to have been done.'”).
For a Kansas court to have jurisdiction under K.S.A. 2020 Supp. 21-5106(b)(3), there must be a direct connection or nexus between the defendant’s act or acts outside Kansas and the result in Kansas.
The State charged Rozell with crimes that do not necessarily require someone, or something, to suffer harm. Rozell can be found guilty of both charged crimes even though the insurance company denied his claim.
Under K.S.A. 2020 Supp. 21-5106(a)(1) and (b)(3), a Kansas court has jurisdiction over a crime partly committed in Kansas by a criminal actor who commits either (1) an act that is a constituent and material element of the offense or (2) an act that is a substantial and integral part of an overall continuing criminal plan and that act causes an effect or consequence in Kansas close enough in time or cause to be a proximate result.
The crime requires that a person:
- communicates information to an insurer, here communications about medical records and bills alleged to be related to treatment for injuries incurred in the automobile accident;
- knows the communication contains materially false information, here, for example, the alleged alteration of the date on which Rozell received medical care;
- submits the false information in support of an insurance claim or benefit or insurance application, here Rozell’s claim against Lopez’ father’s insurance; and
- acts with the intent to defraud, which a reasonable person might infer from Rozell’s submission of the allegedly altered bill.
The State argues that “it is indisputable that the insurance company that issued the policy is harmed when it is subject to a fraudulent claim.” State Farm’s investigator in Kansas, testified to steps he took in Kansas to investigate the claim, which included interviews with Lopez and Lopez’ father and taking photographs of the damage to the car Lopez drove. The referral of the fraud investigation to the Kansas investigator and the follow-up appointment with the Kansas insured both occurred within one month of the accident and directly flowed from Rozell’s submission of paperwork documenting his claim. And these actions were integral to State Farm’s review of Rozell’s claim. A reasonable inference may be drawn in the light most favorable to the State that Rozell’s submission of an allegedly fraudulent claim was an act that caused proximate results in Kansas.
Making A False Information
The evidence at the preliminary hearing was sufficient to establish the allegedly altered paper made its way to Kansas where the investigating agent drew conclusions about whether State Farm should pay or deny Rozell’s claim. This evidence is sufficient to cause a person of ordinary prudence and caution to conscientiously entertain a reasonable belief Rozell’s actions led to the consequence or result in Kansas of attempting to influence Haire to approve Rozell’s claim.
The Supreme Court concluded that the State presented sufficient evidence to establish probable cause that Rozell’s actions of submitting an allegedly false claim, which he supported with allegedly altered documents, with the alleged intent to defraud State Farm caused a consequence or effect in Kansas close enough in time or cause to the alleged criminal acts of insurance fraud and making a false information to qualify as a proximate result that allows Kansas to exercise jurisdiction.
The Supreme Court of Kansas found that the two lower courts allowed a technicality – an activity in the sister-city of Kansas City, Missouri to Kansas City, Kansas defeated criminal jurisdiction although the investigation and expenses incurred by State Farm happened in Kansas, was an act of form over substance. Rozell will be tried for insurance fraud in Kansas and should be convicted since the medical bills submitted were obviously fraudulent and for services provided before the accident.
(c) 2022 Barry Zalma & ClaimSchool, Inc.
Barry Zalma, Esq., CFE, now limits his practice to service as an insurance consultant specializing in insurance coverage, insurance claims handling, insurance bad faith and insurance fraud almost equally for insurers and policyholders. He practiced law in California for more than 44 years as an insurance coverage and claims handling lawyer and more than 54 years in the insurance business. He is available at http://www.zalma.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
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