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Lawsuit of the day: Kidnapper sues for breach of contract

December 2, 2011

2. Law, 8. Lawsuits

Lawsuit of the day:  Kidnapper sues for breach of contract

Too funny.  Here’s the drill:

In his lawsuit, 25-year-old Jessie Dimmick of Aurora, contends that after breaking into Jared and Lindsay Rowley’s Topeka-area home while fleeing police, he and the couple reached a legally binding, oral contract that they would hide him for an unspecified amount of money. Dimmick, who is representing himself, is seeking $235,000.

“As a result of the plaintiffs breech (sic) of contract, I, the defendant suffered a gunshot to my back, which almost killed me. The hospital bills alone are in excess of $160,000, which I have no way to pay,” Dimmick wrote in his civil suit filed last month in Shawnee County District Court.

In Sept. 2009, Dimmick was leading authorities in a chase that ended with Dimmick crashing a stolen vehicle in the Rowleys’ yard.

He was wanted for questioning about the murder of Colorado man Michael Curtis, who had been found beaten to death in a motel earlier that month.

OK, then.

I know, this is a contract issue, but it does have criminal overtones, so it’s worthy of our consideration.  Let’s rebuild the incident.

Jessie (isn’t that the girl’s spelling?) was a person of interest in a homicide investigation.  That’s irrelevant to the breach of contract issue, but it does go to state of mind of the hostages.  Whether he was actually being chased by the police or was delusional, he told the hostages that he was wanted by the police.  Now, even if he didn’t create a kidnapping situation, the folks had an affirmative duty to inform the authorities of his location.  To ignore the information they then held would be to assist in the fleeing of a felon – itself a crime.  When in doubt, err on the side of telling the cops – trust me on this.

But things took a turn for the worse when he restricted their movements with the threat of a deadly weapon – “The Rowleys said that Dimmick held them at knifepoint.”  That’s a bad thing.

Here’s the Kidnapping statute:

§ 2901. Kidnapping

(a) Offense defined.–A person is guilty of kidnapping if he unlawfully removes another a substantial distance under the circumstances from the place where he is found, or if he unlawfully confines another for a substantial period in a place of isolation, with any of the following intentions:

(1) To hold for ransom or reward, or as a shield or hostage.
(2) To facilitate commission of any felony or flight thereafter.
(3) To inflict bodily injury on or to terrorize the victim or another.
(4) To interfere with the performance by public officials of any governmental or political function.

The definition provided in (a) is where most kidnappers go wrong.  Historically – and in many folks’ minds – we should only find kidnapping when a person is moved.  The victim’s movements are controlled, and then the person is taken somewhere.  Ah, but that’s just half the story.  Think about it … two scenarios:

1.  I enter a home.  I tie up the sole occupant, toss her in my trunk, and drive to a remote cabin.  At the cabin, I lock her in a bedroom.  The windows have been boarded over.  She has no reasonable means of leaving that room.

2.  I meet the same woman at a bar.  I invite her to the same remote cabin.  We arrive in separate cars.  When there, I lock her in that same bedroom, blah, blah, blah.

There is a difference between the two scenarios with no real distinction in the end result:  The woman is confined to an area without the freedom to leave.  I control her movements.  It makes no difference that I did not move her – I confined her movements.

So, if I don’t have to move the victim a “substantial distance,” then I don’t have to move her at all.  I can enter the home, as suggested in Scenario 1, and then in that home confine her movements.

The key seems to be “a place of isolation.”  What is isolation?  It’s not so much a place as it is circumstances:  The person is beyond the reasonable ability to communicate with friends, family, or law enforcement; and the person’s movements and ability to leave are restricted.

In order to “kidnap” a person, then, it seems that all I need to do is restrict her movements and ability to communicate with the outside world.  No “movement” is needed.

Before we leave “movement,” let’s explore it ever-so briefly.  I recall a law-school case in which a mother came home from grocery shopping.  She parked her car in the driveway.  Her infant child was in the car seat fixed to the backseat.  When the woman exited her car, a man pushed her aside (I forget if a weapon was present).  He got in the car, which was still running, tossed it into reverse, and zoomed down the driveway.  The car struck the garbage cans, entered the roadway, smacked into another car, and then the clown panicked.  He got out of the car and ran down the street.

Besides the obvious assault and theft charges, he was charged with kidnapping.  The issue was whether he had moved the vehicle – with the infant inside – a “substantial” distance.  Did he?  The court found that at the moment he left the driveway, he had the ability to whisk the child away as far as he desired by merely putting the transmission into Drive.  It seemed that the definition of “substantial” movement was quality rather than quantity.

It’s clear, I suggest, from the above discussion that the common view of kidnapping as requiring taking someone to a remote cabin is simply not required.  That returns us to the couple in this instance – held by knifepoint in their own home – qualifies as being “kidnapped.”

The couple didn’t panic.  They broke out the Cheetos and Dr. Pepper, and put on a Robin Williams movie.  Seems rather casual.  But when the kidnapper is wanted by the police (which he said to them) and has a knife employed in an aggressive manner (which he did), if garbage food and a somewhat engaging movie works to lower the threat, so be it.  It worked so well that Jessie fell asleep afterward.  It is to laugh.

And then when they got the police, Jessie was “accidentally” shot in the back as he lay on the floor.  It is to laugh again.

So what about the breach of contract issue?  It seems that the parties came to a meeting of the minds on this issue:  The kidnap victims would assist in hiding the kidnapper from the police in return for an unspecified amount of money.  Since the couple informed the police of his whereabouts, they – so it is claimed – violated the contract.  We’ll set side the duress they felt when forming the contract.

Since there is no writing, the claim is to an “oral” contract.  An oral contract is perfectly legal, although it’s nice to have some affirmative action in reliance upon the existence of that contract.  If you and me had an oral contract to cut your grass for $20 a week during the summer, me cutting your grass would be an affirmative action – as would you giving me $20 without the grass being cut.  Perhaps in Jessie’s situation, we could torture the fact that he felt comfortable enough to fall asleep as the affirmative action.  Yeah, sure, why not?

I will admit that I have some trouble over the consideration in this oral contract.  Consideration is the quid pro quo – I get this, you get that.  The couple agreed to refrain from doing something – telling the cops about Jessie’s location.  To refrain from doing something is a perfectly legitimate basis for consideration.  Assume that you planted corn in your field and somehow or another put several rows on my property.  I could mow that down anytime I wanted.  But you and me agree to allow it to mature and be harvested by you in exchange for giving me 50 bales of hay.  I have agreed to refrain from doing something that I have a legal right to do.  But my problem is the other side of the deal – an “unspecified” amount of money?  Was the amount ever specified?  It’s no different than me saying if you do this (or refrain from doing that) then I will pay you.  But pay you what?  There lacks specificity to enforce the contract if someone breached.  It’s not like we could go to outside sources – like the Blue Book for cars – to establish the value of hiding a person from the police.

We have, however, an even more critical issue in this alleged contract.  The very nature of the contract is illegal.  As citizens, residents, and people in the United States, we have an affirmative duty to inform law enforcement of the whereabouts of escaping felons.  Sure, the guy may not have been convicted, but we can look at what could have been observed:  “In Sept. 2009, Dimmick was leading authorities in a chase that ended with Dimmick crashing a stolen vehicle in the Rowleys’ yard.”  And the very subject matter of the contract was to hide him from the police.

There is no basis for entering into a contract for an illegal transaction.  End of story.  No contract.

Sucks to be him.

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About Clyde

Clyde is the lead attorney in the firm. Licensed to practice in 1993, he's also taught Constitutional and Criminal Law for several years at a private university, primarily at the Master's level.

View all posts by Clyde

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