by
This case concerned the improper administration of a trust and resulting litigation. Della Roberts created the trust at issue with the help of her only son, James Roberts, shortly before she died in 1996. James Roberts was married to Mary Sue Roberts and they had three children: petitioners Jay Roberts and Ashley Roberts McNamara (“the Robertses”), and Andrew Roberts. The trust named James as the initial trustee, and provided that all of Della Roberts’s grandchildren were beneficiaries of the trust. James administered the trust until his death in 2012. As trustee, James was obliged to undertake certain duties delineated in the trust. After James died, the trust provided that Mary Sue was to succeed him as trustee. In response, the Robertses invoked the provision of the trust permitting removal of the trustee upon a majority vote of the trust beneficiaries and they removed Mary Sue as successor trustee. In April 2013, the Robertses filed a motion in district court in Colorado to have themselves named as permanent cotrustees in place of Mary Sue. Mary Sue responded, arguing that the Colorado court lacked jurisdiction because she and James had moved from Colorado to West Virginia in 1999, approximately three years after the trust was created in Colorado. In June 2013, the district court rejected Mary Sue’s jurisdictional challenge, and, in early August, granted the Robertses’ motion and appointed the Robertses as cotrustees. Meanwhile, in May 2013, while the Robertses were litigating the trusteeship issue in Colorado, Mary Sue filed a separate action against the Robertses in state court in West Virginia, again claiming that jurisdiction properly lay in West Virginia. The Robertses appeared and removed the case to federal court. Ultimately, the federal district court concluded that Colorado had jurisdiction over the trust, and therefore dismissed Mary Sue’s complaint for lack of jurisdiction. Mary Sue sought review in the Fourth Circuit, but voluntarily dismissed her appeal in early 2014. As a result of the litigation in West Virginia, the Robertses incurred substantial attorney’s fees. The Colorado Supreme Court held that an award of attorney’s fees pursuant to section 13-17-102, C.R.S. (2017), was limited to conduct occurring in Colorado courts. View "Roberts v. Bruce" on Justia Law

by
In 2008, James Stackhouse was charged with one count of sexual assault on a child by one in a position of trust, a class-three felony, one count of sexual assault on a child, a class-four felony, and the sentence enhancer of sexual assault on a child as a pattern of abuse, which elevated the class-four felony of sexual assault on a child to a class-three felony. In 2010, Stackhouse proceeded to trial on these charges. A jury found Stackhouse guilty of sexual assault on a child by one in a position of trust and of sexual assault on a child. The jury did not find the pattern-of-abuse sentence enhancer. At issue before the Colorado Supreme Court in this case was the district court's order permitting the State to retry Stackhouse on only one of the many alleged acts of sexual assault on a child for chich he had been charged. The district court concluded that the jury in Stackhouse’s first trial had necessarily concluded that he did not commit multiple acts of assault, and therefore that he could not be retried for more than a single assault. Concluding that the jury lacked unanimity as to the commission of two or more types of abuse did not require (or even permit) a conclusion that the jury necessarily and unanimously agreed that Stackhouse did not engage in multiple acts of abuse of a single type. The Supreme Court concluded the district court abused its discretion when it found otherwise. Therefore, in this case double jeopardy did not require the State to elect the January 2007 allegation as the sole basis for Stackhouse’s retrial. View "Colorado v. Stackhouse" on Justia Law

by
This case arose from respondent Public Service Company of Colorado’s (“Xcel’s”) challenge to the City of Boulder’s attempt to create a light and power utility. Xcel argued that the ordinance establishing the utility, Ordinance No. 7969 (the “Utility Ordinance”), violated article XIII, section 178 of Boulder’s City Charter. Xcel thus sought a declaratory judgment deeming the Utility Ordinance “ultra vires, null, void, and of no effect.” Petitioners, the City of Boulder, its mayor, mayor pro tem, and city council members (collectively, “Boulder”), argued Xcel’s complaint was, in reality, a C.R.C.P. 106 challenge to a prior ordinance, Ordinance No. 7917 (the “Metrics Ordinance”), by which Boulder had concluded that it could meet certain metrics regarding the costs, efficiency, and reliability of such a utility. Boulder contended this challenge was untimely and thereby deprived the district court of jurisdiction to hear Xcel’s complaint. The district court agreed with Boulder and dismissed Xcel’s complaint. Xcel appealed, and in a unanimous, published decision, a division of the court of appeals vacated the district court’s judgment. As relevant here, the division, like the district court, presumed that Xcel was principally proceeding under C.R.C.P. 106. The division concluded, however, that neither the Metrics Ordinance nor the Utility Ordinance was final, and therefore, Xcel’s complaint was premature. The division thus vacated the district court’s judgment. Although the Colorado Supreme Court agreed with Boulder that the division erred, contrary to Boulder’s position and the premises on which the courts below proceeded, the Supreme Court agreed with Xcel that its complaint asserted a viable and timely claim seeking a declaration that the Utility Ordinance violated Boulder’s City Charter. Accordingly, the Supreme Court concluded the district court had jurisdiction to hear Xcel’s declaratory judgment claim challenging the Utility Ordinance, and remanded this case to allow that claim to proceed. View "City of Boulder v. Public Service Company of Colorado" on Justia Law

by
This land dispute concerned the ownership of seventeen acres of “common open space” in a purported common-interest community. Petitioners Crea and Martha McMullin (“the McMullins”) acquired thirty acres of land in Rio Blanco County, Colorado, intending to develop a rural subdivision. The McMullins recorded a final plat, which created seven lots along with seventeen acres of common open space, and entered into a subdivision agreement with the County. The plat identified the subdivision as “Two Rivers Estates.” For the next eight years, the McMullins were unable to sell any of the lots. During that time, the McMullins mortgaged six of the seven lots to finance the construction of a family lodge on one of the lots. They did not mortgage or encumber the common open space. When the McMullins became unable to pay the loans, the mortgagee foreclosed on Lots 2 and 3, which were then purchased by Respondents Joseph and Kelly Conrado (“the Conrados”) and John and Sena Hauer (“the Hauers”), respectively. Still under financial strain, the McMullins sold Lot 1 to the Hauers and Lots 4, 5, 6, and 7 to Lincoln Trust Company FBO John Hauer. After acquiring six of the seven lots, the Hauers and Lincoln Trust Company filed suit to quiet title to their respective lots. The Hauers asserted that Two Rivers Estates was a common-interest community under the Colorado Common Interest Ownership Act (“CCIOA”), and that their lots included appurtenant rights in the common open space through an unincorporated homeowners’ association created by the common-interest community. After a bench trial, the trial court found that the recorded final plat, certain deeds, and the subdivision agreement established both an implied common-interest community and an unincorporated homeowners’ association that held equitable title in the open space. The court further concluded that the Hauers, Lincoln Trust Company, and the Conrados were members of the unincorporated homeowners’ association; that each lot owner had a duty to contribute 1/7th of the common expenses to the homeowners’ association; and that the homeowners’ association had power to levy assessments to collect those expenses. The McMullins appealed, and the court of appeals affirmed in a split, published decision, with the majority largely agreeing with the trial court’s analysis. The Colorado Supreme Court concluded the recorded instruments were insufficient under CCIOA to create a common-interest community by implication. Accordingly, the Court reversed and remanded to the court of appeals for further proceedings. View "McMullin v. Hauer" on Justia Law

by
U.S. Welding sought review of the court of appeals’ judgment affirming the district court’s order awarding it no damages whatsoever for breach of contract with Advanced Circuits. Notwithstanding its determination following a bench trial that Advanced breached its contract to purchase from Welding all its nitrogen requirements during a one-year term, the district court reasoned that by declining Advanced’s request for an estimate of lost profits expected to result from Advanced’s breach prior to expiration of the contract term, Welding failed to mitigate. Because an aggrieved party is not obligated to mitigate damages from a breach by giving up its rights under the contract, and because requiring Welding to settle for a projection of anticipated lost profits, rather than its actual loss, as measured by the amount of nitrogen Advanced actually purchased from another vendor over the contract term, would amount to nothing less than forcing Welding to relinquish its rights under the contract, the Colorado Supreme Court concluded the district court erred. The court of appeals’ judgment concerning failure to mitigate was therefore reversed, and the case was remanded for further proceedings. View "U.S. Welding, Inc. v. Advanced Circuits, Inc." on Justia Law

Posted in: Business Law, Contracts

by
Defendant Sir Mario Owens was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death in 2008. In 2017, the trial court denied defendant's motion for post-conviction relief pursuant to Crim. P. 32.2, as well as his related motion to disqualify the District Attorney’s Office for the 18th Judicial District and to appoint a special prosecutor. The basis for the motion to disqualify was an allegation that the District Attorney had failed to disclose evidence that would have been favorable to defendant's defense. Over defendant's objection, the trial court issued a protective order, sealing portions of the post-conviction motions practice. In 2017, petitioner The Colorado Independent filed a motion with the district court, asking the court to unseal the records, arguing that public access to the records was required by the First Amendment, Article II, section 10 of the Colorado Constitution, common law, and the Colorado Criminal Justice Records Act. The district court denied that motion, and Petitioner filed for relief under C.A.R. 21, limiting its request for relief to the argument that presumptive access to judicial records is a constitutional guarantee. The Colorado Supreme Court found that while presumptive access to judicial proceedings is a right recognized under both the state and federal constitutions, neither the United States Supreme Court nor the Colorado Supreme Court has ever held that records filed with a court are treated the same way. The Court declined to conclude here that such unfettered access to criminal justice records was guaranteed by either the First Amendment or Article II, section 10 of the Colorado Constitution. The Court therefore affirmed the denial to unseal the records at issue here. View "In re Colorado v. Sir Mario Owens" on Justia Law

by
The Jim Hutton Foundation (“Foundation”) owned surface-water rights in the Republican River Basin. The Foundation believed that permitted groundwater wells that people had begun to install in the underlying groundwater basin - the Northern High Plains Basin (“NHP Basin”) - were not in fact pumping designated groundwater, and were injuring its senior surface-water rights. The Foundation sued, hoping to alter the groundwater basin's boundaries to exclude any improperly permitted designated-groundwater wells. The Foundation filed this action in water court, arguing that a legislative amendment to the statutory process to challenge the designation of a groundwater basis, prohibited any challenge to alter a designated groundwater basin's boundaries to exclude a well that already received a permit. The Foundation claimed the amendment deprived surface-water users of the ability to petition the Commission to redraw the NHP Basin’s boundaries to exclude permitted well users upon a showing that groundwater was improperly designated when the NHP Basin’s designation became final. The water court dismissed this claim for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, concluding the Commission must first determine whether the water at issue is designated groundwater before subject matter jurisdiction will vest in the water court, meaning the Foundation’s constitutional claim could not become ripe until it satisfied the Commission that the water was not designated groundwater. The Foundation appealed. The Colorado Supreme Court affirmed the water court and concluded that, because jurisdiction did not vest in the water court until the Commission first determined the water at issue was not designated groundwater, the water court properly dismissed the claim. View "Jim Hutton Educ. Found. v. Rein" on Justia Law

by
After pulling over Kimberlie Verigan’s car during a traffic stop, police noticed potential contraband in the car. Police then searched the car and without providing Miranda warnings. After Verigan admitted to possessing methamphetamines, the police arrested her and brought her to a police station, where she received Miranda warnings, waived her rights, and again confessed to possessing methamphetamines. Verigan ultimately moved to suppress her statements, asserting, as pertinent here, that the police had obtained her second confession through the use of the type of two-stage interrogation technique that a majority of the Supreme Court had ruled impermissible in Missouri v. Seibert, 542 U.S. 600 (2004). The trial court denied Verigan’s motion, and Verigan was subsequently convicted. She then appealed, and a division of the court of appeals affirmed, reasoning that because Seibert was a fractured opinion with no agreement by a majority on the principles of law to be applied, Seibert did not announce a precedential rule. The Colorado Supreme Court affirmed the outcome of the appellate court's judgment, joining, however, "the vast majority of courts that have addressed the issue now before us and conclude that Justice Kennedy’s concurring opinion in Seibert, which enunciated the 'narrowest grounds' on which the members of the majority concurred, is the controlling precedent to be applied." Applying Justice Kennedy’s test here, the Colorado Court concluded the officers in this case did not engage in a two-step interrogation in a deliberate attempt to undermine the effectiveness of the Miranda warnings provided to Verigan. Accordingly, because Verigan’s pre- and post-warning statements were indisputably voluntary, the division correctly determined that Verigan’s post-warning statements were admissible. View "Verigan v. Colorado" on Justia Law

by
This case arose from a series of transactions in which petitioners Rocky Mountain Exploration, Inc. and RMEI Bakken Joint Venture Group (collectively, “RMEI”) sold oil and gas assets to Lario Oil and Gas Company (“Lario”). In the transaction, Lario was acting as an agent for Tracker Resource Exploration ND, LLC and its affiliated entities (collectively, “Tracker”), which were represented by respondents Davis Graham & Stubbs LLP and Gregory Danielson (collectively, “DG&S”). Prior to RMEI’s sale to Lario, RMEI and Tracker had a business relationship related to the oil and gas assets that were ultimately the subject of the RMEI-Lario transaction. The RMEI-Tracker relationship ultimately soured; Tracker and Lario reached an understanding by which Lario would seek to purchase RMEI’s interests and then assign a majority of those interests to Tracker. Recognizing the history between Tracker and RMEI, however, Tracker and Lario agreed not to disclose Tracker’s involvement in the deal. DG&S represented Tracker throughout RMEI’s sale to Lario. In that capacity, DG&S drafted the final agreement between RMEI and Lario, worked with the escrow agent, and hosted the closing at its offices. No party disclosed to RMEI, however, that DG&S was representing Tracker, not Lario. After the sale from RMEI to Lario was finalized, Lario assigned a portion of the assets acquired to Tracker, and Tracker subsequently re-sold its purchased interests for a substantial profit. RMEI then learned of Tracker’s involvement in its sale to Lario and sued Tracker, Lario, and DG&S for breach of fiduciary duty, fraud, and civil conspiracy, among other claims. As pertinent here, the fiduciary breach claims were based on RMEI’s prior relationship with Tracker. The remaining claims were based on allegations that Tracker, Lario, and DG&S misrepresented Tracker’s involvement in the Lario deal, knowing that RMEI would not have dealt with Tracker because of the parties’ strained relationship. Based on these claims, RMEI sought to avoid its contract with Lario. Lario and Tracker eventually settled their claims with RMEI, and DG&S moved for summary judgment as to all of RMEI’s claims against it. The district court granted DG&S’s motion. The Colorado Supreme Court granted certiorari to consider whether: (1) Lario and DG&S created the false impression that Lario was not acting for an undisclosed principal (i.e., Tracker) with whom Lario and DG&S knew RMEI would not deal; (2) an assignment clause in the RMEI-Lario transaction agreements sufficiently notified RMEI that Lario acted on behalf of an undisclosed principal; (3) prior agreements between RMEI and Tracker negated all previous joint ventures and any fiduciary obligations between them; (4) RMEI stated a viable claim against DG&S for fraud; and (5) RMEI could avoid the Lario sale based on statements allegedly made after RMEI and Lario signed the sales agreement but prior to closing. The Supreme Court found no reversible error and affirmed. View "Rocky Mountain Exploration, Inc. and RMEI Bakken Joint Venture" on Justia Law

by
Charlotte Fischer was moved into a nursing home; after she died, her family initiated a wrongful death action against the health care facility in court. Citing a clause in the admissions agreement, the health care facility moved to compel arbitration out of court. The trial court denied the motion, and the court of appeals affirmed, determining the arbitration agreement was void because it did not strictly comply with the Health Care Availability Act ("HCAA"). In this case, the Colorado Supreme Court considered whether section 13-64-403, C.R.S. (2017) of the HCAA, the provision governing arbitration agreements, required strict or substantial compliance. The HCAA required that such agreements contain a four-paragraph notice in a certain font size and in bold-faced type. Charlotte’s agreement included the required language in a statutorily permissible font size, but it was not printed in bold. Charlotte’s daughter signed the agreement on Charlotte’s behalf. The Supreme Court held the Act demanded only substantial compliance. Furthermore, the Court concluded the agreement here substantially complied with the formatting requirements of section 13-64-403, notwithstanding its lack of bold-faced type. Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals and remanded for further proceedings. View "Colorow Health Care, LLC v. Fischer" on Justia Law