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When Charlotte Fischer moved into a nursing home, she received an admissions packet full of forms. Among them was an agreement that compelled arbitration of certain legal disputes. The Health Care Availability Act (“HCAA” or “Act”) required 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. After Charlotte died, her family initiated a wrongful death action against the health care facility in court. Citing the 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 HCAA. At issue was whether the Act required strict or substantial compliance. The Colorado Supreme Court held "substantial:" the agreement at issue her substantially complied with the formatting requirements of the law, notwithstanding the lack of bold type. View "Colorow Health Care, LLC v. Fischer" on Justia Law

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Respondent James Patton stole two camcorders worth about $1700 total in 2009. At the time, theft for the value of the two camcorders constituted a class 4 felony. But in 2013, the Colorado General Assembly changed the theft statute to make thefts for items valued between $750 and $2000 a class 1 misdemeanor. The amendment to the theft statute did not say whether it applied prospectively or retroactively. Regardless, the trial court denied Patton’s motion arguing that, if convicted, he should be sentenced under the amended statute. A jury convicted Patton in 2014, and the trial court sentenced him for committing a class 4 felony under the pre-2013 theft statute. Patton appealed, arguing he should have received the benefit of a lower sentence under the amended theft statute. The Colorado Supreme Court held that ameliorative, amendatory legislation applied retroactively to non-final convictions under section 18-1-410(1)(f), C.R.S. (2017), unless the amendment contained language indicating it applied only prospectively. So, the division properly concluded that the theft amendment applied retroactively to cases involving convictions that were not final on the effective date of the amendment, and thus, Patton should have been sentenced for committing a class 1 misdemeanor. View "Colorado v. Patton" on Justia Law

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Respondent John Stellabotte owned a towing company that he used to illegally tow cars and then demand payment from the owners. At the time he did this, his thefts constituted a class 4 felony. But before he had been convicted and sentenced, the General Assembly changed the theft statute to make the crime a class 5 felony, with a correspondingly lower sentence. The amendment to the theft statute did not say whether it applied prospectively or retroactively. Without any party bringing this statutory change to the trial court’s attention, it sentenced Stellabotte, as relevant here, for two class 4 felony counts under the old theft statute. Stellabotte appealed, arguing he should have been sentenced for two class 5 felonies under the amended statute. The Colorado Supreme Court held that ameliorative, amendatory legislation applied retroactively to non-final convictions under section 18-1-410(1)(f), C.R.S. (2017), unless the amendment contained language indicating it applied only prospectively. Because the 2013 amendment to the theft statute in this case is silent on whether it applies prospectively, Stellabotte should have received the benefit of retroactive application in his sentencing. View "Colorado v. Stellabotte" on Justia Law

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This case centered on Coors Brewing Company’s application to amend its decreed augmentation plans to authorize the reuse and successive use of return flows from water that Coors diverted out of priority pursuant to those plans. The City of Golden opposed this application, arguing that Coors could not proceed by amendment but had to adjudicate a new water right to reuse or make successive use of the return flows. The water court ruled: (1) any amount of water not beneficially used by Coors for the uses specified in its decreed augmentation plans had to be returned to the stream; (2) Coors’s decreed augmentation plans did not authorize the reuse or successive use of such water; and (3) Coors could not obtain the right to reuse or make successive use of such water by way of amendment to its augmentation plans but could only obtain such rights by adjudicating a new water right. Coors appealed, arguing that the water court erred: (1) by holding that Coors could not proceed by amendment but had to adjudicate a new water right; (2) by concluding that water unconsumed by Coors’s initial use had to be returned to the stream and was subject to appropriation by other water users; and (3) interpreting Coors’s augmentation plan decrees to require permanent dedication of return flows to the stream. The Colorado Supreme Court concluded that in order to obtain the right to reuse and make successive use of the return flows at issue, Coors had to adjudicate a new water right and could not circumvent this requirement by amending its decreed augmentation plans. Furthermore, the Court held that the diversion of native, tributary water under an augmentation plan did not change its character. Accordingly, the general rule, providing that return flows belong to the stream, applied. Finally, the Court concluded the water court correctly construed Coors’s augmentation plans. View "Coors Brewing Co. v. City of Golden" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Andres Castillo admitted he fired a shotgun at several people, including two police officers, in a crowded parking lot after a night out celebrating his wife’s birthday in downtown Denver. But he claimed he acted in self-defense. Driving a car occupied by his wife and several friends, Castillo tried to exit a parking lot, when an unknown assailant opened fire on his car. At some point during this episode, Castillo got out of the car, retrieved a shotgun from his trunk, and returned fire. Nearby police officers then rushed to the scene and began firing at Castillo from a different direction. He turned and shot back. Castillo testified that he didn’t realize his targets were police officers; he claimed that he thought they were associated with the initial shooter. Castillo asserted self-defense at trial. The trial court instructed the jury on self-defense but, over Castillo’s objection, also instructed the jury on two exceptions to self-defense: initial aggressor and provocation. The jury found Castillo guilty of several offenses. A division of the court of appeals found that: (1) the trial court did not err in giving the initial aggressor jury instruction; and (2) while the trial court did err in giving the provocation jury instruction, the error was harmless. After review, the Colorado Supreme Court concluded the trial court erred in giving the initial aggressor jury instruction because there was no evidence to support the instruction, and that error was not harmless. Castillo was entitled to a new trial; the Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals and remanded for further proceedings. View "Castillo v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was whether the trial court abused its discretion in granting the plaintiffs’ motion for a new trial after a jury found that the defendants, two pilots, were not negligent during a near collision that resulted in one plane crashing and killing all five passengers on board. To resolve this issue, the Colorado Supreme Court addressed two underlying questions: (1) whether the trial court’s stated reasons for granting a new trial met the requirements of C.R.C.P. 59(d); and (2) if not, whether a trial court may nevertheless grant a new trial for a reason other than those enumerated in Rule 59(d). The Supreme Court answered both questions in the negative and accordingly held that the trial court abused its discretion in granting a new trial. View "In re Rains" on Justia Law

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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

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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

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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

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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