Justia Colorado Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Agriculture Law
Dep’t of Nat. Res. v. 5 Star Feedlot, Inc.
In the spring of 2015, a severe three-day storm deluged an eastern Colorado area with over six inches of rain. Two inches of water fell within thirty minutes on the first day, “a once-in-a-half-century occurrence.” During the storm, a mixture of wastewater and rainwater overflowed from one of the wastewater containment ponds in a cattle feedlot operated by 5 Star Feedlot, Inc. (“5 Star”). That water crossed several miles of land and ultimately found its way to the South Fork of the Republican River, killing an estimated 15,000 fish and giving rise to this litigation. Pursuant to section 33-6-110(1), C.R.S. (2020), the State initiated a civil action against 5 Star seeking to recover the value of the deceased fish based on 5 Star’s alleged violation of three predicate statutory provisions (“taking statutory provisions”) which, with some exceptions not pertinent here, made it unlawful for any person to “take” (i.e., to kill or otherwise acquire possession of or control over) certain wildlife. The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment on the issue of liability. The district court denied 5 Star’s motion, granted the State’s motion, and, following a bench trial on damages, ordered 5 Star to pay the State $625,755. 5 Star then appealed. The court of appeals reversed, holding that the taking statutory provisions required the State to prove that 5 Star acted knowingly or, at minimum, performed an unlawful voluntary act. To this, the Colorado Supreme Court concurred, finding the district court erred both in entering summary judgment against 5 Star and in denying 5 Star’s cross- motion. “Since the State failed to formally allege, never mind present proof, that 5 Star’s lawful, years-long operation of wastewater containment ponds killed or otherwise acquired possession of or control over the fish, it could not satisfy the voluntary act or actus reus requirement of the taking statutory provisions.” View "Dep't of Nat. Res. v. 5 Star Feedlot, Inc." on Justia Law
Mason v. Farm Credit S. Colo., ACA
In this case, at issue was whether the petitioner was entitled to a jury trial under Rule 38 of the Colorado Rules of Civil Procedure. Between 2008 and 2011, Zachary Mason (“Zach”) farmed several properties in Otero County, Colorado. During this time, Zach executed several loan agreements with Farm Credit of Southern Colorado, ACA, and Farm Credit of Southern Colorado, FLCA (collectively, “Farm Credit”). As part of the loan agreements, Farm Credit owned a perfected security interest in some of Zach’s crops, farm equipment, and other items of personal property. In May 2012, Zach defaulted on his loans. As a result, Farm Credit sued Zach for judgment on his notes, foreclosure of real property collateral, replevin of personal property collateral, conversion of insurance proceeds, civil theft, breach of contract, and fraud. The court of appeals held that the petitioner was not entitled to a jury trial because the claims in the respondents’ original complaint were primarily equitable. In reaching this conclusion, the court of appeals ignored the claims in the respondents’ amended complaint. The Colorado Supreme Court found that was in error: when a plaintiff amends its complaint and a party properly requests a jury trial, the trial court should determine whether the case may be tried to a jury based on the claims in the amended complaint, not the original complaint. If the claims against a particular defendant in a plaintiff’s amended complaint entitle that defendant to a jury trial, then “all issues of fact shall be tried by a jury,” upon a proper jury demand and payment of the requisite fee. Here, the claims against the petitioner in the respondents’ amended complaint were primarily legal, as opposed to equitable, meaning the petitioner was entitled to a jury trial under Rule 38. View "Mason v. Farm Credit S. Colo., ACA" on Justia Law
Hernandez v. Ray Domenico Farms, Inc.
The United States District Court for the District of Colorado certified a question of Colorado law to the Colorado Supreme Court. Defendant Ray Domenico Farms, Inc. grew organic vegetables. Plaintiffs were three year-round and four seasonal migrant workers who had been previously employed by Domenico Farms from as far back as 1992. All Plaintiffs were paid by the hour, and alleged they never received overtime pay during their employment with Domenico Farms. While agricultural workers were generally exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act’s (“FLSA”) overtime requirements, Plaintiffs alleged they performed nonagricultural tasks in weeks in which they worked more than forty hours, thus entitling them to overtime wages under FLSA for those weeks. The certified question from the federal court pertained to how far back in time a terminated employee’s unpaid wage claims could reach under the Colorado Wage Claim Act, sections 8-4-101 to -123, C.R.S. (2017). Specifically, the certified question asked whether the statute permitted a terminated employee to sue for wages or compensation that went unpaid at any time during the employee’s employment, even when the statute of limitations had run on the cause of action the employee could have brought for those unpaid wages under Colo. Rev. Stat. § 8-4-103(1)(a). The Supreme Court held that under the plain language of section 109, an employee could seek any wages or compensation that were unpaid at the time of termination; however, the right to seek such wages or compensation was subject to the statute of limitations. That statute of limitations begins to run when the wages or compensation first become due and payable and thus limits a terminated employee to claims for the two (or three) years immediately preceding termination. Thus, the Court answered the certified question in the negative. View "Hernandez v. Ray Domenico Farms, Inc." on Justia Law