Justia Colorado Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Business Law
Chan v. HEI Resources, Inc.
Between 2004 and 2008, respondents HEI Resources, Inc. (“HEI”), and the Heartland Development Corporation (“HEDC”), both corporations whose principal place of business is Colorado, formed, capitalized, and operated eight separate joint ventures related to the exploration and drilling of oil and gas wells. They solicited investors for what they called Los Ojuelos Joint Ventures by cold calling thousands of individuals from all over the country. Those who joined the ventures became parties to an agreement organized as a general partnership under the Texas Revised Partnership Act. In 2009, the Securities Commissioner for the State of Colorado (“the Commissioner”) initiated this enforcement action, alleging that respondents had violated the Colorado Securities Act (CSA) by, among other things, offering and selling unregistered securities to investors nationwide through the use of unlicensed sales representatives and in the guise of general partnerships. The Commissioner alleged that HEDC and HEI used the general partnership form deliberately in order to avoid regulation. Each of the Commissioner’s claims required that the Commissioner prove that the general partnerships were securities, so the trial was bifurcated to permit resolution of that threshold question. THe Colorado Supreme Court granted review in this matter to determine how courts should evaluate whether an interest in a “general partnership” is an “investment contract” under the CSA. The Court concluded that when faced with an assertion that an interest in a general partnership is an investment contract and thus within the CSA’s definition of a “security,” the plaintiff bears the burden of proving this claim by a preponderance of the evidence. No presumption beyond that burden applies. Accordingly, the Court reversed the court of appeals’ judgment on the question of whether courts should apply a “strong presumption,” and the Court remanded the case to the trial court for further findings. View "Chan v. HEI Resources, Inc." on Justia Law
Schaden v. DIA Brewing Co., LLC
Plaintiff DIA Brewing Co., LLC contended that after the district court entered an order dismissing this action pursuant to C.R.C.P.12(b)(1), C.R.C.P. 15(a) gave DIA Brewing the right to amend its complaint as a matter of course and without leave of the court or the consent of defendants because no responsive pleading had been filed. Defendants MCE-DIA, LLC and Richard Schaden (collectively, “MCE-DIA”), in contrast, contended that the C.R.C.P. 12(b)(1) dismissal resulted in a final judgment that cut off DIA Brewing’s right to amend as a matter of course under C.R.C.P. 15(a). Thus: if DIA Brewing wanted to amend, it was required to seek leave of the court or to obtain MCE-DIA’s written consent. The Colorado Supreme Court granted certiorari to resolve this dispute, and concluded a final judgment cuts off a plaintiff’s right to file an amended complaint as a matter of course under C.R.C.P. 15(a), and the dismissal order here was a final judgment. Therefore, DIA Brewing did not have the right to amend its complaint as a matter of course, but obligated to request the trial court for leave to amend, or indicate MCE-DIA had consented in writing to the filing of an amended complaint. In this case, the Supreme Court determined the amended pleading was not futile, stating viable claims for relief. The Court thus affirmed the appellate court, though on different grounds, and remanded this case with directions that this case be returned to the district court to accept DIA Brewing’s amended complaint for filing, after which MCE-DIA could respond in the ordinary course. View "Schaden v. DIA Brewing Co., LLC" on Justia Law
Blooming Terrace No. 1, LLC v. KH Blake Street, LLC
In 2013, Blooming Terrace No. 1 (“Blooming Terrace”) obtained an $11 million loan from KH Blake Street, LLC (“KH Blake Street”), a special purpose entity organized by Kresher Holdings, LLC. The loan was secured by a deed of trust and memorialized by promissory note. Blooming Terrace paid a $220,000 origination fee upon execution of that note. The note specified that interest would accrue on the outstanding principal at a rate of 11% per annum. In the event of default, the note provided for a higher default interest rate of 21% per annum. The note required monthly interest payments in the amount of 8% per annum throughout the term of the loan, though these periodic payments did not apply to reduce the principal balance of the loan. In the event of any late monthly payment, a 5% late fee was applicable to the overdue amount. The note was to mature in 2014. However, KH Blake Street reserved the right to accelerate Blooming Terrace’s full loan repayment obligation upon an event of default. Prior to paying down any portion of the principal, Blooming Terrace defaulted on its monthly payment obligation. The parties entered into a forbearance agreement; at that time, the parties stipulated that the accrued charges due and owing to KH Blake Street under the original loan agreement were $778,583.33. In exchange for KH Blake Street’s agreement not to pursue collection of that sum, or any other remedies, Blooming Terrace agreed to pay a $110,000 fee. Payment of this new fee did not substitute for any other charges that continued to accrue during the forbearance period, including, but not necessarily limited to, default interest and late fees. Instead, a condition of the forbearance was Blooming Terrace’s compliance with all of the original loan terms. The Colorado Supreme Court granted certiorari to clarify the proper method for determining the effective rate of interest charged on a nonconsumer loan to ascertain whether that rate was usurious under Colorado law: the effective interest rate should be calculated by determining the total per annum rate of interest that a borrower is subjected to during a given extension of credit. Here, where a forbearance agreement was entered into after an event of default, all charges that accrued during the period of forbearance must be totaled and then annualized using only that timeframe as the annualization period. Such includable interest must then be combined with any interest that continued to accrue pursuant to the original loan terms to determine the effective rate of interest subject to the 45% ceiling set by Colorado’s usury statute, section 5-12-103, C.R.S. (2018). View "Blooming Terrace No. 1, LLC v. KH Blake Street, LLC" on Justia Law
Department of Revenue v. Oracle
Oracle was a Delaware corporation headquartered in California, and it is the parent of a worldwide group of affiliated corporations. OJH was a Delaware corporation and a wholly-owned subsidiary of Oracle, existing solely as a holding company. During the period at issue in this matter, OJH held stock in Oracle Japan, and it sold 8.7 million shares of that stock on the Tokyo Stock Exchange, realizing capital gains of approximately $6.4 billion. The tax treatment of these gains was at the center of this dispute. Specifically, the issues this case presented for the Colorado Supreme Court's review were: (1) whether the Colorado Department of Revenue could require Oracle Corporation (“Oracle”) to include its holding company, Oracle Japan Holding, Inc. (“OJH”), in its Colorado combined income tax return for the tax year ending May 31, 2000; and (2) if no, then whether the Department could nevertheless allocate OJH’s gain from the sale of shares that it held in Oracle Corporation Japan (“Oracle Japan”) to Oracle in order to avoid abuse and to clearly reflect income. For the reasons set forth in Department of Revenue v. Agilent Technologies, Inc., 2019 CO __, __ P.3d __, the Colorado Supreme Court concluded the pertinent statutory provisions and regulations did not permit the Department either to require Oracle to include OJH in its combined tax return for the tax year at issue or to allocate OJH’s capital gains income to Oracle. Accordingly, the Supreme Court concluded the district court properly granted summary judgment in Oracle's favor. View "Department of Revenue v. Oracle" on Justia Law
Department of Revenue v. Agilent Technologies
Agilent Technologies, Inc. was a Delaware corporation headquartered in California, and was the parent company of a worldwide family of affiliated corporations. Agilent maintains research and development and manufacturing sites in Colorado and is thus subject to Colorado corporate income tax. World Trade, Inc. is a Delaware corporation and a wholly owned subsidiary of Agilent, and existed solely as a holding company. World Trade earned substantial dividends on its shares in its noted subsidiaries, the tax treatment of dividends gave rise to the dispute before the Colorado Supreme Court. Specifically, the issues reduced to: (1) whether the Colorado Department of Revenue and Michael Hartman, in his official capacity as the Executive Director of the Department, could require Agilent to include its holding company, Agilent Technologies World Trade in its Colorado combined income tax returns for the tax years 2000–07; if not, then whether the Department could nevertheless allocate World Trade’s gross income to Agilent in order to avoid abuse and to clearly reflect income. The Colorado Court determined sections 39-22-303(11)–(12), C.R.S. (2018), did not authorize the Department to require Agilent to include World Trade in its combined tax returns for the tax years at issue because World Trade was not an includable C corporation within the meaning of those provisions. As to the second question, the Court likewise concluded the Department could not allocate World Trade’s income to Agilent under section 39-22-303(6) because: (1) that section has been superseded by section 39-22-303(11) as a vehicle for requiring combined reporting for affiliated C corporations; and (2) even if section 39-22-303(6) could apply, on the undisputed facts presented here, no allocation would be necessary to avoid abuse or clearly reflect income. View "Department of Revenue v. Agilent Technologies" on Justia Law
Bermel v. BlueRadios, Inc.
Chris Bermel contracted to provide engineering services for BlueRadios, Inc., a wireless data and voice communications company. In 2014, Bermel knowingly forwarded thousands of company emails containing proprietary information to his personal email account without authorization. For this conduct, the trial court found Bermel liable for breach of contract and for civil theft under section 18-4-405, C.R.S. (2018). The statute allowed the rightful owner of stolen property to recover the greater of $200 or three times the actual damages sustained, as well as costs and reasonable attorney fees. Bermel argued BlueRadios’ remedies were limited to those for breach of contract, and that Colorado’s economic loss rule barred BlueRadios’ claim for civil theft. After review, the Colorado Supreme Court disagreed, holding that the judge-made economic loss rule could not bar a statutory cause of action. View "Bermel v. BlueRadios, Inc." on Justia Law
U.S. Welding, Inc. v. Advanced Circuits, Inc.
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
Rocky Mountain Exploration, Inc. and RMEI Bakken Joint Venture
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
Gadeco, LLC v. Grynberg
The issue this case presented for the Colorado Supreme Court's review centered on whether defendant Jack Grynberg impliedly waived the physician–patient privilege by either: (1) requesting specific performance of a contract; or (2) denying plaintiffs’ allegations that he made irrational decisions. Grynberg asserted counterclaims for breach of contract against the plaintiffs, his children and former wife (“the Family”). According to Grynberg, he transferred his ownership interests in the businesses to the Family on the condition that he would remain in control of the businesses until his death. Grynberg alleged Family members expressed agreement to these terms either orally, in writing, or implicitly through their conduct. Then in 2016, the Family voted to remove Grynberg as president of each business, citing his declining mental health. Grynberg refused to comply. The Family filed suit, seeking a declaration that Grynberg no longer controlled the businesses and an injunction preventing him from representing the businesses. In its complaint, the Family asserted that Grynberg was exhibiting erratic behavior, making irrational decisions, and committing significant company funds to obviously fraudulent scam operations. In his amended answer, Grynberg denied the Family’s allegations and asserted counterclaims, including claims for breach of the lifetime-control agreement. Grynberg alleged that the Family’s breach of the oral or implied contract caused substantial monetary harm, and he sought “damages and/or specific performance” as relief. The trial court found that Grynberg impliedly waived the physician–patient privilege by asserting those counterclaims, and it ordered him to produce three years’ worth of mental health records for in-camera inspection. Grynberg petitioned the Supreme Court to review that ruling. Only privilege holders (patients) can impliedly waive the physician–patient privilege, and that they do so by injecting their physical or mental condition into the case as the basis of a claim or an affirmative defense. An adverse party cannot inject the patient’s physical or mental condition into a case through its defenses. Patients do not inject their mental condition into the case by denying the opposing party’s allegations. The Supreme Court found Grynberg did not inject his mental condition into the case as the basis of a claim by alleging that the Family breached a contract that does not reference his mental health. Likewise, he did not inject his mental condition into the case as the basis of a claim or an affirmative defense by denying the Family’s allegations that he made irrational decisions. Accordingly, the Court concluded Grynberg did not impliedly waive the physician–patient privilege and that the trial court abused its discretion by ordering Grynberg to produce his mental health records for in-camera inspection. View "Gadeco, LLC v. Grynberg" 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