Articles Posted in Civil Procedure

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Petitioner Albert Johnson sought review of the court of appeals’ judgment reversing jury verdicts in his favor on personal injury claims against Ryan Schonlaw and VCG Restaurants of Denver, Inc. At the close of the case, the district court overruled the objections of Schonlaw and VCG to its announced decision to allow the alternate to deliberate to verdict with the other jurors. The court of appeals concluded that the trial court had erred in allowing an alternate juror to participate in jury deliberations over the objection of a party, and that the error gave rise to a presumption of prejudice, which remained unrebutted by Johnson, and therefore required reversal. The Colorado Supreme Court determined the error in this case did not affect the substantial rights of either Schonlaw or VCG, and it should have been disregarded as harmless, as required by C.R.C.P. 61. The judgment of the court of appeals was therefore reversed, and the case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Johnson v. Schonlaw" on Justia Law

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At issue before the Colorado Supreme Court in this matter was the issue of whether an insured was entitled to collect prejudgment interest when he settles an uninsured motorist claim (“UM claim”) with his insurer in lieu of filing a lawsuit and proceeding to judgment. The Court held that under the plain language of the prejudgment interest statute, 13-21-101, C.R.S (2017), an insured is entitled to prejudgment interest only after: (1) an action is brought; (2) the plaintiff claims damages and interest in the complaint; (3) there is a finding of damages by a jury or court; and (4) judgment is entered. Because the plaintiff in this case did not meet all of these conditions, he was not entitled to prejudgment interest. View "Munoz v. Am. Fam. Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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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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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 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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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

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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

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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

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This case concerned a discovery dispute arising out of an automobile accident in which Gary Griggs, a driver insured by State Farm, injured Susan Goddard and several others. State Farm sought a declaratory judgment that Griggs breached the contractual duties set forth in his insurance policy by executing a settlement agreement pursuant to Nunn v. Mid-Century Insurance Co., 244 P.3d 116 (Colo. 2010), in which he waived a jury trial, consented to arbitration, and assigned to Goddard any rights that he had against State Farm. Goddard counterclaimed, asserting, among other things, that State Farm acted in bad faith by refusing both to settle her claims against Griggs and to indemnify Griggs for the judgment entered against him after the arbitration to which Griggs had consented. The district court determined State Farm impliedly waived the attorney-client privilege protecting communications between it and its former counsel when it submitted an affidavit from that former counsel to rebut allegations of discovery misconduct. The Colorado Supreme Court concluded after review that the attorney affidavit submitted in this case did not place any privileged communications at issue. Accordingly, the district court erred in finding that State Farm impliedly waived its attorney-client privilege. View "State Farm v. Griggs" on Justia Law

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The United States District Court for the District of Colorado certified a question of law to the Colorado Supreme Court. The question asked for an interpretation of the meaning of the words “suicide, sane or insane,” when used in life insurance policies. The Colorado Supreme Court concluded that, under Colorado law, a life insurance policy exclusion for “suicide, sane or insane” excluded coverage only if the insured, whether sane or insane at the time, committed an act of self-destruction with the intent to kill himself. View "Renfandt v. New York Life Insurance Company" on Justia Law