Justia Colorado Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure
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The issue this case presented for the Colorado Supreme Court’s review centered on whether an investigative subpoena issued by the Colorado Medical Board (the “Board”) can have a lawfully authorized purpose if the investigation was prompted by a complaint made by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (the “CDPHE”) pursuant to a policy that violated the Open Meetings Law (the “OML”) or the State Administrative Procedure Act (the “APA”). Scott McLaughlin, M.D. was a physician licensed to practice medicine in Colorado. As part of his practice, he evaluated patients to see if they had a qualifying condition that would benefit from the use of medical marijuana. Information related to medical marijuana in Colorado is maintained by the CDPHE in a confidential registry that includes the names of all patients who have applied for and are entitled to receive a marijuana registry identification card, as well as the names and contact information for the patients’ physicians and, if applicable, their primary caregivers. In May 2014, the CDPHE referred McLaughlin to the Board for investigation based on a high caseload of patients for whom marijuana was recommended. McLaughlin refused to comply with the subpoena, and he and several other physicians whom the CDPHE had referred to the Board and who had received subpoenas from the Board filed suit in the Denver District Court, seeking, among other things, to enjoin the Board from enforcing its subpoenas. The Supreme Court concluded that because neither the CDPHE’s adoption of the Referral Policy nor its referral of Boland to the Board violated the OML or the APA, Boland’s contention that the subpoena to him was void because the Policy and referral were void was based on a flawed premise and was therefore unpersuasive. Even if the adoption of the Referral Policy and the referral itself violated the OML or the APA, however, we still conclude that the Board’s subpoena to Boland had a lawfully authorized purpose because it was issued pursuant to the Board’s statutory authority to investigate allegations of unprofessional conduct and was properly tailored to that purpose. View "Colorado Medical Board v. McLaughlin" on Justia Law

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This case was companion to Colorado Medical Board v. McLaughlin, 2019 CO 93, __ P.3d __, wherein the Colorado Supreme Court was asked to determine whether an investigative subpoena issued by the Colorado Medical Board (the “Board”) could have a lawfully authorized purpose if the investigation was prompted by a complaint made by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (the “CDPHE”) pursuant to a policy that violated the Open Meetings Law (the “OML”) or the State Administrative Procedure Act (the “APA”). Petitioner James Boland, M.D. was a physician licensed to practice medicine in Colorado. He primarily examined patients to determine if they would benefit from the use of medical marijuana. Information related to medical marijuana in Colorado is maintained by the CDPHE in a confidential registry that includes the names of all patients who have applied for and are entitled to receive a marijuana registry identification card, as well as the names and contact information for the patients’ physicians and, if applicable, their primary caregivers. In June 2014, the CDPHE referred Boland to the Board for investigation based on his “[h]igh plant count recommendations and high percent of patients under age of 30 [sic] for medical marijuana referrals.” Boland refused to comply with the subpoena, and he and several other physicians whom the CDPHE had referred to the Board and who had received subpoenas from the Board filed suit in the Denver District Court, seeking, among other things, to enjoin the Board from enforcing its subpoenas. The Supreme Court concluded that because neither the CDPHE’s adoption of the Referral Policy nor its referral of Boland to the Board violated the OML or the APA, Boland’s contention that the subpoena to him was void because the Policy and referral were void was based on a flawed premise and was therefore unpersuasive. Even if the adoption of the Referral Policy and the referral itself violated the OML or the APA, however, we still conclude that the Board’s subpoena to Boland had a lawfully authorized purpose because it was issued pursuant to the Board’s statutory authority to investigate allegations of unprofessional conduct and was properly tailored to that purpose. View "Boland v. Colorado Medical Board" on Justia Law

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Consistent with Medical Marijuana Policy No. 2014-01 (the “Referral Policy”), which the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (the “CDPHE”) had developed after receiving input from staff of the Colorado Medical Board (the “Board”), the CDPHE referred John Does 1–9 (the “Doctors”) to the Board for investigation of unprofessional conduct regarding the certification of patients for the use of medical marijuana. The Doctors filed suit, contending, among other things, that: (1) the Referral Policy was void because it was developed in violation of the Colorado Open Meetings Law (the “OML”); and (2) both the Referral Policy and the referrals to the Board constituted final agency actions under the State Administrative Procedure Act (the “APA”), and the CDPHE did not follow the procedures outlined therein, thereby rendering both the Referral Policy and the referrals void. After review, the Colorado Supreme Court concluded: (1) an entire state agency could not be a “state public body” within the meaning of the OML, and therefore the Doctors did not establish the CDPHE violated the OML; (2) the Referral Policy was an interpretive rather than a legislative rule, therefore, it fell within an exception to the APA and was not subject to the APA’s rulemaking requirements; and (3) the act of referring the Doctors to the Board did not constitute final agency action and therefore was not reviewable under the APA. View "Doe v. Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment" on Justia Law

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In May 2014, Woodmen Hills Metropolitan District (“Woodmen Hills”) held an election to fill vacant positions on its board of directors, and Ron Pace was one of the candidates. Several months before the election, a group of Woodmen Hills residents formed Alliance for a Safe and Independent Woodmen Hills (“Alliance”), a non-profit organization headed by Sarah Brittain Jack, to educate Woodmen Hills residents about issues affecting their community. Alliance subsequently undertook efforts advocating Pace’s defeat in the upcoming election, including creating direct mailings to Woodmen Hills residents, and the creation of a Facebook page “sharply critical” of Pace. The issues this case presented for the Colorado Supreme Court’s review in this case centered on two questions regarding the meaning of article XXVIII, section 9(2)(a) of the Colorado Constitution. The first called for the definition of “violation” was, and whether section 9(2)(a)’s one-year statute of limitations for private campaign finance enforcement actions was triggered and could extend beyond the dates adjudicated and penalized in the decision being enforced. The second issue called for a decision of whether the attorney fees provision in section 9(2)(a) was self-executing or whether it had to be read together with section 13-17-102(6), C.R.S. (2019), to limit attorney fee awards against a pro se party. With regard to the first question, the Supreme Court concluded the term “violation,” referred to the violation as adjudicated and penalized in the decision being enforced. Accordingly, the division erred in perceiving a possible continuing violation under section 9(2)(a). Therefore, the enforcement action in this case was barred by the one-year statute of limitations. With regard to the second question, the Court concluded section 9(2)(a)’s language stating that “[t]he prevailing party in a private enforcement action shall be entitled to reasonable attorneys fees and costs” was indeed self-executing and that section 13-17-102(6) could not be construed to limit or nullify section 9(2)(a)’s unconditional award of attorney fees to the prevailing party. The Court reversed the trial court’s judgment to the contrary and concluded Alliance and Jack, as prevailing parties, were entitled to an award of the reasonable attorney fees that they incurred in the district and appellate courts in this case. View "Alliance for a Safe and Independent Woodmen Hills v. Campaign" on Justia Law

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The purpose of the "1940 Agreement" at issue in this appeal was to resolve the parties’ disputes regarding seepage and evaporation losses from three of the City and County of Denver’s streambed reservoirs located on the South Platte River. Under the 1940 Agreement, in lieu of making releases from the streambed reservoirs to replace seepage and evaporation losses, Denver agreed not to reuse or successively use return flows from water imported from the western slope and used in Denver’s municipal water system. Earlier litigation in Case No. 81CW405 established that this reuse prohibition in the 1940 Agreement applied only to return flows derived from decreed water rights from Colorado River sources with appropriation dates before May 1, 1940 (the date Denver entered into the agreement); Denver could therefore use return flows derived from sources that were appropriated or acquired after that date. The question in this appeal was whether the 1940 Agreement prohibited Denver from using return flows from water imported from the Blue River system under exchange and substitution operations that use water stored in the Williams Fork Reservoir under a 1935 priority as a substitute supply. In a written order, the water court resolved competing motions in Denver’s favor, ruling that Denver’s Blue River system water, which was decreed in 1955 with an appropriation date of June 24, 1946, was a source of water that was not owned, appropriated, or acquired by Denver prior to May 1, 1940, and therefore was not subject to the 1940 Agreement. The water court thus held that Denver could reuse or successively use imported water attributed to the Blue River system. Consolidated Ditches and other opposers appealed. The Colorado Supreme Court concurred with the water court, finding the return flows were not subject to the 1940 Agreement and Denver could reuse or successively use those return flows. View "City & Cty. of Denver v. Consol. Ditches of Water Dist. No. 2" 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 centered on proof of equitable estoppel. In 2017, a group of current and former exotic dancers sued the owners of clubs where they performed and the club owners’ corporate parent companies alleging the defendants acted in concert to wrongfully deprive the dancers of basic protections provided by law to employees. The plaintiffs contended they were misclassified as nonemployee “independent contractors” or “lessees” pursuant to “Entertainment Lease” agreements that identified the club-owner defendants as “landlords” rather than employers. According to the plaintiffs’ pleadings, the club-owner and corporate-parent defendants were jointly and severally liable for denying the dancers earned minimum wages and overtime pay, confiscating or otherwise misallocating their gratuities, charging them fees to work, and subjecting them to onerous fines. The club-owner defendants have successfully compelled arbitration of the plaintiffs’ claims based on the arbitration clause included in the agreements the dancers signed with the club owners. The corporate-parent defendants sought to do the same, but because they were not parties to the agreements or to any other written contract with the dancers, they had to find a different hook to compel the dancers into arbitration: that the dancers should be equitably estopped from litigating their claims against one set of defendants because they were in compelled arbitration of the same claims against the other set of defendants. The Colorado Supreme Court held Colorado’s law of equitable estoppel applied in the same manner when a dispute involves an arbitration agreement as it did in other contexts. Thus, a nonsignatory to an arbitration agreement could only assert equitable estoppel against a signatory in an effort to compel arbitration if the nonsignatory can demonstrate each of the elements of equitable estoppel, including detrimental reliance. View "Santich v. VCG Holding Corp." on Justia Law

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T.T. sought to ensure that his name was not linked to the record of his earlier short-term commitment for treatment of a mental health condition. Under section 27-65-107(7), C.R.S. (2018), when a person is released from short-term treatment for a mental health condition, the clerk of the district court shall seal the record in the case and omit the name of the person from the court’s “index of cases.” The key question in this case was whether “Eclipse,” the user interface of the Colorado judicial branch’s computerized case management system, was an “index of cases” as contemplated by section 27-65-107(7). The Colorado Supreme Court concluded the reference to “index of cases” in section 27-65-107(7) contemplated a list of matters before the court that could be used to locate the actual court records for those matters. The Eclipse user interface itself contained no data, and neither Eclipse nor its underlying database, ICON, functioned as an “index” or list of cases. Thus, contrary to the court of appeals’ ruling, section 27-65-107(7) did not require the court clerk to remove T.T.’s name from the ICON/Eclipse case management system. Moreover, to remove an individual’s name from this case management system would thwart the court’s statutory obligations to link the record of a short-term mental health case with subsequent cases involving that individual and to share certain information with the federal government. Because the district court cannot comply with the relief directed by the court of appeals, the Supreme Court discharged the rule to show cause. View "In re People in the Interest of T.T." on Justia Law

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Francis Ruybalid committed numerous ethical violations arising out of cases that he either prosecuted or supervised while he was the District Attorney for the Colorado Third Judicial District. He argued he was entitled to the attorney’s fees and costs he incurred while defending these allegations. The counties of the Third Judicial District refused to reimburse Ruybalid for these expenses. The Colorado Supreme Court determined that because Ruybalid’s ethical violations were at times committed recklessly or knowingly, his attorney’s fees and costs were not necessarily incurred in the discharge of his official duties, therefore, he was not entitled to reimbursement for fees. View "Ruybalid v. Bd. of Cty. Comm'rs" on Justia Law

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Defendant Michael Klun appealed a water court’s order denying his motion for attorney fees after he prevailed on all claims brought against him in the underlying action by plaintiffs Thomas Klun and Joseph Klun, Jr. Defendant claimed he was entitled to recover his attorney fees pursuant to a fee-shifting provision of a prior settlement agreement between him and his brothers-plaintiffs. The fee-shifting clause at issue provided that the prevailing party in an action to enforce, by any means, any of the terms of the Settlement Agreement would be awarded all costs of the action, including reasonable attorney fees. Here, plaintiffs’ claims, in substance, sought relief based on allegations that defendant had breached the terms of the Settlement Agreement, and defendant responded by arguing it was plaintiffs’ claims that were inconsistent with that Agreement. The Colorado Supreme Court held that defendant, as the prevailing party on all claims below, was entitled to recover his attorney fees pursuant to the Settlement Agreement’s fee-shifting clause, and therefore reversed the water court’s order denying an award of such fees and remanded this case for a determination of the trial and appellate fees to be awarded to defendant. View "Klun v. Klun" on Justia Law

Posted in: Civil Procedure
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In 2008, defendant-appellees Roger Brooks and Veryl Goodnight filed an application with the water court to change the point of diversion of their water right from the Giles Ditch to the Davenport Ditch. The application and the required notice published in the local newspaper misidentified the section and range in which the Davenport Ditch headgate was located. Both, however, referred repeatedly to the Davenport Ditch. Appellees successfully moved to amend the application with the correct section and range shortly afterward. The water court, finding that “no person [would] be injured by the amendment,” concluded that republication of the notice was unnecessary. Eight years later, plaintiff-appellant Gary Sheek filed this action at the water court, seeking judgment on five claims for relief: (1) declaratory judgment that Brooks’s decree was void for insufficient notice; (2) quiet title to a prescriptive access easement for the Davenport Ditch, including ancillary access rights; (3) trespass; (4) theft and interference with a water right; and (5) a permanent injunction prohibiting Brooks from continued use of the Davenport Ditch. The Colorado Supreme Court agreed with the water court’s conclusion that the published notice was sufficient. As a result, all of the remaining claims should have been dismissed for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. View "Sheek v. Brooks" on Justia Law