Justia Colorado Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure

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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

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The Colorado School of Mines contracted with Sodexo America, LLC, to fulfill its obligations to provide meals and food options for its students. During the time at issue, Mines loaded each meal-plan student’s student identification card, with an individual meal plan choice. To use their meal plans, students swiped their “BlasterCards” at a dining facility. Sodexo had nothing to do with loading the students’ BlasterCards with their meal plans; Sodexo also had no way of knowing if a student had fully paid for his or her meal plan, and Sodexo had no way of enforcing collections against a student who hadn’t fully paid. Neither Mines nor Sodexo collected any sales tax on these meal-plan meals. When the City of Golden’s Finance Department audited Sodexo and discovered that sales tax for these meal plans had not been collected, it issued a sales and use tax assessment. Sodexo protested and lost, so Sodexo appealed to the district court. The court granted summary judgment for Golden, finding that Sodexo had engaged in taxable retail sales directly to Mines’ students, rather than tax-exempt wholesale sales to Mines. Sodexo appealed again. This time, a unanimous division of the court of appeals reversed the judgment of the district court, concluding that there were two sales transactions at issue: one between Mines and Sodexo, and the other between Mines and its students. The division further concluded that Mines and Sodexo were engaged in tax-exempt wholesale transactions. Accordingly, the division remanded for entry of judgment in Sodexo’s favor. The Colorado Supreme Court granted the City of Golden’s request to review the appellate court’s decision. After review, the Court agreed that two transactions took place. Like the division below, the Court concluded Sodexo sold the meal-plan meals to Mines at wholesale, and, accordingly, these transactions were exempt from taxation under the Code. The Court therefore affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals. View "City of Golden v. Sodexo America, LLC" on Justia Law

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In 2008, defendant-appellees Roger Brooks and Veryl Goodnight (together “Brooks”) filed an application in 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. However, both referred repeatedly to the Davenport Ditch. Brooks 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 in the water court, seeking judgment on five claims for relief: (1) declaratory judgment that Brooks’ 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. After concluding that sufficient notice was provided, the water court granted Brooks’ motion for summary judgment and deemed the trespass and injunction claims moot in light of that ruling. The court then dismissed the prescriptive easement claim as well as the theft and interference claim for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. 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

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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

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David Calvert was disbarred for various ethical violations, including entering into an oral agreement with a client without complying with the requisite safeguards of Colorado Rule of Professional Conduct 1.8(a). After being disbarred, Calvert sued his former client, Diane Mayberry, for breach of that same oral agreement, claiming that there was a contract between them. The trial court granted Mayberry’s motion for summary judgment, and the court of appeals affirmed. On appeal to the Colorado Supreme Court, Calvert challenged: (1) whether an attorney who was found to have violated Rule 1.8(a) in a disciplinary proceeding was estopped from relitigating the same factual issues in a civil proceeding; (2) whether a contract between an attorney and a client entered into in violation of Rule 1.8(a) was enforceable; and (3) whether the trial court abused its discretion in awarding attorney’s fees against Calvert after finding his lawsuit groundless and frivolous. The Colorado Supreme Court declined the issue preclusion issue raised because Calvert conceded he could not relitigate whether he entered into an agreement with a client without meeting Rule 1.8(a)’s requirements. The Court held that when an attorney enters into a contract without complying with Rule 1.8(a), the contract was presumptively void as against public policy; however, a lawyer may rebut that presumption by showing that, under the circumstances, the contract does not contravene the public policy underlying Rule 1.8(a). Further, the Court held the trial court did not abuse its discretion in awarding attorney’s fees at the trial level because the record supported the finding that the case was groundless, frivolous, and brought in bad faith. But as to attorney’s fees at the appellate level, because the questions of whether issue preclusion applied in this proceeding and whether a contract made in violation of Rule 1.8(a) is void as against public policy were legitimately appealable issues, thereby making a grant of appellate attorney’s fees inappropriate. Therefore, the Supreme Court affirmed the court of appeals as to the merits on other grounds, affirmed the award of attorney’s fees at the trial level, and reversed the court of appeals’ order remanding for a determination of appellate attorney’s fees. View "Calvert v. Mayberry" on Justia Law