Justia Colorado Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure
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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

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This termination of parental rights case concerned the “active efforts” required under the Indian Child Welfare Act (“ICWA”) to provide remedial services and rehabilitative programs to assist a parent in completing a court-ordered treatment plan. A division of the Colorado court of appeals reversed a juvenile court’s judgment terminating Mother’s parent-child legal relationship with her two Native American children, holding that the Denver Department of Human Services (“DHS”) did not engage in the “active efforts” required under ICWA to assist Mother in completing her court-ordered treatment plan because it did not offer Mother job training or employment assistance, even though Mother struggled to maintain sobriety and disappeared for several months. The Colorado Supreme Court held that “active efforts” was a heightened standard requiring a greater degree of engagement by agencies, and agencies must provide a parent with remedial services and resources to complete all of the parent’s treatment plan objectives. The Court was satisfied the record supported the juvenile court’s determination that DHS engaged in active efforts to provide Mother with services and programs to attempt to rehabilitate her and reunited the family. The appellate court’s judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for that court to address Mother’s remaining appellate contentions. View "Colorado in interest of My.K.M. and Ma. K.M." on Justia Law

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The Colorado Supreme Court granted review in this case to consider whether a district court erred in dismissing a a petition for allocation of parental responsibilities (“APR”) filed by Steven Cook (“Stepfather”) for lack of standing. The Court reaffirmed that neither exclusive physical care nor parental consent was required for a nonparent to establish standing to petition for an APR under section 14-10-123(1)(c), C.R.S. (2021), of Colorado’s Uniform Dissolution of Marriage Act (“UDMA”). Thus, the Court vacated the district court’s order dismissing Stepfather’s APR petition and its award of attorney fees against Stepfather pursuant to section 13-17-102, C.R.S. (2021), and remanded for further proceedings. View "Parental Responsibilities of: E.K." on Justia Law

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The plaintiff in this product liability case obtained a money judgment to compensate him for personal injuries he sustained in a car accident. The judgment debtor, the manufacturer of plaintiff’s car, appealed, and a division of the court of appeals reversed the judgment. The Colorado Supreme Court affirmed the division’s judgment on different grounds and remanded the matter for a new trial. On remand, plaintiff prevailed again, obtaining a new money judgment. The parties agreed that the nine percent interest rate applied from the date of the accident until the date of the appealed judgment (the first judgment). But the parties disagreed on the applicable interest rate between entry of that judgment and satisfaction of the final judgment (the second judgment). The Colorado Supreme Court held that whenever the judgment debtor appeals the judgment, the interest rate switches from nine percent to a market-based rate. "The outcome of the appeal is of no consequence; the filing of any appeal of the judgment by the judgment debtor triggers the shift in interest rate." Further, the Court held that the market-based postjudgment interest on the sum to be paid had to be calculated from the date of the appealed judgment. Thus, the market-based postjudgment interest rate applied from the date of the appealed judgment (the first judgment) through the date the final judgment (the second judgment) is satisfied. View "Ford Motor Company v. Walker" on Justia Law

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The four truckers who initiated this action regularly drove more than forty hours per week for their employer, JP Trucking, Inc., a Colorado transport company. The question they presented for the Colorado Supreme Courts review concerned whether they were entitled to overtime pay for hours exceeding forty hours per week or twelve hours per day. The Court surmised the answer depended on the meaning of a state regulation that exempted “interstate drivers” from overtime compensation. The truck drivers and JP Trucking both urged the Supreme Court to declare that the term “interstate drivers” was unambiguous: the truck drivers argued the term referred to drivers whose work predominantly took them across state lines; JP Trucking argued that “interstate drivers” were drivers involved in the transportation of goods in interstate commerce, even if their work never took them across state lines. A division of the Colorado court of appeals determined that “interstate drivers” was unambiguous from JP Trucking’s understanding of the term. The Supreme Court concluded the term was ambiguous, and consistent with a different appellate court division, held that “interstate drivers” refers to drivers whose work takes them across state lines, regardless of how often. Hence, the state exemption from overtime compensation was triggered the first time a driver crosses state lines during a work trip. The case was remanded for further proceedings, namely to allow the appeals court to consider JP Trucking’s remaining contentions regarding the calculation of damages. View "Gomez v. JP Trucking" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Lisa French went to respondents Centura Health Corporation and Catholic Health Initiatives Colorado d/b/a St. Anthony North Health Campus (collectively, “Centura”) for surgery. Upon reviewing French’s insurance information prior to surgery, Centura advised her that she would personally be responsible for $1,336.90 of the amounts to be billed. After the surgery, however, Centura determined that it had misread French’s insurance card and that she was, in fact, an out-of-network patient. Centura then billed French $229,112.13 and ultimately sued her to collect. The Colorado Supreme Court granted certiorari to review: (1) whether here, Centura’s database used by listing rates for specific medical services and supplies, was incorporated by reference into hospital services agreements (“HSAs”) that French had signed; and (2) if so, whether the price term in the HSAs was sufficiently unambiguous to render the HSAs enforceable. The Court concluded that because French neither had knowledge of nor assented to the chargemaster, which was not referenced in the HSA or disclosed to her, the chargemaster was not incorporated by reference into the HSA. Accordingly, the HSA left its price term open, and therefore, the jury appropriately determined that term. The Court reverse the judgment of the division below, and did not decide whether the price that French was to pay was unambiguous, even if the HSA incorporated the chargemaster. View "French v. Centura Health" on Justia Law

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The Department of Human Services for Arapahoe County (“the Department”) sued Monica Velarde and Michael Moore to enforce a final order it had issued against them to recover Medicaid overpayments. But the Department did so only after undertaking extensive efforts on its own to recoup the fraudulently obtained benefits. The district court dismissed the Department’s suit, finding that section 24-4-106(4), C.R.S. (2021), which was part of the State Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”), required an agency seeking judicial enforcement of one of its final orders to do so within thirty-five days of the order’s effective date. The Colorado Supreme Court determined district court and the court of appeals incorrectly relied on an inapplicable statutory deadline in ruling that the complaint was untimely filed. Each court was called upon to determine whether a thirty-five-day deadline governing proceedings initiated by an adversely affected or aggrieved person seeking judicial review of an agency’s action also applied to proceedings initiated by an agency seeking judicial enforcement of one of its final orders. Both courts answered yes. The Supreme Court, however, answered no. Judgment was reversed and the case remanded for further proceedings. View "Arapahoe County v. Velarde & Moore" on Justia Law

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When members of the Public Employees’ Retirement Association (“PERA”) apply for retirement, they can choose between three options for benefit distribution. Generally, a retiree’s option choice is final. Pursuant to section 24-51-802(3.8), C.R.S. (2021), if a retiree chose either option 2 or 3 at retirement and the retiree’s then-spouse was named cobeneficiary, “the court shall have the jurisdiction to order or allow [the] retiree . . . to remove the spouse that was named cobeneficiary . . . in which case an option 1 benefit shall become payable.” In this case, the Colorado Supreme Court considered whether section 24-51-802(3.8) empowered a divorcing retiree to unilaterally remove a former spouse as named cobeneficiary and convert to option 1 retirement benefits. Assuming without deciding that this issue was adequately preserved for appeal, the Colorado Supreme Court answered this question in the negative. Instead, applying the statute’s plain language, the Court held that section 24-51-802(3.8) vested the trial court, not the retiree, with the authority to remove the former spouse as cobeneficiary and facilitate a conversion to option 1. Therefore, the Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals, albeit on different grounds. View "In re Marriage of Mack" on Justia Law

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The federal district court for the District of Colorado certified a question of law to the Colorado Supreme Court. In July 2020, Alexis Skillett was involved in a car accident. At the time of the accident, Allstate Fire and Casualty Insurance Company (“Allstate”) insured Skillett under a policy that included underinsured motorist coverage. Skillett settled with the at-fault driver and his insurer and also filed a claim with Allstate for underinsured motorist benefits. Allstate assigned one of its employees, Collin Draine, to handle Skillett’s claim. Draine concluded Skillett was not entitled to underinsured motorist benefits. Skillett filed suit in Denver District Court, naming both Allstate and Draine as defendants. Her claims against Allstate included breach of contract, statutory bad faith, and common law bad faith. As to Draine, she alleged that he had personally violated section 10-3-1116, which creates a cause of action for insureds whose insurance benefits have been unreasonably delayed or denied. The certified question asked the Supreme Court whether an employee of an insurance company who adjusts an insured’s claim in the course of employment could, for that reason, be liable personally for statutory bad faith under Colorado Revised Statutes Sections 10-3-1115 and -1116. Given the plain statutory language, the Supreme Court answered that question in the negative: "An action for unreasonably delayed or denied insurance benefits under Colorado law may be brought against an insurer, not against an individual adjuster acting solely as an employee of the insurer." View "Skillet v. Allstate" on Justia Law

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After tripping over a deviation in a sidewalk in the City of Boulder (“City”), Joy Maphis sued the City for her injuries under the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act (“CGIA”). The City moved to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, arguing that it was immune from suit as the sidewalk did not constitute a “dangerous condition” under section 24-10-106(1)(d)(1), C.R.S. (2021), of the CGIA. The district court denied the City’s motion based on its finding that the deviation was “difficult to detect” and was larger than what the City classified as a “hazard” warranting repair. The City appealed, and the court of appeals reversed, concluding that the undisputed evidence failed to establish that the sidewalk presented the type of dangerous condition for which the City had waived its immunity from suit. After its review, the Colorado Supreme Court agreed with the court of appeals that Maphis failed to establish a waiver of immunity. Reviewing de novo the legal question of whether the sidewalk constituted a dangerous condition under the CGIA, the Court held that Maphis’s evidence did not establish that the sidewalk deviation presented a risk that “exceeded the bounds of reason.” Accordingly, the Court affirmed the court of appeals and held that the City retained its immunity from suit under the CGIA. View "Maphis v. City of Boulder" on Justia Law