Articles Posted in Civil Procedure

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When Arvada, Colorado police officers responded to a reported domestic disturbance in Terry Ross’s home, Ross went into a bedroom and shot himself. Officers radioed for an ambulance whose crew delivered him to the hospital. There, doctors treated Ross’s wounds as Arvada officers kept watch over him. When Ross, and later his estate, could not pay for his care, the hospital billed the City of Arvada nearly $30,000. The question presented by this case was essentially whether Arvada had to pay the tab. The trial court and court of appeals said yes; both read Colorado’s “Treatment while in custody” statute as entitling the hospital to relief. Relying on Poudre Valley Health Care Inc. v. City of Loveland, 85 P.3d 558 (Colo. App. 2003), the trial court decided the statute assigned police departments (or any agency that detains people) a duty to pay healthcare providers for treatment of those in custody. The court of appeals affirmed on essentially the same grounds. The Colorado Supreme Court, however, concluded the statute did not create any duty to a healthcare provider. Furthermore, the Court concluded that the hospital’s claim for unjust enrichment survived. Because that claim was contractual, the Court concluded the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act did not prohibit it. Therefore, the Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals in part and remanded for further proceedings. View "City of Arvada ex rel. Arvada Police Department v. Denver Health" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Ann Hardegger filed a complaint in the district court seeking contribution from respondents Daniel and Cheryl Clark, for their proportionate share of a payment she made to the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) in full satisfaction of the parties’ joint and several tax liabilities. In October 2010, the Clarks filed a joint voluntary Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition and gave notice to their creditors, including the Hardeggers. The Hardeggers did not file a proof of claim in the bankruptcy proceeding, and the bankruptcy court granted the Clarks a discharge. In Hardegger’s case, the district court found the Clarks responsible for one-half of the IRS indebtedness and entered summary judgment in Hardegger’s favor. A division of the court of appeals reversed, however, concluding that Hardegger’s contribution claim constituted a pre-petition debt that had been discharged in the Clarks’ bankruptcy case. Applying the “conduct test,” under which a claim arises for bankruptcy purposes at the time the debtor committed the conduct on which the claim is based, the Colorado Supreme Court concluded that Hardegger’s claim for contribution arose when the parties’ jointly owned company incurred federal tax withholding liability between 2007 and 2009, rendering Hardegger and Clark potentially responsible for that debt. Because this conduct occurred before the Clarks filed their bankruptcy petition in 2010, Hardegger’s claim constituted a pre-petition debt that was subject to discharge. View "Hardegger v. Clark" on Justia Law

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In 2012, Khalil Laleh brought a forcible entry and detainer action against his brother, Ali Laleh. The litigation later grew so unwieldy that the trial court appointed Gary Johnson as an accounting expert (and later as a special master) to resolve the feuding brothers’ complex accounting claims. The Laleh brothers signed an engagement agreement with Gary C. Johnson and Associates, LLC, setting forth the scope of Johnson’s services and payment. Johnson commenced work, but before he completed his accounting reports for the trial court, the brothers settled their case and the court dismissed the suit. Johnson later informed the trial court that Khalil and Ali refused to pay both his outstanding fees and his costs incurred post-settlement in attempting to collect the outstanding fees. Following a hearing, the trial court issued an order ruling that Johnson’s fees were reasonable, and that he was entitled to the post-settlement costs he incurred in trying to collect his outstanding fees. In reaching the latter conclusion, the trial court relied on language in the engagement agreement stating that the Lalehs “are jointly and severally responsible for the timely and complete payment of all fees and expenses” to Johnson. The Colorado Supreme Court concluded that a separate provision of the engagement agreement authorized the award of the disputed post-settlement collection costs. View "Laleh v. Johnson" on Justia Law

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In March 2016, Catholic Health Initiatives Colorado (d/b/a Centural Health – St. Anthony North Hospital) filed suit against architectural firm Earl Swensson Associates (“ESA”) after ESA designed Catholic Health’s new hospital, Saint Anthony North Health Campus (“Saint Anthony”). Catholic Health alleged that ESA breached its contract and was professionally negligent by failing to design Saint Anthony such that it could have a separately licensed and certified Ambulatory Surgery Center (“ASC”). In December 2016, Catholic Health filed its first expert disclosures, endorsing Bruce LePage and two others. Catholic Health described LePage as an expert with extensive experience in all aspects of preconstruction services such as cost modeling, systems studies, constructability, cost studies, subcontractor solicitation, detailed planning, client relations, and communications in hospital and other large construction projects. Catholic Health endorsed LePage to testify about the cost of adding an ASC to Saint Anthony. At a hearing, ESA argued that the lack of detail in LePage’s report prevented ESA from being able to effectively cross-examine him. ESA further argued that striking LePage as an expert was the proper remedy because Rule 26(a)(2)(B)(I) limits expert testimony to opinions that comply with the Rule, and LePage offered no opinions in compliance. In 2015, the Colorado Supreme Court amended Colorado Rule of Civil Procedure 26(a)(2)(B) to provide that expert testimony “shall be limited to matters disclosed in detail in the [expert] report.” In this case, the trial court concluded that this amendment mandated the exclusion of expert testimony as a sanction when the underlying report fails to meet the requirements of Rule 26. The Supreme Court concluded the amendment created no such rule of automatic exclusion. Instead, the Court held that the harm and proportionality analysis under Colorado Rule of Civil Procedure 37(c) remained the proper framework for determining sanctions for discovery violations. Because the trial court here did not apply Rule 37(c), the Court remanded for further development of the record. View "Catholic Health v. Swensson" on Justia Law

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Gordon Roy Butt sought to run for Colorado senate for the Libertarian Party in a 2013 recall election. The Secretary of State denied his request to circulate a petition because his request came after the deadline as then set by section 1-12-117(1). Butt and the Libertarian Party (collectively, “the Party”) sued the Secretary under section 1-1-113, C.R.S. (2017), alleging that the statutory deadline conflicted with the Colorado Constitution. Within the section 1-1-113 proceeding, the Party also raised a claim for relief under 42 U.S.C. 1983 (2012), and an accompanying request for an award of attorney’s fees under 42 U.S.C. 1988 (2012), alleging, inter alia, a First Amendment violation. The district court found for the Party on the state constitutional claim, and did not address the section 1983 claim. After the Colorado Supreme Court denied appellate review on a split vote, further proceedings occurred before the district court. The case was appealed once again, and the Supreme Court denied review again. Nine months later, the Party returned to district court seeking summary judgment on its section 1983 claim and, in the alternative, an attorney’s fee award under section 1988 on the ground that the Party had been successful on its state constitutional claim. The district court denied the Party’s request for attorney’s fees, finding that it had not pursued fees in a timely manner. It also dismissed the section 1983 claim as moot due to the General Assembly’s 2014 amendment of section 1-12-117(1). The court of appeals reversed the district court, holding that although the Party’s section 1983 claim was moot, the request for attorney’s fees under section 1988 was appropriate so long as the section 1983 claim was substantial, stemmed from the same nucleus of operative facts as the state constitutional claim, and was reasonably related to the plaintiff’s ultimate success. The court remanded the case to the district court to apply this test to determine whether the Party was entitled to fees. The Colorado Secretary of State appealed, and the Supreme Court reversed: a section 1983 claim may not be brought in a section 1-1-113 proceeding. The language of that section repeatedly refers to "this code," meaning the Colorado Election Code. Therefore, a section 1-1-113 proceeding is limited to allegations of a “breach or neglect of duty or other wrongful act” under the election code itself. § 1-1-113(1). We emphasize that Colorado courts remain entirely open for adjudication of section 1983 claims, including on an expedited basis if a preliminary injunction is sought, and that therefore section 1-1-113 does not run afoul of the Supremacy Clause. View "Williams v. Libertarian Party" on Justia Law

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Ryan Frazier ran as a Republican candidate for United States Senate. After the Colorado Secretary of State determined that Frazier had not gathered enough sufficient signatures to appear on the ballot, Frazier challenged the Secretary’s determination under section 1-1-113, C.R.S. (2017), arguing that the Secretary improperly invalidated hundreds of signatures that substantially complied with the Colorado Election Code. Frazier also brought a claim under 42 U.S.C. 1983 (2012) arguing that certain Colorado statutes prohibiting non-resident circulators from gathering signatures violated the First Amendment. Frazier filed an accompanying request for attorney’s fees as authorized by 42 U.S.C. 1988 (2012). The district court ruled that the Secretary had properly invalidated certain signatures such that Frazier could not appear on the primary ballot. Frazier then appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court, which remanded for reconsideration of a number of signatures under the appropriate standard. On remand, the district court found that additional signatures substantially complied with the code, providing Frazier with sufficient signatures to appear on the Republican primary ballot for United States Senate. No ruling was made on Frazier’s section 1983 claim. Frazier then sought attorney’s fees pursuant to section 1988. The Secretary opposed the fee request, arguing that federal claims such as section 1983 may not be brought in summary proceedings under section 1-1-113. The district court disagreed, finding Frazier was entitled to an award of attorney’s fees. The Colorado Supreme Court held that where the language of section 1-1-113 allows a claim to be brought against an election official who has allegedly committed a "breach or neglect of duty or other wrongful act" under the Colorado Election Code, it refers to a breach of duty or other wrongful action under the Colorado Election Code, not a section 1983 claim. "Colorado courts remain entirely open for the adjudication of section 1983 claims, including on an expedited basis if a preliminary injunction is sought, and that therefore section 1-1-113 does not run afoul of the Supremacy Clause." View "Frazier v. Williams" on Justia Law

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In this case, a hearing officer found that claimant Laurie Gomez, who was terminated from her position as public services manager with the Mesa County Public Library District (the “Library”), suffered from acute stress disorder and depression and was mentally unable to perform the work required of her. The hearing officer nevertheless disqualified Gomez from receiving unemployment benefits under section 8-73-108(5)(e)(XX), C.R.S. (2016) because the officer determined that Gomez’s mental condition was caused by her own poor job performance, and therefore, Gomez was ultimately at fault for her separation from employment. Gomez appealed the hearing officer’s decision to the Industrial Claim Appeals Office (“ICAO”), which reversed. The panel adopted the hearing officer’s finding that Gomez was mentally unable to perform her job duties, but concluded that the hearing officer’s findings regarding the etiology of Gomez’s medical condition were too remote from the proximate cause of her separation, and that scant evidence supported the conclusion that Gomez committed a volitional act to cause her mental incapacity. The court of appeals and the Colorado Supreme Court affirmed: neither the text of section 8-73-108(4)(j) nor related case law contemplated further inquiry into the origin or root cause of a claimant’s mental condition, and such an inquiry is beyond the scope of the simplified administrative proceedings to determine a claimant’s eligibility for benefits. View "Mesa Cty. Public Library Dist. v. Indus. Claim Appeals Office" on Justia Law

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The Colorado Supreme Court’s decision in this matter addressed appeals from two related cases: Gallegos Family Properties, LLC’s petition to de-designate a portion of the Upper Crow Creek Designated Ground Water Basin, and an order awarding the Well Owners a portion of their litigation costs. At issue was whether Gallegos satisfied the statutory standard for de-designating a portion of the Basin set forth in section 37-90-106(1)(a), C.R.S. (2003), and as interpreted by this the Court in Gallegos v. Colorado Ground Water Commission, 147 P.3d 20 (Colo. 2006), and whether Gallegos should have bourne the Well Owners’ costs. The designated groundwater court concluded that Gallegos had failed to make new showings sufficient to justify de-designating a portion of the Basin and taxed Gallegos for a portion of the Well Owners’ costs. The Supreme Court concluded that Gallegos failed to prove by evidence not before the 1987 Commission that the Well Owners were pumping water connected to Crow Creek such that future conditions and factual data justify de-designating a portion of the Basin. Because a party must show connectivity to prove impact, Gallegos failed to meet its burden, and de-designation was improper. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the designated groundwater court’s order denying Gallegos’s petition. Furthermore, because the designated groundwater court properly denied Gallegos’s petition for de-designation, the Supreme Court concluded that the court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that the Well Owners were prevailing parties for purposes of C.R.C.P. 54(d), that the costs awarded were reasonable and necessary, and that Gallegos should pay these costs pursuant to Rule 54(d). View "Gallegos Family Properties, LLC v. Colorado Groundwater Commission" on Justia Law

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Petitioners Scott Smith and D. Michael Kopp, both registered electors, appealed the actions of the Ballot Title Setting Board (“Title Board”) regarding the setting of the title and ballot title and submission clause for Proposed Initiative 2017–2018 #4 (“Initiative #4”). Issues for the Colorado Supreme Court’s review were: (1) Initiative #4 contained a single subject; and (2) whether the Supreme Court had authority to review an abstract prepared and submitted to the Title Board as required by section 1-40-105.5, C.R.S. (2016). The Court concluded: (1) the initiative indeed contained a single subject (the limitation of housing growth in Colorado); and (2) section 1-40-107 authorized the Court to review such an abstract. View "In the Matter of the Title, Ballot Title and Submission Clause for 2017" on Justia Law

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A provision of the mandatory form settlement document promulgated by the Director of the Division of Workers’ Compensation (“Director”) did not waive an injured employee’s statutory right under section 8-43-204(1), C.R.S. (2016), to reopen a settlement based on a mutual mistake of material fact. Petitioner Victor England was a truck driver for Amerigas Propane. He filed a workers’ compensation claim after sustaining a serious injury to his shoulder in December 2012 while making a delivery for Amerigas. England’s claim was governed by the Colorado Workers’ Compensation Act, which required that settlements between employer and employee must be written, signed by both sides, and approved by the Director or an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). Pursuant to section 8-43-204, the Director promulgated a form settlement agreement (“Form”), which the parties are required to use to settle all claims. In this case, the parties’ settlement agreement was consistent with the Form. England’s pain continued after the settlement agreement was signed and approved. In October 2013, he sought further medical evaluation, which revealed a previously undiagnosed stress fracture in the scapula (shoulder blade) of England’s injured shoulder. Up to this point, no one was aware that this fracture existed. England claims that if he had been aware of this fracture, he would not have settled his claim. England filed a motion to reopen the settlement on the ground that the newly discovered fracture justified reopening his workers’ compensation claim. An ALJ agreed, and the Industrial Claim Appeals Office (ICAO) affirmed. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that the Form waived England’s right to reopen. The Colorado Supreme Court held that because provisions of the form document must yield to statutory rights, the court of appeals erred in its conclusion. View "England v. Amerigas Propane" on Justia Law