Justia Colorado Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure

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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

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Respondents were four Ranch owners who, with notice of the Lake Fork Hunting and Fishing Club’s (the Club) restrictive covenants and bylaws, purchased deeds conferring record title to their respective Ranches. In 2015, the Hinsdale County Assessor conducted valuations of the Respondents’ Ranches and assessed property taxes to their parcels. Respondents protested these valuations and assessments to the Hinsdale County Board of Equalization (the BOE), which denied their petitions. Respondents then appealed the BOE’s determination to the Board of Assessment Appeals (the BAA), arguing that because of the Club’s restrictive covenants and bylaws, the Club was the true owner of those parcels and should have been held responsible for real property taxes. The BAA denied the Respondents’ appeal and affirmed the Assessor’s valuation of the Ranch parcels. The Ranch owners then appealed the BAA’s decision to the court of appeals, which reversed the BAA’s order. Given the extent of the Club’s control over the property, the court of appeals concluded that the Club was the true owner of the parcels for purposes of property taxation and viewed the Ranch owners’ interests as akin to mere licenses to conduct certain activities on the Club’s property. The Colorado Supreme Court reversed, finding Colorado’s property tax scheme reflected the legislative intent to assess property taxes to the record fee owners of real property. “Because Respondents voluntarily agreed to the restrictive covenants and bylaws that facilitate the collective use of their property for recreational purposes, we hold that they cannot rely on these same restrictive covenants and bylaws to avoid property tax liability that flows from their record title ownership.” Accordingly, the court of appeals erred in relying on the Club’s restrictive covenants and bylaws to conclude that the Club is the “owner” of the Ranch parcels and that the Ranch owners hold mere licenses to use Club grounds. The court further erred in holding that the Assessor therefore improperly valued the Respondents’ parcels. View "Hinsdale County v. HDH Partnership" on Justia Law

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The question presented by this appeal to the Colorado Supreme Court was a 1909 water rights decree adjudicated an enforceable water right for the Campbell Ditch in nine springs. Yamasaki Ring, LLC, which owned some of the Campbell Ditch’s water rights, asked the Court to answer the question in the affirmative. The Dills and the Pearces, who owned properties where water from the springs had been put to beneficial use since as early as 1903, urged the Court to answer the question in the negative. In two orders issued in 2016, the water court agreed with the Dills/Pearces and determined that the 1909 decree did not adjudicate a water right in the springs’ water because it did not set forth “the necessary information” for adjudication, including an appropriation date, a priority number, or quantification details. Therefore, the water court concluded the Campbell Ditch’s unquantifiable entitlement to “receive and conduct water” from the springs could not be enforced or administered against any adjudicated water rights. The Supreme Court agreed and therefore affirmed the water court’s judgment. View "Concerning the Application for Water Rights of Donald E. Dill, Cathie G. Dill, Jerry R. Pearce, and Frances M. Pearce in Fremont County" on Justia Law

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Brooks Tower was comprised of 566 residential units, 13 commercial units, and 297 associated garage units. Plaintiff Anthony Accetta and his wife owned a condominium in the Tower. All Brooks Tower unit owners are governed by a Declaration, which allocated condominium fees among the unit owners based on the “value” of each unit. As pertinent here, this value (1) “may or may not be the list price of the Unit as quoted to prospective third-party purchasers” as of the date of the declaration; (2) was determined “in Declarant’s sole and arbitrary discretion”; (3) was to be used for the purpose of computing the unit owners’ percentage interests in Brooks Tower’s common elements; and (4) “shall be final and conclusive.” Accetta claimed his unit was allocated association dues that were over fifty percent higher than the dues allocated to comparable units, and that this misallocation resulted in hundreds of dollars in monthly overcharges. Accordingly, he filed the underlying action against the Brooks Towers Residences Condominium Association, Inc. seeking, among other things, a declaratory judgment invalidating the portion of the Declaration allowing the Declarant to allocate values in its “sole and arbitrary discretion,” rather than by way of a formula that allocates percentage ownership consistently among comparable units. The district court ordered plaintiff to join the approximately 500 individual unit owners in Brooks Tower as indispensable parties to his suit, rather than proceeding solely against the Association. The Colorado Supreme Court determined the Association could adequately represent the interests of the absent unit owners for the purposes of Accetta's declaratory judgment claim in this case, and according, he needed not to join those owners as parties. The Court reversed the district court and remanded for further proceedings. View "In re Accetta v. Brooks Towers" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Colorado Supreme Court's review centered on whether a water court had jurisdiction to consider a claim for inverse condemnation alleging a judicial taking of shares in a mutual ditch company. The water court dismissed plaintiff-appellant Sam Allen’s inverse condemnation claim, concluding that his claim was “grounded in ownership and the conveyance of that ownership, not use,” and therefore the claim was not a water matter within the exclusive jurisdiction of the water court. The Supreme Court agreed, and thus affirmed the water court’s dismissal order. View "Allen v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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Believing that the decision to stop paying teachers for English Learning Acquisition (ELA) training violated a series of the parties’ Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBAs), the Denver Classroom Teachers Association (DCTA) pursued a grievance against the District that was referred to nonbinding arbitration and resulted in a recommendation in favor of the DCTA. Because the District declined to adopt that recommendation, however, the DCTA brought this suit asserting a breach-of-contract claim against the District. The trial court ruled that the relevant provisions of the CBAs were ambiguous and that their interpretation was, therefore, an issue of fact for the jury. The jury, in turn, found the District liable for breach of contract and awarded damages to the DCTA. A division of the court of appeal subsequently affirmed the judgment of the trial court. After its review, the Colorado Supreme Court concluded interpretation of the CBAs was properly submitted as an issue of fact to the jury because the CBAs were ambiguous regarding payment for ELA training. “[B]ecause the CBAs are fairly susceptible to being interpreted as expressly requiring compensation for ELA training, we cannot conclude that the management rights clause includes the right to refuse to pay for ELA training.” View "School Dist. No. 1 v. Denver Classroom Teachers Ass'n" on Justia Law

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In 2014, the Arapahoe County Department of Human Services (the Department) was ordered to take custody of D.Z.B. and house him in a particular facility pending his delinquency adjudication. Believing that the district court order imposed a duty on it that was in violation of statutory requirements, the Department appealed that order. The court of appeals dismissed the appeal, concluding that the Department, as a non-party to the delinquency proceedings, lacked standing to appeal the order. In reaching that conclusion, the Colorado Supreme Court determined the district court conflated the test to evaluate whether a plaintiff has standing to bring a lawsuit with the test to determine whether a non-party has standing to appeal a decision of a lower court. Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed and remanded for the division to apply the correct standing analysis and to consider any other remaining arguments. View "Colorado in Interest of D.Z.B." on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Colorado Supreme Court's review were the insurance proceeds owed to petitioners Rosalin Rogers and Mark Thompson because of a failed property investment orchestrated by their broker-dealer, United Securities Alliance. Ten years into litigation, the issue of the amount of debt at issue has remained at issue, and unresolvable by the courts. United's insurer, Catlin Insurance, was ordered to pay petitioners under a professional liability policy; an appellate court upheld a district court's determination of attorney fees and costs that Catlin could deduct from the liability limit under the policy. The Supreme Court first addressed whether the "Thompson IV" division erred when it upheld the district court’s decision to consider new evidence on remand from Thompson v. United Securities Alliance, Inc. (Thompson III), No. 13CA2037, (Colo. App. Oct. 16, 2014). And Secondly, the Supreme Court addressed whether the Thompson IV division erred when it held that there was no legal basis for awarding prejudgment interest in a garnishment proceeding. As to the first issue, the Supreme Court affirmed the court of appeals; as to the second, it reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Thompson v. Catlin" on Justia Law

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At issue in this appeal was a district court’s order compelling production of a recording of petitioner Kayla Fox’s initial consultation with her attorney. The district court determined that the recording was not subject to the attorney-client privilege because her parents were present during the consultation and their presence was not required to make the consultation possible. Further, the district court refused to consider several new arguments Fox raised in a motion for reconsideration. The Colorado Supreme Court concluded the presence of a third party during an attorney-client communication ordinarily destroys the attorney-client privilege unless the third party’s presence was reasonably necessary to the consultation, unless another exception applies. On the facts of this case, the district court did not err when it found that Fox had not shown the requisite necessity to preserve her claim of privilege. Nor did the district court abuse its discretion in declining to consider Fox’s new arguments raised for the first time in her motion for reconsideration. View "In re Fox v. Alfini" on Justia Law

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The water court concluded Robert Sease diverted water from Sheep Creek in violation of a 2013 order, which forbade him to use out-of-priority water from Sheep Creek on his Saguache County property (“the Sease Ranch”). Thus, the water court found Sease in contempt of court and imposed both punitive and remedial sanctions on him. Sease appealed, arguing: (1) the water court had no basis to find that he owns the Sease Ranch; and (2) the water court improperly shifted the burden of proof to him when it noted that there was a lack of evidence in the record that “someone else came on the premises and did [the contemptuous] work without [his] authorization or against his will.” The Colorado Supreme Court disagreed with Sease on both arguments and affirmed the water court’s contempt order. View "Colorado v. Sease" on Justia Law