Justia Colorado Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Family Law
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At the time of the dissolution of their marriage, Ryan Boettcher (“father”) and Christina Boettcher (“mother”) agreed that neither party would pay child support. Several years later, mother, citing a substantial change in father’s income, sought a modification of the original decree so that she could receive child support. The district court conducted an evidentiary hearing to determine whether modification was appropriate. At the hearing, the parties admitted evidence of their incomes showing that mother earned $13,343 per month and father earned $92,356 per month—a combined monthly income far exceeding the highest combined income of $30,000 per month listed in the schedule contained in the statutory child support guidelines. Father requested that the district court impose a monthly child support obligation of $1,424.82, which would be the presumptive award amount if the parties combined income were $30,000 per month. Father argued that the presumptive amount of child support for that income level was also the presumptive amount for any higher income level. If the court ordered a higher payment, father argued, such payment would constitute a deviation from the statutory presumptive amount and would require specific findings under section 14-10-115(8)(e) C.R.S. (2019). Mother disagreed, contending the district court should extrapolate father’s monthly child support obligations from the uppermost level of the guidelines in light of the parties’ actual combined income. This approach would result in a monthly support payment of $5,024. The Colorado Supreme Court concluded the plain language of the statute provided that the uppermost award identified explicitly in the schedule was the minimum presumptive award for families with higher incomes, and the district court could, within its discretion, aware more than that amount so long as the court supports its order with findings made pursuant to 14-10-115(2)(b). View "In re Marriage of Boettcher" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family 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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A written agreement with a fertility clinic failed to specify what should have been done with remaining pre-embryos in the event of divorce. The Colorado Supreme Court was asked to decide how a court should determine, in dissolution of marriage proceedings, which spouse should receive remaining cryogenically preserved pre-embryos produced by the couple during their marriage. Although this case fundamentally centered the disposition of a couple’s marital property, “it presents difficult issues of procreational autonomy for which there are no easy answers because it pits one spouse’s right to procreate directly against the other spouse’s equivalently important right to avoid procreation, and because the fundamental liberty and privacy interests at stake are deeply personal and emotionally charged.” The Court determined the Colorado statutes touched on some aspects of assisted reproduction, but they did not address what should happen with a couple’s pre-embryos in a divorce context. In the absence of specific legislative guidance in these circumstances, the Court adopted an approach that sought to balance the parties’ interests given the legislature’s general command in dissolution proceedings requiring the court to divide the marital property equitably. Because the trial court and court of appeals considered certain inappropriate factors in attempting to balance the parties’ interests here, the Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals and remanded the case with directions to return the matter to the trial court to balance the parties’ interests under the framework the Supreme Court adopted in this opinion. View "In re Marriage of Rooks" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The Alamosa County Department of Human Services interviewed Mother, who admitted that she was addicted to prescription medications, although she denied selling drugs from her home. Mother had a history of prior referrals to the Department, and her older children had previously been temporarily removed from her home due to her drug use. Meanwhile, the father of the children had been incarcerated following a criminal conviction and remained in custody at the time the Department conducted its investigation. Father had a history of methamphetamine use. In light of the foregoing, the Department filed a dependency and neglect petition with regard to E.M., L.M., and E.J.M. (the “Children”). Although both Mother and Father initially denied the allegations contained in the petition, they subsequently entered admissions, and the court adjudicated the Children dependent and neglected. This case called on the Colorado Supreme Court to decide whether the State could seek to terminate a parent’s parental rights under the relinquishment provision of the Colorado Children’s Code (the “Code”), section 19-5-105, C.R.S. (2017), when the child is already subject to a dependency and neglect proceeding under Article 3 of the Code, sections 19-3-100.5 to -805, C.R.S. (2017). The Court concluded that when a dependency and neglect proceeding is pending, the State can terminate parental rights only through the procedures set forth in Article 3 of the Code and cannot use the more limited processes provided in Article 5. View "Colorado in Interest of L.M." on Justia Law

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The Arapahoe County Department of Human Services filed a petition in dependency or neglect concerning minor child R.S., and naming both parents as respondents. The mother requested a bench trial to adjudicate the dependent or neglected status of the child; the father requested a jury trial. The court held a single adjudicatory trial, with the judge serving as fact-finder with respect to the Department’s allegations against the mother, and a jury sitting as fact-finder with respect to the allegations against the father. The judge ultimately concluded that the child was dependent or neglected “in regard to” the mother. In contrast, the jury, as the father’s fact-finder, concluded there was insufficient factual basis to support a finding that the child was dependent or neglected. In light of these divergent findings, the trial court adjudicated the child dependent or neglected and continued to exercise jurisdiction over the child and the mother, but entered an order dismissing the father from the petition. The mother appealed the adjudication of the child as dependent or neglected; the Department appealed the jury’s verdict regarding the father, as well as the trial court’s denial of the Department’s motion for adjudication notwithstanding the verdict. In a unanimous, published opinion, the court of appeals dismissed the Department’s appeal for lack of jurisdiction, reasoning that the dismissal of a single parent from a petition in dependency or neglect based on a jury verdict was not a final appealable order because neither the appellate rule nor the statutory provision governing appeals from proceedings in dependency or neglect expressly permitted an appeal of a “no adjudication finding.” The Colorado Supreme Court concluded that, with limited exceptions, the Colorado Children’s Code authorized appealed in dependency and neglect cases of “any order” that qualified as a “final judgment.” Here, the trial court’s order dismissing the father from the petition was not a “final judgment,” so the court of appeal lacked jurisdiction and properly dismissed the Department’s appeal. The Court therefore affirmed the court of appeals but under different reasoning. View "Colorado in Interest of R.S." on Justia Law

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In this dependency and neglect case, respondents were foster parents who intervened in the trial court proceedings and participated in a hearing on the guardian ad litem’s (“GAL”) motion to terminate the parent-child legal relationship between the mother and the child. The trial court denied the motion. Neither the Department nor the GAL appealed the trial court’s ruling. Instead, the foster parents appealed, seeking to reverse the trial court’s order. The narrow question before the Colorado Supreme Court was whether the foster parents had standing to appeal the trial court’s ruling. The court of appeals concluded they did. The Supreme Court granted the GAL’s petition for a writ of certiorari to review the court of appeals’ decision and reversed: “although section 19-3-507(5)(a) permits foster parents to intervene in dependency and neglect proceedings following adjudication, foster parents here do not have a legally protected interest in the outcome of termination proceedings, and section 19-3-507(5)(a) does not automatically confer standing to them to appeal the juvenile court’s order denying the termination motion at issue, where neither the Department nor the GAL sought review of the trial court’s ruling.” View "Colorado in Interest of C.W.B., Jr." on Justia Law

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At issue in this appeal was the narrow issue of whether sovereign immunity barred an award of attorney’s fees against a public entity. The trial court found that the Moffat County Department of Social Services (“the Department”) committed a discovery violation in the course of a dependency and neglect proceeding, and it awarded attorney’s fees to Petitioner C.K. pursuant to Colorado Rule of Civil Procedure 37. The court of appeals vacated the fee award, holding that it was barred by sovereign immunity. The Colorado Supreme Court reversed. There are two additional relevant, yet distinct, issues that remained to decide whether an award of attorney’s fees is proper in this case: (1) whether, under the facts of this case, C.R.C.P. 37 applied to proceedings governed by the Children’s Code, and, if it did, (2) whether C.R.C.P. 37 contained the express language required to authorize attorney’s fees against a public entity. While the Court discussed these issues briefly to give context to its holding, ultimate resolution was left to be addressed on remand. View "C.K. v. Colorado in the Interest of L.K." on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Colorado Supreme Court’s review centered on whether a juvenile court validly terminated a mother’s parent-child legal relationship without first entering a formal written order adjudicating her children as dependent or neglected. The juvenile court accepted the mother’s admission that her children were neglected or dependent, but did not enter a formal order before it terminated the mother’s parental rights approximately a year later. The court of appeals held that the juvenile court lacked jurisdiction to terminate the mother’s parental rights because it had not entered the order. The Supreme Court disagreed with the court of appeals that the trial court’s failure to enter an order adjudicating the children’s status as neglected or dependent divested the trial court of jurisdiction. Because the trial court accepted the parents’ admission, the Supreme Court concluded the purpose of the adjudicative process was met and the children’s status as neglected or dependent was established, thus permitting state intervention into the familial relationship. Moreover, both the Department and the mother proceeded as if the court had adjudicated the status of the children: the mother participated in subsequent hearings and attempted to comply with the trial court’s treatment plan; she never sought to withdraw her admission; and she never challenged the trial court’s jurisdiction or otherwise objected below to the trial court’s verbal or written termination orders finding that the children had been adjudicated neglected or dependent. Under these circumstances, the Supreme Court concluded the trial court’s failure to enter an adjudicative order confirming the children’s status as neglected or dependent did not impair the fundamental fairness of the proceedings or deprive the mother of due process. View "Colorado in Interest of J.W." on Justia Law

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Samuel J. Stoorman & Associates, P.C. represented Kristy Casagranda (“Wife”) during dissolution proceedings against her then-husband Brian Todd Dixon (“Husband”). The Firm asserted a charging lien for its fees under Colorado’s attorney’s lien statute against assets the court awarded to Wife during the divorce and obtained a court order recognizing that lien. The firm later filed a motion for an entry of judgment enforcing its charging lien against maintenance payments Husband owed to Wife, seeking to have Husband redirect those payments to the Firm. The trial court denied the motion, concluding that an attorney’s charging lien could not attach to a maintenance award. The court of appeals affirmed. Because the attorney’s lien statute’s plain language provided that a charging lien attached to any judgment that an attorney helps a client obtain, the Colorado Supreme Court reversed. View "Stoorman v. Dixon" on Justia Law

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In 2011, Petitioner Scott Foster’s former wife, Bronwen Foster (“Wife”), filed for dissolution of marriage and hired attorney John Plock to represent her. As part of the dissolution proceedings, the trial court ordered a parental responsibilities evaluation (“PRE”). The PRE was performed by Dr. Andrew Loizeaux. A second PRE was subsequently conducted by Dr. Edward Budd. Neither evaluation was favorable to Foster. The PREs were confidential and were not to be “made available for public inspection” without an order of the court. Foster was found guilty of violating a protection order issued in the dissolution proceedings. A deputy district attorney prosecuting the protection order matter filed the PREs with the criminal court for use in sentencing. Plock filed a motion in the dissolution proceedings, admitting that he had disclosed the PREs to the deputy district attorney. While the dissolution of marriage proceeding and the criminal cases were pending, Foster filed eleven separate lawsuits against those involved in the PRE process conducted by Dr. Loizeaux. Wife was named as a defendant, but Plock was not. The lawsuits alleged various claims, including defamation and outrageous conduct. The eleven cases were consolidated into one case. The defendants each moved to dismiss the case. Foster subsequently amended his complaints. In Foster’s amended complaint against Wife, he alleged among other things that she, through her attorney, caused both of the PREs to be disclosed in the criminal case. The issue this case presented for the Colorado Supreme Court’s review centered on whether mutuality was a necessary element of defensive claim preclusion. Multiple divisions of the court of appeals concluded that mutuality need not be established for the defensive use of claim preclusion, but the Supreme Court disagreed, instead concluding that mutuality was a necessary element of defensive claim preclusion. The Court also concluded that mutuality existed in this case, as did the remaining elements of claim preclusion, and therefore affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals on other grounds. View "Foster v. Plock" on Justia Law