Justia Colorado Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
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This case and its companion, Langer v. Board of Larimer County Commissioners, 2020 CO 31, __ P.3d __, arose out of a contentious zoning dispute involving the propriety of constructing a gravity-based mountain roller coaster in a part of the Estes Valley, Colorado in which “significant view sheds, woodlands, rock outcroppings, ridgelines, other sensitive environmental areas and low-density residential development comprise the predominant land use pattern.” The issue presented for the Colorado Supreme Court's review centered on whether the local authorities tasked with making and reviewing zoning determinations abused their discretion in interpreting and applying the Estes Valley Development Code (the “Code”) when they determined that the proposed mountain coaster could be constructed. Applying a deferential standard of review for an action brought pursuant to C.R.C.P. 106(a)(4), the Court concluded that they did not. Furthermore, the Court determined the constitutionality of the Code could not be appropriately raised or considered in a suit brought exclusively as a Rule 106 claim: "Rule 106 proceedings are reserved for challenges to the judicial and quasi-judicial actions of government actors. In other words, these claims challenge the application of a law in a particular instance, not the law itself." View "Yakutat Land Corp. v. Langer" on Justia Law

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The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals certified a question of law to the Colorado Supreme Court. The certified question arose from a dispute in which plaintiff Amica Life Insurance Company sought a declaratory judgment that it was not required to pay defendant Michael Wertz benefits under a life insurance policy naming Wertz as the beneficiary. The policy, which was issued in compliance with a standard enacted by the Interstate Insurance Product Regulation Commission (the “Commission”), contained a two-year suicide exclusion, and the insured committed suicide more than one year but less than two years after Amica had issued the life insurance policy to him. Wertz contended that the policy’s two-year suicide exclusion was unenforceable because it conflicted with Colorado statute, section 10-7-109, C.R.S. (2019). Wertz asserted that the Colorado General Assembly could not properly delegate to the Commission the authority to enact a standard that would effectively override this statute. After review, the Colorado Supreme Court agreed with Wertz, and accordingly, answered the certified question narrowly: the General Assembly did not have the authority to delegate to the Commission the power to issue a standard authorizing the sale of life insurance policies in Colorado containing a two-year suicide exclusion when a Colorado statute prohibited insurers doing business in Colorado from asserting suicide as a defense against payment on a life insurance policy after the first year of that policy. View "Amica Life Insurance Company v. Wertz" on Justia Law

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Santa Maria Reservoir Company (“SMRC” or the “Company”) was a mutual reservoir company responsible for storing and releasing water to its shareholders, who owned the right to use that water. SMRC’s water was stored in its two reservoirs: the Santa Maria Reservoir and the Continental Reservoir. SMRC was contacted about leasing water from SMRC’s shareholders to replace depletions to the Rio Grande. In May 2013, the Division Engineer submitted a written report in which he recommended “that th[e] requested change of water right be granted” with one condition: “that such change . . . not expand the consumption of the water right beyond that which has been the historical practice for agricultural purposes.” SMRC met with various opposers to explore what terms and conditions might assuage their concerns. Based on their input, it drafted a proposed decree in which it agreed to replicate accretions (including return flows) to the Rio Grande to prevent injury to other water rights diverting from the Rio Grande. By April 2016, all opposers except appellant Jim Warner had stipulated to the entry of SMRC’s proposed decree. Warner’s opposition was premised on his concern that SMRC’s application, if granted, would interfere with his downstream surface and groundwater rights. Warner, a rancher, owned two parcels of land on which he grew hay for his livestock using flood irrigation. His properties were located in the Closed Basin, generally east and north of land that received the water SMRC delivered through the Rio Grande Canal. Because he flood irrigated, Warner needed the groundwater beneath his lands to stay at a level close enough to the surface to reduce ditch losses and allow water to carry further across his crop land. After review of the water rights at issue and proposed uses, the Colorado Supreme Court concluded Warner was not injured by the water court’s approval of the change-of-use application submitted by SMRC with respect to the water it diverted from the Rio Grande into the Closed Basin. "Because that water is imported water, SMRC is entitled to fully consume all of it. The water would not be in the Closed Basin, much less available for use by Warner and other water users in the Closed Basin, without its importation by SMRC. Thus, rather than cause an injury to Warner, the approval of SMRC’s application simply revealed to him that his past use of return flows from SMRC’s imported water in the Closed Basin was a benefit to which he had no enforceable right; Warner just didn’t know what he had ‘til it was gone." View "Santa Maria Reservoir Co. v. Warner" on Justia Law

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In April 2019, Monica Colbert and Juliet Sebold sought to have titles set for eight ballot initiatives. Each of the proposed initiatives was designed to create an “Expanded Learning Opportunities Program” for Colorado children, but each included a different funding mechanism. The Title Board held a hearing on the eight initiatives; it declined to set titles for two, Initiatives #74 and #75, after concluding that both proposed initiatives contained multiple subjects in violation of the Colorado Constitution. The Colorado Supreme Court was asked, in its original jurisdiction, whether a statement in section 1-40-107(1)(c), C.R.S. (2019), that “[t]he decision of the title board on any motion for rehearing shall be final, except as provided in subsection (2) of this section, and no further motion for rehearing may be filed or considered by the title board” – meant what it said. The Court responded, “yes”: Section 1-40-107 contemplated only a single Title Board rehearing on a proposed initiative title. The Court therefore affirmed the decision of the Title Board declining to consider a motion for a second rehearing on Proposed Initiative 2019–2020 #74 and Proposed Initiative 2019–2020 #75. View "In re Ballot Title #74, & No." on Justia Law

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The Colorado Title Board set a title for Proposed Ballot Initiative 2019–2020 #3 (“Proposed Initiative”) that reads, in pertinent part, “An amendment to the Colorado constitution concerning the repeal of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR), Article X, Section 20 of the Colorado constitution.” The Board also ultimately adopted an abstract that states, regarding the economic impact of the Proposed Initiative. A challenge to the Proposed Initiative was presented for the Colorado Supreme Court's review, and after such, the Court concluded the title and abstract were clear and not misleading, and that the phrase “Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights,” as used in the title, was not an impermissible catch phrase. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the decision of the Title Board. View "In re Proposed Ballot Initiative 2019" on Justia Law

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The Colorado Commission on Judicial Discipline (“the Commission”) recommended approval of a Stipulation for Public Censure and Suspension against Judge Lance P. Timbreza. In June 2019, Judge Timbreza was arrested and charged with Driving Under the Influence and Careless Driving. As he drove home from a party, Judge Timbreza crashed his vehicle into roadside trees and bushes while avoiding a collision with another vehicle. Judge Timbreza contacted the Commission by phone to report his arrest and the charges against him. Judge Timbreza pled guilty to Driving While Ability Impaired and was sentenced to one year of probation, alcohol monitoring, a $200 fine, useful public service, and two days of suspended jail time. By driving while his ability was impaired by alcohol, the Commission determined Judge Timbreza failed to maintain the high standards of judicial conduct required of a judge. The Commission found Judge Timbreza’s conduct violated Canon Rules 1.1 and 1.2 of the Colorado Code of Judicial Conduct. Consistent with the Stipulation, the Commission recommends the Colorado Supreme Court issue a public censure and a twenty-eight-day suspension of Judge Timbreza's judicial duties without pay. The Supreme Court adopted the Commission’s recommendation. View "In the Matter of: Judge Lance P. Timbreza" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Colorado Supreme Court’s review centered on whether an investigative subpoena issued by the Colorado Medical Board (the “Board”) can have a lawfully authorized purpose if the investigation was prompted by a complaint made by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (the “CDPHE”) pursuant to a policy that violated the Open Meetings Law (the “OML”) or the State Administrative Procedure Act (the “APA”). Scott McLaughlin, M.D. was a physician licensed to practice medicine in Colorado. As part of his practice, he evaluated patients to see if they had a qualifying condition that would benefit from the use of medical marijuana. Information related to medical marijuana in Colorado is maintained by the CDPHE in a confidential registry that includes the names of all patients who have applied for and are entitled to receive a marijuana registry identification card, as well as the names and contact information for the patients’ physicians and, if applicable, their primary caregivers. In May 2014, the CDPHE referred McLaughlin to the Board for investigation based on a high caseload of patients for whom marijuana was recommended. McLaughlin refused to comply with the subpoena, and he and several other physicians whom the CDPHE had referred to the Board and who had received subpoenas from the Board filed suit in the Denver District Court, seeking, among other things, to enjoin the Board from enforcing its subpoenas. The Supreme Court concluded that because neither the CDPHE’s adoption of the Referral Policy nor its referral of Boland to the Board violated the OML or the APA, Boland’s contention that the subpoena to him was void because the Policy and referral were void was based on a flawed premise and was therefore unpersuasive. Even if the adoption of the Referral Policy and the referral itself violated the OML or the APA, however, we still conclude that the Board’s subpoena to Boland had a lawfully authorized purpose because it was issued pursuant to the Board’s statutory authority to investigate allegations of unprofessional conduct and was properly tailored to that purpose. View "Colorado Medical Board v. McLaughlin" on Justia Law

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This case was companion to Colorado Medical Board v. McLaughlin, 2019 CO 93, __ P.3d __, wherein the Colorado Supreme Court was asked to determine whether an investigative subpoena issued by the Colorado Medical Board (the “Board”) could have a lawfully authorized purpose if the investigation was prompted by a complaint made by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (the “CDPHE”) pursuant to a policy that violated the Open Meetings Law (the “OML”) or the State Administrative Procedure Act (the “APA”). Petitioner James Boland, M.D. was a physician licensed to practice medicine in Colorado. He primarily examined patients to determine if they would benefit from the use of medical marijuana. Information related to medical marijuana in Colorado is maintained by the CDPHE in a confidential registry that includes the names of all patients who have applied for and are entitled to receive a marijuana registry identification card, as well as the names and contact information for the patients’ physicians and, if applicable, their primary caregivers. In June 2014, the CDPHE referred Boland to the Board for investigation based on his “[h]igh plant count recommendations and high percent of patients under age of 30 [sic] for medical marijuana referrals.” Boland refused to comply with the subpoena, and he and several other physicians whom the CDPHE had referred to the Board and who had received subpoenas from the Board filed suit in the Denver District Court, seeking, among other things, to enjoin the Board from enforcing its subpoenas. The Supreme Court concluded that because neither the CDPHE’s adoption of the Referral Policy nor its referral of Boland to the Board violated the OML or the APA, Boland’s contention that the subpoena to him was void because the Policy and referral were void was based on a flawed premise and was therefore unpersuasive. Even if the adoption of the Referral Policy and the referral itself violated the OML or the APA, however, we still conclude that the Board’s subpoena to Boland had a lawfully authorized purpose because it was issued pursuant to the Board’s statutory authority to investigate allegations of unprofessional conduct and was properly tailored to that purpose. View "Boland v. Colorado Medical Board" on Justia Law

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Consistent with Medical Marijuana Policy No. 2014-01 (the “Referral Policy”), which the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (the “CDPHE”) had developed after receiving input from staff of the Colorado Medical Board (the “Board”), the CDPHE referred John Does 1–9 (the “Doctors”) to the Board for investigation of unprofessional conduct regarding the certification of patients for the use of medical marijuana. The Doctors filed suit, contending, among other things, that: (1) the Referral Policy was void because it was developed in violation of the Colorado Open Meetings Law (the “OML”); and (2) both the Referral Policy and the referrals to the Board constituted final agency actions under the State Administrative Procedure Act (the “APA”), and the CDPHE did not follow the procedures outlined therein, thereby rendering both the Referral Policy and the referrals void. After review, the Colorado Supreme Court concluded: (1) an entire state agency could not be a “state public body” within the meaning of the OML, and therefore the Doctors did not establish the CDPHE violated the OML; (2) the Referral Policy was an interpretive rather than a legislative rule, therefore, it fell within an exception to the APA and was not subject to the APA’s rulemaking requirements; and (3) the act of referring the Doctors to the Board did not constitute final agency action and therefore was not reviewable under the APA. View "Doe v. Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment" on Justia Law

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Brooke Rojas received food stamp benefits to which she was not legally entitled. The prosecution charged her with two counts of theft under the general theft statute, section 18-4-401(1)(a), C.R.S. (2019). Rojas moved to dismiss these charges, arguing that she could only be prosecuted under section 26-2-305(1)(a), C.R.S. (2019), because it created the specific crime of theft of food stamps. The trial court denied the motion, and a jury convicted Rojas of the two general theft counts. Rojas contended on appeal that the trial court erred by denying the motion to dismiss because section 26-2-305(1)(a) abrogated the general theft statute in food stamp benefit cases. A split division of the court of appeals agreed with her. The Colorado Supreme Court, however, disagreed with Rojas and the division majority. Based on the statute’s plain language, the Supreme Court held the legislature didn’t create a crime separate from general theft by enacting section 26-2-305(1)(a). View "Colorado v. Rojas" on Justia Law