Justia Colorado Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
Griswold v. Nat’l Fed’n of Indep. Bus.
At issue before the Colorado Supreme Court in this case was how Colorado’s Department of State (“the Department”) charged for some of its services to fund its general operations, which included overseeing elections. It was this funding scheme that the National Federation of Independent Business (“NFIB”) argued was unconstitutional under the Colorado Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (“TABOR”). Section 24-21-104(3)(b), C.R.S. (2019), directed the Department to “adjust its fees so that the revenue generated from the fees approximates [the Department’s] direct and indirect costs.” This fluctuating scheme for self-funding had been in place for nearly thirty years, predating TABOR by nearly a decade. There had been adjustments to charges since TABOR’s enactment; NFIB contended these adjustments violated TABOR: (1) by actually being taxes, because there was no reasonable relationship between the Department’s charges and the government functions funded by the charges; and (2) any increase in the charges after TABOR’s enactment in 1992 constituted either a new tax, an increase in a tax rate, or a tax policy change - all requiring voter approval, which never occurred. Because the Supreme Court disagreed with NFIB’s second contention, it did not address its first. Based on the stipulated facts, the Supreme Court concluded there was no evidence to establish that any post-TABOR adjustments resulted in a new tax, tax rate increase, or tax policy change directly causing a net revenue gain. Thus, the trial court properly granted summary judgment. View "Griswold v. Nat'l Fed'n of Indep. Bus." on Justia Law
The Luskin Daughters 1996 Trust v. Young
The Luskin Daughters 1996 Trust for the benefit of Lyndell Joy Luskin Ackerman, appealed a water court order dismissing its complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief, as well as for damages. The complaint alleged that the Trust and Steve and Heather Young owned adjacent parcels of land; that in 2017 the Youngs built a house that destroyed one or more ditches that had historically delivered spring water to the Trust’s property; and that those water rights had been used on the Trust’s property for purposes of irrigation, animal watering, wildlife, and recreation. The water court concluded that in the absence of an application for the determination of a water right, the Trust’s claim of interference by the Youngs with its unadjudicated appropriative rights to springs that arose on the Youngs’ land could not proceed before the water court. It therefore granted the Youngs’ motion, pursuant to C.R.C.P. 12(b)(1), (2), or (5), to dismiss. The Colorado Supreme Court found that while appropriation by diverting a specific amount of water and applying it to a beneficial purpose may entitle the appropriator to adjudicate a water right, according to the provisions of the applicable Colorado water law, it cannot afford a priority of use, even with respect to another specific user, without formal adjudication of a water right, in a specific amount, for a specific purpose, and relative to a specific structure for diversion. Therefore, the Court concluded the water court did not err in dismissing the Trust’s complaint. View "The Luskin Daughters 1996 Trust v. Young" on Justia Law
City & Cty. of Denver v. Consol. Ditches of Water Dist. No. 2
The purpose of the "1940 Agreement" at issue in this appeal was to resolve the parties’ disputes regarding seepage and evaporation losses from three of the City and County of Denver’s streambed reservoirs located on the South Platte River. Under the 1940 Agreement, in lieu of making releases from the streambed reservoirs to replace seepage and evaporation losses, Denver agreed not to reuse or successively use return flows from water imported from the western slope and used in Denver’s municipal water system. Earlier litigation in Case No. 81CW405 established that this reuse prohibition in the 1940 Agreement applied only to return flows derived from decreed water rights from Colorado River sources with appropriation dates before May 1, 1940 (the date Denver entered into the agreement); Denver could therefore use return flows derived from sources that were appropriated or acquired after that date. The question in this appeal was whether the 1940 Agreement prohibited Denver from using return flows from water imported from the Blue River system under exchange and substitution operations that use water stored in the Williams Fork Reservoir under a 1935 priority as a substitute supply. In a written order, the water court resolved competing motions in Denver’s favor, ruling that Denver’s Blue River system water, which was decreed in 1955 with an appropriation date of June 24, 1946, was a source of water that was not owned, appropriated, or acquired by Denver prior to May 1, 1940, and therefore was not subject to the 1940 Agreement. The water court thus held that Denver could reuse or successively use imported water attributed to the Blue River system. Consolidated Ditches and other opposers appealed. The Colorado Supreme Court concurred with the water court, finding the return flows were not subject to the 1940 Agreement and Denver could reuse or successively use those return flows. View "City & Cty. of Denver v. Consol. Ditches of Water Dist. No. 2" on Justia Law
In re People in the Interest of T.T.
T.T. sought to ensure that his name was not linked to the record of his earlier short-term commitment for treatment of a mental health condition. Under section 27-65-107(7), C.R.S. (2018), when a person is released from short-term treatment for a mental health condition, the clerk of the district court shall seal the record in the case and omit the name of the person from the court’s “index of cases.” The key question in this case was whether “Eclipse,” the user interface of the Colorado judicial branch’s computerized case management system, was an “index of cases” as contemplated by section 27-65-107(7). The Colorado Supreme Court concluded the reference to “index of cases” in section 27-65-107(7) contemplated a list of matters before the court that could be used to locate the actual court records for those matters. The Eclipse user interface itself contained no data, and neither Eclipse nor its underlying database, ICON, functioned as an “index” or list of cases. Thus, contrary to the court of appeals’ ruling, section 27-65-107(7) did not require the court clerk to remove T.T.’s name from the ICON/Eclipse case management system. Moreover, to remove an individual’s name from this case management system would thwart the court’s statutory obligations to link the record of a short-term mental health case with subsequent cases involving that individual and to share certain information with the federal government. Because the district court cannot comply with the relief directed by the court of appeals, the Supreme Court discharged the rule to show cause. View "In re People in the Interest of T.T." on Justia Law
Ruybalid v. Bd. of Cty. Comm’rs
Francis Ruybalid committed numerous ethical violations arising out of cases that he either prosecuted or supervised while he was the District Attorney for the Colorado Third Judicial District. He argued he was entitled to the attorney’s fees and costs he incurred while defending these allegations. The counties of the Third Judicial District refused to reimburse Ruybalid for these expenses. The Colorado Supreme Court determined that because Ruybalid’s ethical violations were at times committed recklessly or knowingly, his attorney’s fees and costs were not necessarily incurred in the discharge of his official duties, therefore, he was not entitled to reimbursement for fees. View "Ruybalid v. Bd. of Cty. Comm'rs" on Justia Law
Colo. Dept. of Labor & Emp. Div. of Workers’ Comp. v. Dami Hosp.
Dami Hospitality, LLC (“Dami”) was the owner-operator of a Denver motel that employed between four and ten people at any given time. As an employer of three or more persons, Dami was required by statute to maintain workers’ compensation insurance. Dami allowed its workers’ compensation coverage to lapse on in 2005. Upon receiving notification of the lapse from the Division of Workers’ Compensation (“DWC”), Dami conceded the violation and paid a corresponding settlement in June 2006. Dami again allowed its workers’ compensation coverage to lapse in 2006. From June 2007 to September 2010, Dami carried the proper insurance, but the company’s workers’ compensation coverage again lapsed on September 12, 2010 and went without insurance until July 9, 2014. On February 19, 2014, the DWC discovered that Dami had allowed its workers’ compensation insurance to lapse for these periods of time and issued a notice to Dami regarding this. Dami faxed a copy of workers' compensation insurance for the July 10, 2014 - July 10, 2015 period; Dami offered no such evidence for any other period, nor any explanation for the lapses. Fines accrued for noncompliance, totaling $841,200. The DWC ultimately issued an order upholding the fines. Dami appealed to the Industrial Claim Appeals Office (“ICAO”). The ICAO rejected all but Dami’s excessive fines argument. The ICAO remanded the matter to the DWC, directing it to review the constitutionality of the aggregated per diem fines assessed in accordance with the test established by the court of appeals in Associated Business Products v. Industrial Claim Appeals Office, 126 P.3d 323 (Colo. App. 2005). The ICAO would ultimately affirm the resulting fines, and Dami appealed to the Court of Appeals. The appellate court set aside the fines, assuming, without deciding, the Excessive Fines Clause could be applied to challenge regulatory fees imposed on a corporation. The Colorado Supreme Court concluded the proper test to assess the constitutionality of government fines under the Eighth Amendment required an assessment of whether the fine was grossly disproportional to the offense for which it was imposed. The Supreme Court thus reversed the court of appeals’ ruling and remanded to that court for return to the Division of Workers’ Compensation with instructions to, as appropriate and necessary, develop an evidentiary record sufficient to determine whether the $250–$500 fine that a business was required to pay for each day that it was out of compliance with Colorado’s workers’ compensation law is proportional to the harm or risk of harm caused by each day of noncompliance. View "Colo. Dept. of Labor & Emp. Div. of Workers' Comp. v. Dami Hosp." on Justia Law
Department of Revenue v. Oracle
Oracle was a Delaware corporation headquartered in California, and it is the parent of a worldwide group of affiliated corporations. OJH was a Delaware corporation and a wholly-owned subsidiary of Oracle, existing solely as a holding company. During the period at issue in this matter, OJH held stock in Oracle Japan, and it sold 8.7 million shares of that stock on the Tokyo Stock Exchange, realizing capital gains of approximately $6.4 billion. The tax treatment of these gains was at the center of this dispute. Specifically, the issues this case presented for the Colorado Supreme Court's review were: (1) whether the Colorado Department of Revenue could require Oracle Corporation (“Oracle”) to include its holding company, Oracle Japan Holding, Inc. (“OJH”), in its Colorado combined income tax return for the tax year ending May 31, 2000; and (2) if no, then whether the Department could nevertheless allocate OJH’s gain from the sale of shares that it held in Oracle Corporation Japan (“Oracle Japan”) to Oracle in order to avoid abuse and to clearly reflect income. For the reasons set forth in Department of Revenue v. Agilent Technologies, Inc., 2019 CO __, __ P.3d __, the Colorado Supreme Court concluded the pertinent statutory provisions and regulations did not permit the Department either to require Oracle to include OJH in its combined tax return for the tax year at issue or to allocate OJH’s capital gains income to Oracle. Accordingly, the Supreme Court concluded the district court properly granted summary judgment in Oracle's favor. View "Department of Revenue v. Oracle" on Justia Law
Colo. Custom Maid v. ICAO & Div. of Unemp. Ins.
Colorado Custom Maid (CCM) places house cleaners with clients who need their homes cleaned. In doing so, it has tried to avoid becoming the house cleaners’ employer, hoping instead to maintain the relationship as one between a referral service and a group of independent contractors so that it could avoid paying unemployment taxes on the money it paid to those cleaners. In 2014, the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment Division of Employment and Training (Division) concluded that, despite CCM’s efforts to characterize them as independent contractors, CCM’s cleaners were in fact employees for whom the company should be paying unemployment taxes. After evaluating the dynamics of the relationship between CCM and its cleaners, the Colorado Supreme Court agreed. The Court affirmed the conclusion of an Industrial Claim Appeals Office Panel that the realities of CCM’s relationship with its cleaners established an employment relationship. View "Colo. Custom Maid v. ICAO & Div. of Unemp. Ins." on Justia Law
Department of Revenue v. Agilent Technologies
Agilent Technologies, Inc. was a Delaware corporation headquartered in California, and was the parent company of a worldwide family of affiliated corporations. Agilent maintains research and development and manufacturing sites in Colorado and is thus subject to Colorado corporate income tax. World Trade, Inc. is a Delaware corporation and a wholly owned subsidiary of Agilent, and existed solely as a holding company. World Trade earned substantial dividends on its shares in its noted subsidiaries, the tax treatment of dividends gave rise to the dispute before the Colorado Supreme Court. Specifically, the issues reduced to: (1) whether the Colorado Department of Revenue and Michael Hartman, in his official capacity as the Executive Director of the Department, could require Agilent to include its holding company, Agilent Technologies World Trade in its Colorado combined income tax returns for the tax years 2000–07; if not, then whether the Department could nevertheless allocate World Trade’s gross income to Agilent in order to avoid abuse and to clearly reflect income. The Colorado Court determined sections 39-22-303(11)–(12), C.R.S. (2018), did not authorize the Department to require Agilent to include World Trade in its combined tax returns for the tax years at issue because World Trade was not an includable C corporation within the meaning of those provisions. As to the second question, the Court likewise concluded the Department could not allocate World Trade’s income to Agilent under section 39-22-303(6) because: (1) that section has been superseded by section 39-22-303(11) as a vehicle for requiring combined reporting for affiliated C corporations; and (2) even if section 39-22-303(6) could apply, on the undisputed facts presented here, no allocation would be necessary to avoid abuse or clearly reflect income. View "Department of Revenue v. Agilent Technologies" on Justia Law
In re Reeves-Toney v. School Dist. No. 1 in the City & County of Denver
In 2010, the Colorado General Assembly enacted Senate Bill 10-191 (SB 191), which significantly amended Teacher Employment, Compensation, and Dismissal Act of 1990 (TECDA) provisions concerning teacher contracts and the transfer process. SB191 eliminated the earlier practice of transferring teachers to schools without the consent of the principal of the recipient school. Under SB 191, nonprobationary teachers who were deemed effective during the prior school year and who have not secured a mutual consent placement become members of a “priority hiring pool” for available positions. However, nonprobationary teachers who were unable to secure such a position after the longer of twelve months or two hiring cycles are placed on unpaid leave until they are able to secure an assignment. Defendant-Petitioner School District No. 1 in the City and County of Denver (DPS) sought review of the trial court’s denial of its motion to dismiss Plaintiff-Respondent Rebecca Reeves-Toney’s constitutional challenge to the “mutual consent” provisions of section 22-63-202(2)(c.5) of the TECDA. Reeves-Toney alleged these provisions violated the local control clause of article IX, section 15 of the Colorado Constitution by delegating local school boards’ hiring decisions to principals and other administrators. DPS moved to dismiss Reeves-Toney’s complaint, arguing, among other things, that she lacked standing to bring her claim. The trial court agreed that Reeves-Toney lacked individual standing, but nevertheless concluded that she sufficiently alleged taxpayer standing to challenge section 22-63-202(2)(c.5) and plausibly alleged that the statute was facially unconstitutional. The court thus denied the motion to dismiss. The Colorado Supreme Court determined Reeves-Toney did not allege an injury based on an unlawful expenditure of taxpayer money, thus failing to demonstrate a clear nexus between her status as a taxpayer and the challenged government action. Reeves-Toney therefore lacked taxpayer standing to bring her constitutional challenge to section 22-63-202(2)(c.5). Accordingly, the Court reversed and remanded for the trial court to dismiss Reeves-Toney's complaint. View "In re Reeves-Toney v. School Dist. No. 1 in the City & County of Denver" on Justia Law