Justia Colorado Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Securities Law
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Between 2004 and 2008, respondents HEI Resources, Inc. (“HEI”), and the Heartland Development Corporation (“HEDC”), both corporations whose principal place of business is Colorado, formed, capitalized, and operated eight separate joint ventures related to the exploration and drilling of oil and gas wells. They solicited investors for what they called Los Ojuelos Joint Ventures by cold calling thousands of individuals from all over the country. Those who joined the ventures became parties to an agreement organized as a general partnership under the Texas Revised Partnership Act. In 2009, the Securities Commissioner for the State of Colorado (“the Commissioner”) initiated this enforcement action, alleging that respondents had violated the Colorado Securities Act (CSA) by, among other things, offering and selling unregistered securities to investors nationwide through the use of unlicensed sales representatives and in the guise of general partnerships. The Commissioner alleged that HEDC and HEI used the general partnership form deliberately in order to avoid regulation. Each of the Commissioner’s claims required that the Commissioner prove that the general partnerships were securities, so the trial was bifurcated to permit resolution of that threshold question. THe Colorado Supreme Court granted review in this matter to determine how courts should evaluate whether an interest in a “general partnership” is an “investment contract” under the CSA. The Court concluded that when faced with an assertion that an interest in a general partnership is an investment contract and thus within the CSA’s definition of a “security,” the plaintiff bears the burden of proving this claim by a preponderance of the evidence. No presumption beyond that burden applies. Accordingly, the Court reversed the court of appeals’ judgment on the question of whether courts should apply a “strong presumption,” and the Court remanded the case to the trial court for further findings. View "Chan v. HEI Resources, Inc." on Justia Law

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Respondent Karl Baker and his business partner sought investors for a company called Aviara Capital Partners, LLC. According to promotional materials that Baker provided to potential investors, investment money would be used to purchase distressed banks that were being shut down and were under the control of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (“FDIC”). In conjunction with the purchase of the distressed banks, Aviara would operate a “distressed assets fund” to purchase the assets of such banks. Aviara would then acquire additional banks under a business plan by which Aviara and its investors would collectively own eighty percent of the banks, while bank management, directors, advisors, and employees would own the other twenty percent. In the course of soliciting potential investors, Baker spoke, independently, with the purported victims in this case, Donna and Lyal Taylor, Dr. Alan Ng, and Stanley Douglas. The alleged victims’ investments did not work out as they claim to have been promised, and a grand jury subsequently indicted Baker on, among other charges, four counts of securities fraud, and three counts of theft. The issue this case presented for the Colorado Supreme Court’s review centered on whether the admission of a deputy securities commissioner’s expert testimony that Baker’s misstatements and omissions were material was reversible error. Because: (1) in presenting such opinions, the deputy commissioner also opined that certain disputed facts were true; (2) such testimony involved weighing the evidence and making credibility determinations, which were matters solely within the jury’s province; and (3) the error in admitting such testimony was not harmless, the Supreme Court agreed with the court of appeals that the admission of this testimony was reversible error. View "Colorado v. Baker" on Justia Law

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Shaun Lawrence met D.B. at a casino, where she worked as a cashier. During their conversations, Lawrence told D.B. that he ran several successful businesses and that he was looking for people to work for him and for investors to help grow a private investigations business called Advert Investigations (“Advert”). The parties eventually signed two “Investment and Business Agreement,” which provided that D.B. would invest cash money in exchange for an ownership interest in Advert. At no time prior to D.B.’s investments did Lawrence tell her that he would use the money to pay for personal and gambling expenses. Nor did he ever advise her that he had outstanding civil judgments against him totaling over $100,000. D.B. filed a complaint with the State Division of Securities, which subsequently referred the case to the district attorney’s office for prosecution. The State then charged Lawrence with two counts of securities fraud, and one count of theft. The jury ultimately convicted Lawrence as charged, and Lawrence appealed. In his appeal, he contended, among other things, that (1) the evidence did not establish that the transaction at issue involved a security (namely, an investment contract); (2) Colorado Securities Commissioner Rome’s expert testimony usurped the jury’s role as factfinder because the Commissioner was improperly permitted to opine on the ultimate factual issues in this case; and (3) Lawrence was entitled to the ameliorative benefit of the amendments to the theft statute and, as a result, he could only stand convicted of a class 1 misdemeanor because that was the lowest degree of theft that the jury’s verdict supported. The Colorado Supreme Court concurred with the appellate court’s determination that: (1) the agreement at issue here was an investment contract, and therefore a security; (2) Commissioner’s testimony was admissible, and any error by the trial court in admitting that testimony was harmless; and (3) the trial court erred in instructing the jury as to the value of the property taken. View "Lawrence v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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Steven Thompson was a real estate developer and sole member and manager of SGD Timber Canyon, LLC (“Timber Canyon”), a real estate company that held an interest in a number of undeveloped lots in Castle Rock, Colorado. To buy those properties, Timber Canyon initially obtained a $11.9 million loan from Flagstar Bank. The properties went into foreclosure in October 2009. In February 2010, Timber Canyon filed for bankruptcy; Flagstar Bank sought relief from the automatic stay to allow it to proceed with the foreclosure. In the spring of 2010, Thompson met John Witt (“John”), who had worked in the construction industry in Denver but wanted to become a real estate developer. John eventually began working with Thompson and signed a letter of intent indicating that John would eventually obtain an ownership interest in Thompson’s company. Shortly thereafter, and without disclosing the fact that the Timber Ridge properties were in foreclosure and subject to a forbearance agreement, Thompson obtained an “investment” from John’s parents, Thomas and Debra Witt (“the Witts”). Ultimately, the Witts agreed to increase their initial $400,000 investment to $2.4 million. At no point did Thompson disclose to the Witts that Timber Canyon's properties were already highly leveraged; the company was in bankruptcy, the properties were in foreclosure, and the properties had been valued at only $6.75 million (an amount significantly less than the $31 million value that Thompson had represented to the Witts during negotiations). When the Witts’ note ultimately came due in the winter of 2011, Thompson defaulted. The Witts filed a civil lawsuit against him and contacted law enforcement. Thereafter, the State charged Thompson with two counts of securities fraud and one count of theft. A jury convicted Thompson on all counts, and the court sentenced him to the Department of Corrections for twelve years on each of the securities fraud counts, to be served concurrently, and eighteen years on the theft count, to be served consecutively to the securities fraud counts. As pertinent here, Thompson argued on appeal: (1) because the note at issue was not a security, insufficient evidence supported his securities fraud convictions; (2) the trial court erred by tendering an incorrect jury instruction regarding the meaning of “security”; and (3) his theft conviction had to run concurrently with his securities fraud convictions. The issue this case presented for the Colorado Supreme Court's review was whether: (1) the promissory note at issue was a security under the "family resemblance" test; (2) any error in the jury instruction defining “security” was not plain; and (3) consecutive sentences were permissible because different evidence supported defendant Steven Thompson’s securities fraud and theft convictions. Finding the note at issue was indeed a security under Colorado law, and no other reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed Thompson's convictions. View "Thompson v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Austin Veith pleaded guilty to theft and securities fraud. He asked the trial court to sentence him to probation instead of a term of incarceration. The trial court rejected his request for probation with no incarceration and sentenced Veith to ten years of incarceration on the theft count, and twenty-five years of probation on the securities fraud count. Veith did not object when the judge announced his sentence.  But, he did not sign the probation order acknowledging and accepting the terms and conditions of his sentence of probation. Instead, he filed a motion to correct his sentence pursuant to Crim. P. 35(a), arguing that the probationary portion of his sentence must be vacated because he did not consent to it. The trial court denied the motion, and Veith appealed.  The court of appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part, concluding that Veith had consented to the terms and conditions of the sentence of probation by requesting probation prior to the hearing, but that his consent did not include certain terms of probation added by the court. As a result, the court of appeals remanded the case to the trial court to remove the terms of probation from his sentence that Veith had not requested before sentencing.I t did not order any modification of the prison sentence. The Colorado Supreme Court granted certiorari to determine the legality of Veith’s sentence of probation, and reversed the appellate court's judgment. The Supreme Court held that a trial court cannot impose a sentence of probation without the defendant’s consent. In this case, Veith consented to probation in lieu of incarceration; therefore, the trial court exceeded the scope of Veith’s consent when it imposed a ten-year sentence of incarceration in addition to probation. The trial court lacked authority to impose the sentence of probation.  Accordingly, the Court vacated Veith’s sentence in its entirety, reversed the judgment of the court of appeals, and remanded the case to that court to return the case to the trial court for resentencing consistent with Veith’s plea agreement. View "Veith v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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Respondent Steve Taylor invested $3 million in several investment companies operated by Sean Mueller. Unbeknownst to Taylor, the companies were part of a multi-million dollar Ponzi scheme. The "Mueller Funds" received approximately $150 million in investments, and paid out a little less than $90 million to investors before collapsing. Taylor happened to receive approximately $3.4 million (a return of his invested principal plus net profit) prior to the collapse. Other investors were not as fortunate, losing a sum total of approximately $72 million. In 2010, Mueller ultimately pled guilty to securities fraud, and was sentenced to a total of 40 years in prison. In addition, he was ordered to pay over $64 million in restitution. Petitioner C. Randel Lewis was appointed as Receiver for the Mueller Funds, tasked with collecting Mueller's assets to his creditors and defrauded investors. The Receiver and Taylor signed a tolling agreement that extended the time period within which the Receiver could bring suit against Taylor in an attempt to recover assets. The eventual complaint sought to recover the net profit Taylor received. Taylor received his last payout in April 2007, and moved for summary judgment claiming the Receiver's claim was time barred due to the applicable statute of limitations. The trial court considered the tolling agreement and ruled in the Receiver's favor. Taylor appealed, and the court of appeals reversed, interpreting the term "extinguished," as used in 38-8-110(1), C.R.S. (2015), imposed a jurisdictional time limit on filing a claim, and that the parties could not toll that limit by agreement. The Supreme Court concluded that 38-8-110(1)'s time limitation could indeed be tolled by express agreement. The Court reversed the appellate court and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Lewis v. Taylor" on Justia Law

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In 2006,Jefferson County purchased securities through Capital Securities, Inc., Jerry Manning, and Adam Alves a purchase later determined unlawful under section 24-75-601.1, C.R.S. (2008). The county sued Capital Securities and, among other things, sought to disgorge the commissions earned by Capital Securities under a theory of common law restitution. Both the trial court and the court of appeals concluded that restitution was appropriate and ordered Capital Securities to disgorge their commissions. The Supreme Court granted certiorari to examine whether restitution is an appropriate remedy in this context. Upon review, the Court held that it was not, and reversed the court of appeals: "The statutory scheme adopted by the General Assembly expressly sets forth a number of remedies available to a public entity against a seller when . . .the public entity unlawfully purchases securities under section 24-75-601.1. These remedies include forcing the seller to repurchase the securities 'for the greater of the original purchase principal amount or the original face value, plus any and all accrued interest, within one business day of the demand.' . . . Further, the securities commissioner may, inter alia, suspend or revoke a seller's license or license exemption if he 'knew or should have known' the securities were unlawful under section 24-75-601.1. sec. 11-51-410(k), C.R.S. (2011); sec. 11-51-402(4)(a), C.R.S. (2011)." View "Capital Securities, Inc. v. Griffin" on Justia Law