April 26, 2017

Archives for May 26, 2016

Colorado Court of Appeals: Statute Permitting Will Reformation Based on Extrinsic Evidence of Intent Is Not Rule of Construction

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in In re Estate of Ramstetter on Thursday, May 19, 2016.

Probate—Extrinsic Evidence—Mutual Mistake.

Louise Ramstetter devised her ranch to her daughters, Jeanne, Marie, and Karol, “in equal shares to be held as joint tenants.” Louise died in 2009 and Marie and Karol, as personal representatives, began administering the estate. Three years later, Jeanne petitioned to remove Marie and Karol as personal representatives and for a declaratory judgment that she had severed the joint tenancy among the sisters, creating a tenancy in common as to her one-third of the ranch by deeding her interest to a trust she had created. Marie and Karol cross-petitioned to enforce a 2012 Agreement and Release in which they had agreed to convey 35 acres of the ranch to Jeanne and she had agreed to convey the remainder of the ranch to them, with all other claims being released. They also sought reformation of the will based on the failure of the attorney who drafted the will to have implemented Louise’s intent to keep ownership of the ranch within the family.

The trial court granted Jeanne’s motion for judgment on the pleadings, finding the will unambiguous. It accepted the parties’ position that application of CRS § 15-11-806, which allows a court to reform an unambiguous instrument “to conform the terms to the transferor’s intention” based on clear and convincing evidence that the “transferor’s intent and the terms of the governing instrument were affected by a mistake of fact or law,” was determined by CRS § 15-17-101(2), but concluded that CRS § 15-17-101(2) did not make CRS § 15-11-806 applicable because Louise had died before the latter section became effective. Moreover, it found that the reformation claim depended wholly on extrinsic evidence of Louise’s intent, and therefore dismissed it. The court found that the Agreement and Release was “invalid as a result of mutual mistake among the parties to it” and that Jeanne had severed the joint tenancy by the conveyance to her trust.

On appeal, Karol and Marie first argued that the trial court improperly dismissed their claim for reformation of Louise’s will. CRS § 15-11-806 amended the probate code to allow reformation of an unambiguous instrument. The Court of Appeals agreed with the trial court that CRS § 15-11-806 cannot be applied retroactively in this case, but on different grounds: The Court found that CRS § 15-17-101(2)(b), which would allow retroactive application of CRS § 15-11-806, does not apply here because CRS § 15-17-101(2)(a) applies only to governing instruments and therefore controls over the more general subsection (2)(b) and does not provide a basis for retroactively applying CRS § 15-11-806. Also, CRS § 15-17-101(2)(e) does not allow retroactive application of CRS § 15-11-806 because CRS § 15-11-806 is not a rule of construction and therefore 2(e) doesn’t apply. Because CRS § 15-17-101(2)(a) and (b) do not permit retroactive application, the trial court properly precluded Karol and Marie from attempting to reform Louise’s will using extrinsic evidence of her intent under CRS §15-11-806. Karol and Marie also argued that the court improperly invoked stare decisis when dismissing their reformation claim. Because the terms of the will were unambiguous, the court properly did not admit extrinsic evidence to establish a contrary intent to that expressed in her will.

Karol and Marie then argued that the trial court misapplied the mutual mistake doctrine and erred in declining to enforce the Agreement and Release because all the sisters were mutually mistaken that only a contract among them could sever the joint tenancy. The Court reviewed the trial court decision for clear error and found sufficient support in the record to uphold its conclusion that all three sisters held the same mistaken belief. The Court also rejected Karol and Marie’s arguments that other findings of the trial court were irreconcilably inconsistent with the finding of mutual mistake.

The orders dismissing the reformation claim and voiding the Agreement and Release for mutual mistake were affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Choice of Law Provision Unambiguously Governs Contract

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Mountain States Adjustment v. Cooke on Thursday, May 19, 2016.

Summary Judgment—Debt Collection—Choice of Law Provision.

In August 2004, Cooke signed a note (Note) with Commercial Federal Bank (CFB) for a home equity loan. Cooke resided in Colorado and the home that was collateral for the Note (subject property) was in Colorado. CFB was headquartered in Nebraska and the Note stated that it was “governed by federal law, and to the extent applicable, the laws of Nebraska.”

CFB merged into Bank of the West, a California bank, in December 2005. Cooke’s  repayment terms under the Note didn’t change as a result nor was he asked to sign a new agreement. In April 2009, the company holding the first mortgage on the subject property commenced foreclosure proceedings. Bank of the West did not participate, but on June 19, 2009, Bank of the West sent a “30 Day Notice of Demand and Intent to Accelerate” letter to Cooke.

On February 14, 2014, Bank of the West assigned Cooke’s note to Mountain States Adjustment (MSA). On July 15, 2014, MSA filed this collection action against Cooke in Denver District Court. Cooke answered and alleged an affirmative defense that MSA’s claim was barred by the applicable statute of limitations.

In January 2015, MSA filed a motion for summary judgment alleging that Cooke admitted to being the signatory under the Note and that the facts were undisputed that he was in default. Cooke filed a cross-motion for summary judgment asserting that MSA’s claim was barred by the five-year statute of limitations set forth in Nebraska law. The district court decided that Colorado law and its six-year statute of limitations applied and entered summary judgment in MSA’s favor. The sole issue on appeal was whether it was error to hold that Colorado law applied.

The Court of Appeals found the choice of law terms in the Note were clear, express, and unambiguous. As a matter of law, Nebraska law governs the statute of limitations issue because the undisputed record shows both that Nebraska had a substantial relationship to the parties or the transaction and that there was a reasonable basis for the contracting parties’ choice of law. Because it was undisputed that MSA filed its complaint outside of the applicable Nebraska limitations period, MSA’s claim was barred and Cooke was entitled to entry of judgment in his favor.

The judgment was reversed and the case was remanded.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Substantial Nexus Must Exist Between Confinement and Charge for PSCC

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Fransua on Thursday, May 19, 2016.

Calculation of Presentence Confinement Credit.

On October 25, 2013, Fransua was arrested and charged with first degree criminal trespass of a dwelling, second degree burglary, third degree assault, and harassment (the 2013 charges). He was released on bond on December 5, 2013. On March 1, 2014, Fransua was arrested for violating his bond conditions and trespass (the 2014 charges).

Fransua ultimately pleaded guilty to attempted burglary in the 2013 case in exchange for dismissal of all the other 2013 and 2014 charges. On June 16, 2014, he was sentenced to five years in community corrections. He served this sentence until September 23, 2014, when he walked away from the community corrections facility. He was arrested on October 19, 2014. On November 10, 2014, he was resentenced to five years in the custody of the Department of Corrections.

At resentencing, the court stated Fransua was entitled to presentence confinement credit (PSCC) for time served only on the case that he was sentenced on. The court found this amounted to 162 days, declining to award credit for the 108 days served from March 1, 2014 to June 16, 2014.

On appeal, Fransua argued the failure to award credit him for the 108 days was error. The Court of Appeals stated that a defendant is entitled to PSCC if the period of confinement was attributable to the sentence imposed.        Applying this test, the Court found that Fransua’s confinement from March 1, 2014 to June 16, 2014 was on charges that were independent and distinct from the 2013 burglary charge and there was no substantial nexus between these charges and the sentence imposed. Therefore, the district court was correct in not giving him PSCC for that time.

Fransua also argued that the district court miscalculated the time for which he did receive credit. The Court agreed, finding that he should have been credited 164 days, not 162, because the district court failed to count the first days of his 2013 and second 2014 jail confinements.

The order was affirmed in part and reversed in part, and the case was remanded.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Announcement Sheet, 5/26/2016

On Thursday, May 26, 2016, the Colorado Court of Appeals issued no published opinion and 20 unpublished opinions.

Neither State Judicial nor the Colorado Bar Association provides case summaries for unpublished appellate opinions. The case announcement sheet is available here.

Tenth Circuit: Unpublished Opinions, 5/25/2016

On Wednesday, May 25, 2016, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued no published opinion and three unpublished opinions.

United States v. Notbohm

Collier v. Roberts

United States v. Shelton

Case summaries are not provided for unpublished opinions. However, published opinions are summarized and provided by Legal Connection.