June 24, 2018

Archives for March 20, 2018

Colorado Supreme Court: Announcement Sheet, 3/19/2018

On Monday, March 19, 2018, the Colorado Supreme Court issued two published opinions.

People v. Washam

Love v. Klosky

Summaries of these cases are forthcoming.

Neither State Judicial nor the Colorado Bar Association provides case summaries for unpublished appellate opinions.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

Colorado Court of Appeals: State’s Interest in Ascertaining Truth Paramount Over Witness’s Religious Freedom Claims

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Ray on Thursday, March 8, 2018.

Death PenaltyPostconviction—Freedom of Religion—First Amendment—Refusal to Testify—Direct Contempt—Rational BasisStrict Scrutiny.

Ray was sentenced to death in a first degree murder case. Ray’s attorneys hired Lindecrantz as an investigator to assist them in the penalty phase of the case.

The trial court began the required postconviction review of Ray’s conviction and sentence. Ray sought postconviction relief, in part alleging ineffective assistance of counsel. Part of that claim challenges Lindecrantz’s investigation. The prosecution subpoenaed Lindecrantz to testify. She moved to quash, arguing that as a devout Mennonite she is opposed to the death penalty on religious grounds and she feared that in truthfully answering the prosecutor’s questions, she would provide information from which the prosecutor could argue that Ray received effective assistance, which could lead to upholding the conviction and death sentence.

The trial court denied the motion to quash, finding that under either a rational basis or strict scrutiny analysis, Lindecrantz’s sincerely held religious beliefs did not justify her refusal to answer questions under oath in response to the subpoena. She took the stand and refused to testify. The court ultimately found her in direct contempt and remanded her to the sheriff’s custody “until she elects to answer the questions” as a remedial sanction. She has been in jail since February 26 of this year.

On appeal, Lindecrantz argued that being called as a witness for the prosecution makes her a “tool” or “weapon” of the prosecutor’s efforts to execute Ray. She would answer the trial court’s questions on direct examination and the prosecutor’s and defense counsel’s questions on cross-examination, but does not want to answer the prosecutor’s questions on direct examination. The court of appeals weighed the substantial burden on Lindecrantz’s religious beliefs against the state’s compelling interests in ascertaining the truth and rendering a just judgment in accordance with the law and concluded that Lindecrantz’s position fails under both a rational basis and strict scrutiny analysis. Lastly, holding Lindecrantz in contempt is narrowly tailored to advance the government’s compelling interests.

The order was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Prejudgment Interest is Form of Compensatory Damages and Is Confined to Policy Limits

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in White v. Estate of Soto-Lerma on Thursday, March 8, 2018.

Probate—Prejudgment Interest Costs—Insurance Policy—Liability LimitsOffer of Settlement.

Plaintiff’s claim arose from a car accident that occurred about a year before decedent died from unrelated causes. More than two years after decedent’s death, plaintiff filed suit, asserting that decedent had been negligent. Decedent’s estate consisted solely of his automobile insurance policy, which had a policy limit of $50,000 per person injured. Defendant rejected plaintiff’s pretrial statutory offer of settlement for the insurance policy limit of $50,000. After trial, a jury awarded plaintiff $100,000 in damages. The court reduced the award to $50,000, but ultimately entered judgment for $79,218, which included $11,600 in costs and $17,618 in prejudgment interest.

On appeal, defendant contended that the trial court erred in awarding plaintiff prejudgment interest. C.R.S. § 15-12-803(1)(a) bars all claims against a decedent’s estate that arose before the decedent’s death and were not presented within the statutory time frame. It was undisputed that plaintiff’s claim was not timely presented. C.R.S. § 15-12-803(3)(b) states that nothing prevents a proceeding to establish decedent’s liability to the limits of his insurance protection. This statute conflicts with C.R.S. § 13-21-101(1), which requires a court to award prejudgment interest. The court of appeals concluded that prejudgment interest is part of the underlying liability claim against an estate and is therefore subject to the insurance policy limits and the C.R.S. § 15-12-803(3)(b) bar on claims above that limit. C.R.S. § 15-12-803 bars an award of prejudgment interest above defendant’s $50,000 policy limit.

Plaintiff cross-appealed the judgment, arguing that the court should have entered judgment for the jury’s $100,000 damages award plus corresponding costs and prejudgment interest. Plaintiff contended that regardless of whether she could collect the jury award from defendant’s insurance company, judgment in excess of the policy limits was proper to leave open the possibility that plaintiff could be assigned the right to bring a bad faith claim against defendant’s insurer. The statutory language is clear that any untimely liability claim in excess of policy limits is barred.

Defendant also argued it was error to award costs in the final judgment, because such an award ignores the bar on claims in excess of insurance policy limits. Plaintiff argued for costs only under C.R.S. § 13-17-202, which provides that a plaintiff must be awarded costs only if the final judgment exceeds the settlement offer. Given that the final judgment did not and could not exceed the policy limit, which was also the amount of the settlement offer, plaintiff was not entitled to costs under C.R.S. § 13-17-202 and the trial court erred in entering a costs judgment above the policy limit.

The judgment was reversed and the case was remanded for entry of judgment for plaintiff in the amount of $50,000.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Under Parties’ Circumstances, District Court was Correct in Finding No Presumptive Child Support Amount Existed

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in In re Marriage of Boettcher on Thursday, March 8, 2018.

Post-Dissolution—Modification of Child Support—Child Support GuidelinesPresumptive AmountDiscretion—RetroactiveAttorney Fees.

The parties’ dissolution of marriage agreement that no child support would be owed by either of them was incorporated into the decree. Mother subsequently moved to modify child support, alleging changed income resulting in more than a 10% change in the amount of support that would be due. The district court ordered father to pay mother child support of $3,000 per month as of the date she moved to modify, as well as 70% of mother’s attorney fees.

On appeal, father argued that the district court erred by determining there was no rebuttable presumptive child support obligation when the parents’ combined incomes exceed the highest level of the statutory income schedule, $30,000. He argued that for combined incomes above this amount, the child support obligation at the highest level is the presumptive amount, such that any greater award constitutes a guidelines deviation. The statute’s plain language does not support this argument, but rather states that, in this circumstance, the judge may use discretion to determine child support, but that the obligation must not be less than it would be based on the highest level. Further, deviation does not apply when the court awards more than the amount of support from the schedule’s highest level. Here, father alone earns $92,356 per month and the parties together earn $105,699 per month. The district court was correct in finding that there was no presumptive child support amount under these circumstances, that there was a minimum presumptive amount under the guidelines, and that it could use its discretion to determine a higher amount. Further, the court made sufficient findings concerning the relevant statutory factors and properly exercised its discretion.

Father also argued that the court erred by retroactively modifying the child support back to the date that mother moved to modify. A child support modification should be effective as of the filing date of the motion unless the court finds this “would cause undue hardship or substantial injustice.” Father did not argue that applying the statute would cause undue hardship or substantial injustice, and the district court did not abuse its discretion.

Lastly, father argued it was an abuse of discretion for the court to award mother a portion of her attorney fees without making sufficient findings. The district court is afforded great latitude in apportioning costs and fees appropriate to the circumstances in a given case. The findings were amply supported by the record.

Mother contended the appeal was frivolous and requested appellate attorney fees. The court of appeals denied her request.

The order was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Tenth Circuit: Unpublished Opinions, 3/19/2018

On Monday, March 19, 2018, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued two published opinions and two unpublished opinions.

United States v. Craig

Dopp v. Larimer

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