September 20, 2014

Colorado Court of Appeals: Medical Marijuana Grower Not Entitled to Bring § 1983 Action for Destruction of Plants

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Young v. Larimer County Sheriff’s Office on Thursday, September 11, 2014.

Medical Marijuana Amendment—42 USC § 1983—Seizure—Taking—Constitution.

Young leased property where he grew marijuana plants and distributed marijuana for medical use under the Medical Marijuana Amendment (MMA), Article XVIII, §14 of the Colorado Constitution. After obtaining search warrants, sheriff’s deputies entered Young’s property and seized forty-two marijuana plants by cutting them off just above the roots. This action killed the plants. After Young was acquitted of all charges against him, he brought this action for damages on the basis that the deputies had killed the plants seized from him. The trial court entered summary judgment against Young.

On appeal, Young argued that 42 USC § 1983 provides a remedy for state action that violates a right created by the MMA. Section 14(2)(e) of the MMA requires that medical marijuana that has been seized be returned upon acquittal of criminal charges. However, because federal law criminalizes possession of marijuana, such a claim is not cognizable under § 1983. Further, no express or implied private right of action exists under the MMA. Therefore, the trial court properly entered summary judgment on this claim.

Defendants argued that because Young’s complaint alleged a taking only under federal law (which is foreclosed by the federal criminalization of marijuana), a state law takings claim under Article II, §15 of the Colorado Constitution should not be considered. A valid seizure under criminal law does not constitute a taking for which the owner is entitled to just compensation, even if the defendant is later acquitted of the charges. Therefore, the trial court properly entered summary judgment on the state law takings claim. The judgment was affirmed.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Dismissal Prior to Completion of Bankruptcy Case Re-Vests Claims in Debtors

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Mackall v. JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A. on Thursday, September 11, 2014.

Bankruptcy—Dismissal—Standing—Issue Preclusion—Failure to State a Claim.

Plaintiffs purchased a home and subsequently refinanced it. After the court issued a written order authorizing JPMorgan Chase Bank (Chase), the assigned lender, to sell the house, plaintiffs filed a Chapter 13 petition for bankruptcy. The bankruptcy court dismissed the bankruptcy proceeding before confirmation of a plan or discharge. Plaintiffs thereafter filed a civil complaint against Chase, alleging that Chase’s note was fraudulent and that Chase was not the proper party to enforce it. The district court granted Chase’s motion to dismiss some of plaintiffs’ claims.

On appeal, Chase contended that plaintiffs lacked standing to assert any claims against it because (1) all of the claims were actionable when plaintiffs filed for bankruptcy, and (2) plaintiffs failed to disclose the claims to the bankruptcy court. When a bankruptcy case is dismissed, the debtor is granted standing to assert any claim that it possessed before it filed for bankruptcy, regardless of whether it disclosed the claim to the bankruptcy court during the bankruptcy proceedings. Here, the dismissal of the bankruptcy petition re-vested the claims in plaintiffs, and they had standing to bring those claims against Chase after the dismissal.

Plaintiffs argued that the district court erred in dismissing some of their claims based on issue preclusion. The district court held that both the CRCP 120 order authorizing sale and the bankruptcy court order allowing Chase’s proof of claim precluded some of plaintiffs’ claims. Because the bankruptcy court ruling had preclusive effect on these issues, plaintiffs were barred from re-litigating the issues that were dismissed based on issue preclusion.

Plaintiffs also argued that the district court erred by dismissing several of their claims for failure to state a claim. Because the complaint failed to allege that Chase filed the CRCP 120 actions for any purpose other than to obtain an order authorizing sale, the district court properly dismissed plaintiffs’ abuse of process claim. Plaintiffs’ complaint failed to allege that their property was on the market for sale and, therefore, the district court properly dismissed plaintiffs’ slander of title claim. Additionally, plaintiffs claims for breach of contract, implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and promissory estoppel were properly dismissed because the statute of frauds barred any unwritten modification of the loan agreement. Finally, because Chase had the right to seek enforcement of the promissory note against plaintiffs, plaintiffs’ claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress failed. The judgment was affirmed.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Announcement Sheet, 9/18/2014

On Thursday, September 18, 2014, the Colorado Court of Appeals issued no published opinion and 16 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: Threat to Hire Permanent Replacements Not Enough to Invalidate Entire Lockout

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Teamsters Local Union No. 455 v. National Labor Relations Board on Wednesday, August 27, 2014.

Harborlite, Inc. locked out union members during a collective bargaining dispute. Harborlite threatened to hire permanent workers to replace the locked out union members, and the Teamsters brought a claim with the National Labor Relations Board. The NLRB ordered Harborlite not to make future threats of termination and to post a notice to that effect. Teamsters appealed, alleging that the NLRB should have held the entire lockout unlawful and awarded back pay.

The Tenth Circuit first addressed the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in NLRB v. Noel Canning, 134 S.Ct. 2550 (2014), and found it had jurisdiction, since the NLRB appointment at issue was made during a Senate recess that was longer than the period specified as problematic by the Court.

Turning to the merits of the appeal, the Tenth Circuit could not support the Teamsters’ contention that the lockout became unlawful when Harborlite threatened to hire permanent replacements. The threat did not cause the Teamsters to change their position, and it was not acted upon. A mere threat and nothing more was not enough to convert an otherwise legal lockout to an illegal one. The petition to review was denied.

Tenth Circuit: Unpublished Opinions, 9/18/2014

On Thursday, September 18, 2014, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued one published opinion and four unpublished opinions.

Gagarina v. Holder

United States v. Riggins

Antelope Coal Co. v. Goddard

Collvins v. Hennebold

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

Colorado Court of Appeals: Permanency for Child in D&N Proceeding More Important than Reestablishing Familial Ties

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People in Interest of M.D. on Thursday, September 11, 2014.

Dependency and Neglect—Foster Parents—Permanency Hearing—Compelling Reason.

The La Plata County Department of Human Services (Department) filed a petition in dependency and neglect regarding M.D. due to its concerns about the parents’ history of domestic violence and substance abuse. M.D. was placed with foster parents and, based on father’s admission to certain allegations in the petition, including that he tested positive for methamphetamine, the court adjudicated the child dependent and neglected and adopted a treatment plan for father (mother’s rights were not at issue in this case). The district court later entered judgment allocating a majority of parenting time and sole decision making authority for M.D. to the foster parents.

On appeal, father contended that the court erred in concluding that it need only find a compelling reason to allocate parental responsibility to a nonparent under the permanency hearing statute. Because CRS §19-1-115 concerns only temporary custody awards and the court’s order here was a permanent custody order, the findings under §19-1-115(6.5) were not required. Further, there was evidence in the record that the child needed permanency and that a complete transition back to father would be difficult and probably result in harm to the child.

The record also reflects that the Department made reasonable efforts to finalize permanent placement of the child and that procedural safeguards were in place to protect father’s rights. In addition, because father was not deprived of all of his parental rights, and because the trial court retained jurisdiction to modify its existing order, the trial court order relating to father’s custody and visitation rights did not require a finding of unfitness to protect his fundamental liberty interest. The record supports the court’s findings regarding several compelling reasons as to why the child could not be returned home under §19-3-702(4). Therefore, the court did not abuse it’s authority to award permanent custody to the foster parents. The judgment was affirmed.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Statutory Language Deprived Court of Appeals of Jurisdiction in Bond Revocation Case

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Jones on Thursday, September 11, 2014.

Bond—Revocation—Petition for Review—Jurisdiction.

In this felony case, the trial court set bond for defendant. He posted the bond, and the jail released him from its custody. While he was free on bond, a second court found that there was probable cause to believe that he had committed another felony. Based on that finding, the trial court revoked his release on bond in this case, and it ordered that the jail hold him without bond until this case was resolved. Defendant filed a petition for review in this court.

The prosecution argued that the Court of Appeals did not have jurisdiction over defendant’s petition for review. Defendant filed his petition for review relying on CRS §16-4-204(1), which authorizes review of trial court orders issued under CRS §§16-4-104, -107, and -201. Here, the prosecution’s motion to revoke defendant’s bond relied on CRS §16-4-105(3), which is not mentioned in CRS §16-4-204(1). Because it is not mentioned, a defendant cannot seek appellate review of an order issued under CRS §16-4-105(3) by filing a petition for review under CRS §16-4-204(1). Therefore, the Court of Appeals did not have jurisdiction over defendant’s petition for review, and the appeal was dismissed. Defendant may, however, seek the Supreme Court’s discretionary review of the trial court’s order under CAR 21.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Entire Lease Void Where District Exceeded Leasing Authority

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Rocky Mountain Natural Gas, LLC v. The Colorado Mountain Junior College District on Thursday, September 11, 2014.

Lease—Municipality—Void—Reformation—Equitable Estoppel—Compensation.

Rocky Mountain Natural Gas, LLC (RMNG) and Colorado Mountain Junior College District(CMC) entered into a lease allowing RMNG to construct and operate a natural gas compressor station on CMC property. Despite the statutory three-year term limit on CMC’s authority to lease district property, the lease included an initial term of twenty years, with an option for RMNG to extend the lease for an additional twenty-year term. RMNG spent approximately $2.5 million in reliance on the lease, and CMC thereafter took action to set aside the lease as unenforceable, because the term of the lease exceeded CMC’s statutory authority. The court granted summary judgment in favor of CMC.

On appeal, RMNG contended that the district court erred by determining that the lease was entirely void and unenforceable. Because the evidence did not clearly show that CMC desired to lease the property for less than the twenty-year term stated in the agreement with RMNG, it was within the discretion of the district court to reject reformation of the contract as an appropriate equitable remedy. Further, because the entire contract was void, the court could not use the “savings clause” to reform the contract to the maximum three years. Accordingly, the district court did not err in determining that the term of years could not be reformed and that the entire lease was void and unenforceable.

RMNG also contended that the district court erred by refusing to apply equitable estoppel against CMC to prevent manifest injustice. Where a contract is void because it is not within a municipality’s power to make, the municipality cannot be estopped to deny the validity of the contract. Here, because CMC had no power to lease district property for any term exceeding three years, principles of estoppel do not apply against CMC. Accordingly, the district court did not err when it allowed CMC to deny the validity of the lease.

RMNG further argued that the district court erred because it refused to hold a hearing or make factual findings that would permit it to craft a remedy that fully compensated RMNG for CMC’s breach. CMC refunded the lease payments it received from RMNG. Accordingly, RMNG was fully compensated for the benefit it conferred on CMC and the district did not err when it denied further relief and granted summary judgment in favor of CMC. The judgment was affirmed.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Tenth Circuit: Unpublished Opinions, 9/17/2014

On Thursday, September 17, 2014, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued one published opinion and three unpublished opinions.

Juarez-Galvan v. United Parcel Service, Inc.

Uzdenov v. Holder

Reneau v. Mahoney

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

Colorado Court of Appeals: Witness’s Failure to File Tax Returns for Several Years Probative of Character for Truthfulness

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Leaf v. Beihoffer on Thursday, September 11, 2014.

Negligence—Driving Under the Influence of Drugs—Impeachment—Evidence—Tax Returns—CRE 608(b)—Guilty Plea—Jury Instructions.

Defendant Beihoffer’s car rear-ended plaintiff Leaf’s taxicab on an icy road. Beihoffer ultimately pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of driving under the influence of drugs (DUI). Leaf sued Beihoffer for negligence, and the court entered judgment in Beihoffer’s favor.

On appeal, Leaf contended that the district court committed reversible error by allowing impeachment evidence that he had failed to file income tax returns for several years, because that evidence was not probative of his truthfulness and was unfairly prejudicial. Evidence of a witness’s failure to file income tax returns for several years is probative of the witness’s character for truthfulness and therefore admissible under CRE 608(b) to impeach the witness’s credibility. Therefore, the court did not err in admitting such evidence.

Leaf also contended that the district court erred by not giving preclusive effect to Beihoffer’s DUI guilty plea and by excluding evidence of the plea offered for impeachment. However, evidence of Beihoffer’s DUI guilty plea had no preclusive effect in this case. The court also did not err in excluding evidence of the guilty plea for impeachment, because there was sufficient cumulative evidence presented to the jury on this undisputed issue.

Finally, because Leaf did not allege a negligence per se claim in this case, the district court did not abuse its discretion in rejecting Leaf’s proposed definitional instruction of DUI. The judgment was affirmed.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Question of Prospective Harm Inappropriate for Summary Judgment in Dependency and Neglect

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People in Interest of S.N. on Thursday, September 11, 2014.

Parental Rights—Termination—Dependency and Neglect—Summary Judgment—Prospective Harm.

The Boulder County Department of Human Services (Department) removed S.N. from her parents’ custody at birth because a hearing on termination of parental rights involving the parents’ three older children was pending. The trial court adjudicated S.N. dependent and neglected by summary judgment based entirely on a theory of prospective harm.

On appeal, the parents argued that the trial court erred by granting summary judgment on the Department’s petition for dependency and neglect regarding S.N. There were material facts that could affect the determination of whether S.N. should be adjudicated dependent and neglected. Therefore, the question of prospective harm was inappropriate for summary judgment because the parent’s prior conduct alone can never be sufficiently predictive of future conduct to take the question from a trier of fact by summary judgment. The judgment was reversed and the case was remanded with directions.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Remand to Determine Whether Defendant Hired Specific Attorney or Entire Firm

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Stidham on Thursday, September 11, 2014.

Sentencing Hearing—Sixth Amendment—Right to Counsel—Continuance.

A jury found defendant guilty of multiple sex offenses involving three minor children. The district court convicted him, adjudicated him a habitual criminal based on various prior convictions, and sentenced him to forty-eight years to life in the custody of the Department of Corrections. At a resentencing hearing, the court denied defendant’s request for a continuance based on his objection that an associate from the firm, R.T., instead of the attorney from the firm he had hired, H.S., was there to represent him. The resentencing hearing proceeded, and the district court ultimately imposed the same sentence.

Defendant argued that the trial court violated his Sixth Amendment right to counsel when it denied his request for a continuance of his resentencing hearing. It is unclear from the record whether defendant hired H.S. personally or the firm. Therefore, the case was remanded to make this determination and for further findings. If defendant hired H.S. personally, the court will need to vacate the current sentence and set a resentencing hearing at which H.S., defendant’s current counsel, or defendant’s retained counsel can appear. If defendant hired the firm, the court should consider and make a record of the appropriate factors in deciding whether it should have continued the resentencing hearing to allow defendant to be represented by H.S. If it finds it should have granted defendant’s requested continuance, the court should vacate the sentence and reset the resentencing hearing.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.