January 22, 2017

Colorado Court of Appeals: Probate Court Had Jurisdiction to Appoint Temporary Co-Guardians

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in In the Interest of L.B. on Thursday, January 12, 2017.

Probate—Child—Subject Matter Jurisdiction—Guardianship—Home State.

L.B.’s mother died and her father, Berzins, hired Dusalijeva as L.B.’s nanny. Later, they developed a romantic relationship. Berzins had and L.B. has dual citizenship in the United States and Latvia. Berzins died in 2015 in Denver. He had two wills: a 2012 Will executed in Latvia, and a 2014 Will executed in Denver. The 2014 Will expressly revoked all prior wills and left the residuary estate in trust for the benefit of L.B. and Blumberg (Berzins’s other daughter) or Blumberg’s descendants.

In March, May, and July 2015, the court appointed Dusalijeva and Blumberg as temporary co-guardians, initially at their request. In April 2015, without informing the Denver Probate Court, Dusalijeva moved for sole guardianship of L.B. in Latvia. After a four-day hearing, the Denver probate court appointed Blumberg and a Latvian couple, the Carlins, as permanent co-guardians of L.B. in August 2015. Ultimately, the Latvian appellate court found that Dusalijeva and her attorney had attempted to deceive the Latvian orphan’s court by relying on the superseded 2012 Will and failing to inform the court of the 2014 Will, and it concluded that matters regarding L.B. should be determined by a U.S. court.

On appeal, Dusalijeva primarily contended that the probate court lacked subject matter jurisdiction. First, she contended that the court lacked jurisdiction under C.R.S. § 15-14-204(5) and (1) on the three occasions it temporarily appointed her and Blumberg as co-guardians. Based on the Colorado Court of Appeals’ review of the record, the court had jurisdiction under C.R.S. § 15-14-204(5). The probate court also had jurisdiction under C.R.S. § 14-13-204(1) because L.B. had been “abandoned” within the meaning of the statute.

Dusalijeva next contended that the probate court lacked permanent subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to C.R.S. § 14-13-204(2). Subsection (2) is arguably inapplicable in this case because the court did not say that its temporary orders appointing co-guardians would become permanent. Instead, the court held a hearing in August 2015 to determine independently who should be L.B.’s permanent guardian. The court did not decide this issue because it found the probate court had jurisdiction under C.R.S. § 14-13-201.

Dusalijeva also appeared to contend that the probate court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to determine permanent guardianship under C.R.S. § 14-13-201(1). The probate court properly exercised subject matter jurisdiction because Colorado was found to be L.B.’s home state. Further, even if Latvia had adopted a provision in substantial conformity with C.R.S. § 14-13-201(1)(a), the Latvian courts declined to exercise jurisdiction, ruling that Colorado was a more appropriate forum.

The court also considered and rejected six other alleged errors by the probate court and declined to address several arguments that Dusalijeva raised for the first time in her reply brief.

The orders were affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Tractor is Motor Vehicle for Underinsured Motorist Coverage Purposes

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Smith v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. on Thursday, January 12, 2017.

Insurance—Covered Motor Vehicle—Underinsured Motorist Provision—Farm Tractor.

Bunker was driving a farm tractor when he collided with Smith’s truck. The hay spears attached to the tractor pierced the truck and impaled Smith, leaving him severely injured. Bunker pleaded guilty to careless driving, and Smith settled his claim against Bunker for Bunker’s liability policy limits. Because this settlement did not fully compensate Smith for his injuries, he filed a claim for underinsured motorist benefits (UIM) with State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. (State Farm). State Farm denied coverage on the basis that a farm tractor is not a motor vehicle. Smith sued and the district court dismissed the complaint, finding that the tractor was not a covered motor vehicle for purposes of the UIM coverage policy.

On appeal, Smith contended that his policy’s property damage coverage section definition of “uninsured motor vehicle” is included in the UIM coverage provision. The Colorado Court of Appeals declined to extend the “uninsured motor vehicle” definition found only in the property damage coverage provision beyond that provision.

Smith next contended that the plain and ordinary meaning of “motor vehicle” includes the tractor. The court determined that the plain and ordinary meaning is an automotive vehicle not operated on rails and one with rubber tires for use on highways. Applying this definition, the court found that the tractor had wheels and its own motor, was not operated on rails, and was designed for use on streets and highways. Therefore, it was a covered motor vehicle under Smith’s UIM coverage provision.

The judgment was reversed and the case was remanded.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Announcement Sheet, 1/19/2017

On Thursday, January 19, 2017, the Colorado Court of Appeals issued no published opinion and 22 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, 1/19/2017

On Thursday, January 19, 2017, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued two published opinions and no unpublished opinion.

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

Colorado Court of Appeals: Terms of Settlement Offer were Valid and Enforceable When Accepted

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Kovac v. Farmers Insurance Exchange on Thursday, January 12, 2017.

Personal Injury—Underinsured Motorist—Statute of Limitations—Summary Judgment.

Kovac was seriously injured in a car accident with Filipelli. It was undisputed that Filipelli was at fault. Kovac’s medical expenses exceeded $1.4 million. Filipelli was covered by Shelter Insurance Company (Shelter) with a liability limit of $100,000. Kovac was insured under two different automobile policies with Farmers Insurance Exchange (Farmers).

Kovac settled with Shelter for its policy limits. Later, Farmers offered to settle Kovac’s remaining claims for $80,000, but the parties could not reach a settlement. Kovac sued Farmers on April 3, 2015 for recovery of UIM benefits, tortious bad faith breach of contract, and unreasonable delay and denial of insurance benefits. Farmers moved for summary judgment on the grounds that the Shelter settlement check was tendered to Kovac’s attorney on April 2, 2013 and the statute of limitations therefore ran on April 2, 2015. The district court agreed and dismissed the suit.

On appeal, Kovac argued that although her attorney received the check and settlement offer on April 2, it was not accepted until April 5 when the release was signed and the check endorsed. Therefore, the statute of limitations ran on April 5, 2015 and her complaint was timely filed on April 3, 2015. C.R.S. § 13-80-107.5(b) provides that the statute of limitations runs two years from the date when the insured “received payment of the settlement” on the underlying bodily injury claim. The court of appeals determined that Kovac released her claims against Filipelli on April 5, 2013.  Therefore the statute of limitations had not run when she filed her complaint against Farmers.

The summary judgment was reversed and the case was remanded.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Time Frame for Appeal of Paternity Determination Arises from C.A.R. 4

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People in Interest of N.S. on Thursday, January 12, 2017.

Dependency and Neglect— Juvenile Court Jurisdiction—Paternity Adjudication.

The El Paso County Department of Human Services (the Department) filed a dependency and neglect petition on behalf of N.S. The mother’s boyfriend was listed as respondent-father, and the child was placed with him. At a pretrial conference, the juvenile court found that the boyfriend had not been adjudicated the child’s legal father and therefore ordered genetic paternity testing. The juvenile court adjudicated N.S. dependent and neglected. The Department subsequently amended the petition to list A.C. as respondent-father. A.C. was confirmed to be the biological father through genetic paternity testing. Following a paternity hearing, the juvenile court adjudicated A.C. as the child’s legal father.

Boyfriend appealed and the Colorado Court of Appeals issued an order to show cause why his appeal should not be dismissed pursuant to the time frames of C.A.R. 3.4(b)(1). Boyfriend responded that his appeal was governed by C.A.R. 4(a). The court ordered the parties to brief (1) whether the notice of appeal was due within 21 days of the date of the final, appealable order under C.A.R. 3.4; and (2) whether the juvenile court had jurisdiction to issue the judgment of paternity in a dependency and neglect proceeding.

The court first concluded that the plain language of C.A.R. 3.4 shows that the rule does not apply to paternity actions. C.A.R. 4 does not list specific orders that are appealable, and in the absence of any limiting language, its 49-day time frame applied.

The court then stated that the juvenile court has exclusive original jurisdiction in dependency and neglect proceedings to determine parentage. But when a paternity issue arises in these proceedings, the juvenile court must follow the Uniform Parentage Act (UPA) procedures. Here, both presumptive fathers were parties to the proceeding, had actual notice that a legal finding of paternity was necessary, and did not object to the juvenile court deciding the matter. Accordingly, the juvenile court had subject matter jurisdiction under the UPA.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Tenth Circuit: Unpublished Opinions, 1/18/2017

On Wednesday, January 18, 2017, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued two published opinions and one unpublished opinion.

United States v. Gross

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

Colorado Court of Appeals: Denial of Attorney Fees Not Error in Close Case with No Vexatious, Groundless Claims

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in In re Estate of Fritzler on Thursday, January 12, 2017.

Wills—Business Records Exception—Jury Instruction—Presumption of Undue Influence—Attorney Fees—Costs.

Fritzler and his wife executed numerous wills during the last 10 years of their lives. The last will was drafted just a few years before they each passed away. In all of the wills, the Fritzlers sought to distribute their farm in a generally equitable manner among their five children, but the last will increased son Glen’s portion over son Steven’s portion. Steven contested the will, contending that Glen unduly influenced Fritzler. After a lengthy trial, a jury concluded that the will was valid. Following the verdict, the estate and the personal representative (PR) sought attorney fees and costs. The court denied the award of fees, finding that the case was “close” and Steven did not lack substantial justification. The court partially denied costs, concluding that it lacked equitable authority to grant fees without concurrent statutory authority.

On appeal, Steven contended that the trial court abused its discretion by excluding Fritzler’s hospital medical records because they were admissible under the business records exception. Although the exclusion was an abuse of discretion, any error was harmless because the records were cumulative of other admitted evidence.

Steven also contended that the trial court erred by refusing to instruct the jury on the presumption of undue influence. However, the PR offered sufficient evidence to rebut this presumption. Thus it would have been improper for the court to instruct the jury thereon.

The PR contended that the trial court erred by denying her request for attorney fees under C.R.S. § 13-17-102 and by denying her certain costs as the prevailing party under C.R.C.P. 54(d). The trial court noted that this was a close case and found that even though Steven did not prevail, his claims were not groundless, frivolous, or vexatious. Therefore, the court did not err by denying the request for fees. As to the costs, the trial court awarded most of the requested costs to the PR after a hearing, denying only some that it found to be unreasonable. Therefore, the court did not err in its award of costs.

The judgment and orders were affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Collective Bargaining Agreement Provided for Payment for ELA Classes

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Denver Classroom Teachers Association v. School District No. 1 in the County of Denver and State of Colorado on Thursday, January 12, 2017.

Collective Bargaining Agreements—Damages—Statute of Limitations—Administrative Remedies.

School District No. 1 and the Board of Education of School District No. 1 in the County of Denver and State of Colorado (collectively, the District) and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association (DCTA) entered into several collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) and extensions from 2005 to 2015. From the mid-1990s until the 2006–07 school year, the District compensated teachers for attending English Language Acquisition (ELA) training. ELA is a program to train teachers to work more effectively with students who have limited English language proficiency. A federal consent order requires the District to have teachers who are trained to teach such students. After the 2006–07 school year, the District stopped paying teachers for attending the training. DCTA filed a grievance against the District alleging violations of the 2005–08 CBA. DCTA subsequently filed suit for breach of the 2005–08 and 2008–11 CBAs and the extensions, and a jury returned verdicts in favor of DCTA for breach of contract, but it held the District not liable in special interrogatories regarding breach for teachers in the Professional Compensation (ProComp) system.

On appeal, the District first contended that the CBAs and extensions were unambiguous and that they did not require the district to pay teachers for ELA training. Because the articles provide for payment for work beyond the 40-hour week, and because the ELA training may fall into that category, the contract was fairly susceptible to being interpreted to require payment for such work. Therefore, the CBAs were ambiguous, and the trial court properly let the interpretation go to the jury as a question of fact.

The District next contended that additional evidence showed unambiguously that it was not required to compensate teachers for ELA training beyond that year because (1) ELA training was a special condition of employment and (2) the parties’ bargaining history indicates that any requirement to compensate teachers for ELA training was purposely excluded from the CBAs. First, the CBAs were ambiguous regarding whether ELA training is a “special condition” regarding assignment of the teacher, requiring the teachers, not the District to pay for the training. Second, the District’s past practice of paying teachers for ELA training supported DCTA’s position that the CBAs entitled teachers to receive pay for ELA training.Therefore, the question was properly given to the jury.

The District also asserted that the trial court erred in not precluding recovery of damages that accrued before October 24, 2007, which was six years before the case was filed. The statute of limitations for breaching a CBA is six years. The District stopped paying teachers for ELA training starting with the 2007–08 school year, which began on August 13, 2007. DCTA filed its complaint on October 24, 2013. The trial court did not commit reversible error in deciding to award damages for the complete Fall 2007 semester.

Finally, the District contended that DCTA should have been barred from any relief for the 2008–09 school year and beyond because it failed to exhaust administrative remedies for those years. DCTA filed a grievance only for the 2007–08 school year, which was under the 2005–08 CBA. Further efforts by DCTA to achieve payment for ELA training through administrative remedies would have been futile, and the trial court did not err in this finding.

DCTA, in its cross-appeal, contended that the trial court erred in giving the jury special interrogatories to decide whether teachers under the ProComp system were exempt from receiving extra pay for ELA training. Because competent evidence supported the assertion, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in allowing the jury to determine whether teachers under the ProComp agreement forfeited their entitlement to compensation for ELA training.

The final judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Tenth Circuit: Unpublished Opinions, 1/17/2017

On Tuesday, January 17, 2017, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued no published opinion and one unpublished opinion.

Wickware v. Johns Manville

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

Colorado Supreme Court: Announcement Sheet, 1/17/2017

On Tuesday, January 17, 2017, the Colorado Supreme Court issued three published opinions.

People v. Boyd

Russell v. People

People v. Wolf

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: Attorney’s Prelitigation Statements Must Be Made in Good Faith to Qualify as Privileged

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Begley v. Ireson on Thursday, January 12, 2017.

Belinda Begley and Robert Hirsch, and their joint revocable trust (collectively, plaintiffs), purchased a property in Denver with the intent of demolishing the existing house and building a new house. Their architect’s plans were approved by the City & County of Denver, and plaintiffs contracted with a builder to begin demolition in anticipation of construction. The builder demolished the old house and began the shoring work for the new house. The neighbors, Ireson and Hoeckele, along with their attorney, Gibbs (collectively, defendants), made several threatening statements to the builder, which caused him to cease work and breach his contract with plaintiffs.

Plaintiffs filed a complaint against defendants, alleging intentional interference with a contract and intentional interference with prospective contractual relations. Several days later, defendants filed suit against plaintiffs, and moved to dismiss plaintiffs’ complaint under C.R.C.P. 12(b)(5) for failure to state a claim, arguing that their allegedly tortious statements were made in anticipation of litigation and were therefore protected. The district court apparently took judicial notice of defendants’ suit and granted their C.R.C.P. 12(b)(5) motion. Plaintiffs appealed.

The Colorado Court of Appeals first noted that motions to dismiss under C.R.C.P. 12(b)(5) are viewed with disfavor. The district court had ruled that the plaintiffs’ complaint failed to state a claim because there was no allegation that the statements by Hoeckele, Ireson, and Gibbs caused the builder to breach his contract. The court of appeals found this was error. The complaint alleged with specificity several incidents in which Ireson, Hoeckele, and Gibbs interfered with the construction contract, and the court held that nothing more was required to survive the motion to dismiss. The court reversed the district court’s grant of defendants’ motion.

The district court next ruled that because Gibbs’ statements and communications to the builder were made while he was representing Ireson and Hoeckele and were “in anticipation and in furtherance of litigation,” they were absolutely privileged against the torts that plaintiffs alleged. The court of appeals again found that this ruling was in error. The court analyzed several state appellate court decisions, as well as section 586 of the Restatement (Second) of Torts, and determined that prelitigation statements must be made in good faith to be privileged. Because the district court made no finding as to whether Gibbs’ statements were made in good faith, the court of appeals reversed and remanded.

The court of appeals reversed the district court’s rulings and remanded for further proceedings.