August 20, 2014

Colorado Court of Appeals: Substantial Compliance with Notice Provisions Sufficient for Hospital to Enforce Lien

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Wainscott v. Centura Health Corporation on Thursday, August 14, 2014.

Auto Accident—Hospital Lien Statute—Notice—Substantial Compliance—Colorado Consumer Protection Act—Fraudulent Concealment.

Donald Wainscott was injured in an auto accident caused by third parties (tortfeasors). He received treatment at St. Anthony Central Hospital, which is managed and operated by Centura Health Corporation. To secure payment of these medical expenses, Centura asserted a statutory hospital lien against any settlement or judgment that Donald Wainscott might receive as a result of the accident. The trial court declared that Centura’s failure to strictly comply with the hospital lien statute rendered its lien unenforceable.

On appeal, Centura argued that it substantially complied with the hospital lien statute and that the trial court erred in finding the lien was unenforceable. Because minor filing and notice deficiencies should not invalidate an otherwise valid hospital lien, substantial compliance may be sufficient to satisfy the filing and notice provisions of Colorado’s hospital lien statute. A lienholder substantially complies when it satisfies the statute’s purposes through timely actual notice of the lien to those against whom the lienholder attempts to enforce the lien. Because Centura did identify and serve the tortfeasors’ insurer and Donald Wainscott, Centura substantially complied with the hospital lien statute and the trial court erred in finding the lien was not enforceable.

On cross-appeal, the Wainscotts contended that the district court erroneously dismissed their Colorado Consumer Protection Act (CCPA) and fraudulent concealment claims under CRCP 12(b)(5) for failure to state a claim on which relief can be granted. The basis of the Wainscotts’ CCPA claim was an injury resulting from Centura’s failure to bill Medicare. However, during the period of time in question, Centura was required to refrain from billing Medicare and to seek payment from the tortfeasors’ liability insurer. Thereafter, it had the option of billing Medicare. Centura’s failure to advise the Wainscotts that it was obeying the law did not constitute a deceptive or unfair trade practice. Further, Centura did not have a duty to disclose that it planned to pursue payment from the tortfeasors or their insurer.Accordingly, the district court properly dismissed the CCPA and fraudulent concealment claims.

The district court’s dismissal of the Wainscotts’ CCPA and fraudulent concealment claims was affirmed. The summary judgment as to the Wainscotts’ declaratory action to determine the validity of Centura’s hospital lien was reversed. The case was remanded for further proceedings to determine whether the amount of Centura’s asserted lien represents “reasonable and necessary charges” under CRS § 38-27-101.

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

Colorado Court of Appeals: Constitutional Right to Counsel Applies at All Critical Stages of Criminal Proceeding

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Fritts on Thursday, August 14, 2014.

Sexual Assault—Child—Sentence—Consecutive—Right to Counsel—Crim.P. 35(a).

Defendant was charged with sixteen counts of sexual assault-related offenses based on allegations that he molested his minor stepdaughter. In 2000, in exchange for dismissal of the remainder of the charges, defendant pleaded guilty to two counts of sexual assault on a child by one in a position of trust. Defendant was sentenced to two concurrent sentences of twenty years to life. Defendant later filed a Crim.P. 35(a) motion to correct an illegal sentence. After a hearing, the court sentenced defendant to two consecutive sentences of ten years to life.

On appeal, defendant argued that the post-conviction court erred in holding that a defendant has no constitutional or statutory right to appointed counsel at a resentencing hearing occasioned by a successful Crim.P. 35(a) motion. Here, although defendant had a right to appointed counsel because the motion involved resentencing and the court erred in ruling otherwise, the error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt because defendant was represented by privately retained counsel at the resentencing hearing.

Defendant also argued that the consecutive sentences imposed by the post-conviction court on resentencing were unconstitutional and illegal. However, the aggregate sentence imposed on resentencing was not harsher than defendant’s original sentence. Further, the record supports the court’s finding that two factually distinct offenses occurred. Therefore, the post-conviction court did not abuse its discretion by imposing consecutive sentences, and the consecutive sentences imposed on resentencing did not deprive defendant of due process of law. In addition, defendant’s rights against double jeopardy were not violated. The sentences were affirmed.

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

Tenth Circuit: Newly Discovered Evidence of Actual Innocence Tolls Time Period for Filing Habeas Claims

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Doe v. Jones on Tuesday, August 12, 2014.

John Doe, a federal prisoner, was convicted of first-degree murder in Oklahoma and sentenced to life without parole. He was separately convicted in federal court of bank robbery, which took place in connection with the Oklahoma murder. His direct appeal to the murder conviction was unsuccessful and he did not appeal further or file a habeas petition in federal court. While serving the federal life sentence in Texas, he was convicted of murdering a fellow inmate and sentenced to death.

Following the imposition of the death sentence, Doe contends that new evidence came to light that established his actual innocence for the Oklahoma murder and federal robbery. He filed a petition for post-conviction relief in state court and the instant § 2254 petition in federal court two days before the expiration of the one-year statute of limitations for habeas petitions. He also filed a motion to stay the federal § 2254 petition pending outcome of the state court case. He raised the actual innocence claim both as a new constitutional claim and a “gateway” to introduce time-barred constitutional claims such as ineffective assistance of counsel and suppression of exculpatory evidence. The district court judge, adopting the recommendations of a magistrate, dismissed the § 2254 petition without prejudice. It also denied his motion to alter and amend judgment and his request for a certificate of appealability.

The Tenth Circuit reviewed prisoners’ requirements to exhaust all state remedies in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Rhines v. Weber, 544 U.S. 269 (2005). The Tenth Circuit discussed that before Rhines and before the enactment of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, there was no time limit for filing federal habeas petitions and there was no need for prisoners to raise all claims in state court prior to filing in federal court. However, Rhines and the AEDPA limited these filings and required habeas petitions to be filed within one year of the date the judgment became final. Circuit case law suggested that petitioners nearing the end of the one-year limitations period should file their state court claims and also file § 2254 petitions in the federal district court, asking the district court to stay the proceeding until resolution of the state court claims in order to preserve their federal remedies. Based on a 2010 Tenth Circuit opinion, the magistrate in this case determined that the limitations period would be tolled by the actual innocence claim so a stay was not warranted. During the pendency of this appeal, the Supreme Court decided that a credible showing of actual innocence provides an outright equitable exception to AEDPA’s statute of limitations. Therefore, the petitioner in this case does not have a legitimate concern that his federal claims will be time-barred.

The district court’s dismissal was affirmed.

Tenth Circuit: Unpublished Opinions, 8/19/2014

On Tuesday, August 19, 2014, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued three published opinions and five unpublished opinions.

United States v. Torres-Sanchez

United States v. Deiter

Burgess v. Daniels

Burgess v. Daniels

United States v. Valdovinos

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

Colorado Court of Appeals: Consent of All Beneficiaries Necessary to Ratify Action Contravened by Terms of Trust

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in In re Estate of Foiles: Foiles v. Foiles on Thursday, August 14, 2014.

Trust—Beneficiaries—Breach of Fiduciary Duty.

The trustees of the Clyde Foiles Trust were Ruth Foiles, Larry Foiles, and the Farmers State Bank of Fort Morgan (Bank). Larry Foiles, along with Larry’s two children and his nephew Gregory Foiles, were beneficiaries of the trust. The trust prohibited Larry Foiles from exercising powers as trustee that were directly or indirectly for his own benefit, and required that any such actions be taken solely by the Bank. Gregory Foiles contested two transactions undertaken at least in part by Larry Foiles, alleging that the transactions were a breach of his fiduciary duty. The trial court entered judgment in favor of Larry Foiles.

On appeal, Gregory Foiles contended that the trial court improperly ruled on his breach of fiduciary duty claim. In the absence of a trust provision that would allow ratification by a co-trustee of otherwise invalid actions of a trustee, only the consent of all beneficiaries, with full capacity to give such consent and full knowledge of the relevant facts, could ratify an action of a trustee that is in violation of the express terms of a trust. Here, because Larry Foiles’s undertaking of the 2001 Section 1031 exchange of real property violated the terms of the trust, the Bank, as co-trustee, could not validly ratify that action. Under the terms of the trust, only the Bank would have been authorized to undertake such a transaction. Therefore, Gregory Foiles established a prima facie claim that Larry breached his fiduciary duty, and the trial court erred in ruling that ratification by the Bank precluded Gregory Foiles’s breach of fiduciary duty claim. The judgment was reversed and the case was remanded to the trial court to make additional findings as to whether Larry Foiles met his burden to go forward with some evidence that the questionable transaction was fair and reasonable, and, ultimately, whether he was liable for breach of fiduciary duty in connection with that transaction.

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

Colorado Court of Appeals: Victim’s Entire Interview Admissible to Give Jury Complete View of Credibility

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Miranda on Thursday, August 14, 2014.

Sexual Assault on a Child—Evidence—Recording—Prior Consistent Statements—Confrontation Clause—Res Gestae Evidence—Hearsay.

A jury convicted Miranda of sex offenses involving his girlfriend’s 11-year-old daughter, E.S., and her friend, V.M. On appeal, Miranda contended that the trial court erred either in admitting a DVD recording of E.S.’s entire forensic interview or in allowing the prosecution to introduce the recording after E.S. had testified and been released, claiming it violated his confrontation rights. The entire recording was admissible as a prior consistent statement because Miranda broadly attacked the credibility of E.S. Further, the Confrontation Clause permits admission of testimonial hearsay after the declarant has testified and been released, provided that the declarant testified concerning matters addressed in the declaration, the declarant was subject to cross-examination, and the defendant did not ask that the prosecution be required to recall the declarant for further cross-examination after the hearsay had been introduced, which happened in this case. Therefore, Miranda’s confrontation rights were not violated, and the trial court did not commit plain err in admitting the recording.

Miranda also argued that the trial court abused its discretion in admitting evidence that he had groomed E.S., because the evidence was not admissible as res gestae. The record reveals that both the charged offenses and the grooming acts occurred over approximately the same two-year period, and it was helpful to explain the context of the assaults. Therefore, the trial court acted within its “substantial discretion” in admitting the acts as res gestae evidence.

Miranda contended that the trial court erred in admitting a list made by E.S.’s step-mother of the abuse told to her by E.S. However, both the step-mother and E.S. were available to testify, and although roughly two years lapsed between the first assault and the creation of the list, this time span was not so long that E.S. could no longer accurately recall the events that she recited. Thus, the trial court did not commit plain error in admitting the list under CRE 803(5).

Miranda contended that the trial court erred in denying his motion for judgment of acquittal on the V.M. attempt counts because “there was no evidence presented of any overt request and/or expressed dare for a sex act that Mr. Miranda made to V.M.” However, the there was sufficient evidence showing that Miranda had taken all steps preparatory to assaulting V.M. in the same way he assaulted E.S., and had engaged her in a game of truth or dare for the purposes of sexual exploitation.

Finally, Miranda argued that he was entitled to a new trial because his statements to the detective regarding the game incident were taken out of context in a redacted DVD that was given to the jury before deliberation. However, Miranda denied having played the game with the girls in both the redacted and unredacted versions, and he denied having done so at trial. Therefore, he was not entitled to a new trial. The judgment was affirmed.

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

Colorado Court of Appeals: Natural Gas Pipelines and Fittings Exempt from Sales Tax

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Pioneer Natural Resources USA, Inc. v. Colorado Department of Revenue on Thursday, August 14, 2014.

Sales Tax—Pipelines—Fittings—Enterprise Zone—Natural Gas.

In this sales tax case, the district court concluded that the pipelines and fittings at issue, which are located in one of Colorado’s enterprise zones and are used to gather and deliver natural gas from plaintiff’s wells to its processing facilities, qualify for Colorado’s sales tax exemption because they “are in direct use in the manufacturing of natural gas,” as defined in CRS §§ 39-26-709 and 39-30-106. The Colorado Department of Revenue (DOR) appealed, contending that the district court erred in finding that plaintiff’s purchases qualify for this tax exemption.

The parties agreed that plaintiff’s wells and gas-gathering system are located within an enterprise zone. Under the enterprise zone sales and use tax exemption statute, purchases of “machinery or machine tools” in excess of $500 are exempt from sales tax if they are “used solely and exclusively in an enterprise zone in manufacturing tangible personal property, for sale or profit. . . .” Here, the pipelines are used to “move material from one direct production step to another in a continuous flow,” and the enterprise zone exemption statute considers both “extracting” and “processing” as manufacturing. Thus, plaintiff’s pipelines and fittings that move natural gas from the wells—a direct production step of extracting natural gas—to the processing facilities in a continuous flow qualify for Colorado’s sales tax exemption because they “are in direct use in the manufacturing of natural gas.” Therefore, the district court did not err in finding that plaintiff’s purchases qualified for Colorado’s sales tax exemption. The judgment was affirmed.

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

Colorado Court of Appeals: Defendant Need Not Renew Pretrial Objection to Joinder to Preserve Issue

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Curtis on Thursday, August 14, 2014.

Sexual Assault on a Child—Joinder—Motion to Suppress Evidence.

Curtis appealed the judgment of conviction entered on a jury verdict finding him guilty of two counts of sexual assault on a child and two counts of aggravated incest, all arising from sexual acts with his two daughters, S.C. and C.C. These assaults began when the victims were 9 or 10 years old and continued until they were removed from the home several years later.

On appeal, Curtis contended that the trial court abused its discretion in allowing the prosecution to join for trial the charges involving the two victims. Sexual assault offenses may be joined if the evidence of each offense would be admissible in separate trials. Here, the evidence of Curtis’s assaults of the two victims would have been admissible in separate trials under both CRE 404(b) and CRS §16-10-301. The evidence at issue related to material facts, including Curtis’s intent and the fact that he was engaged in a common plan, scheme, or design, and this evidence was relevant because it made it likely that Curtis had committed the crimes charged. Accordingly, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in allowing the prosecution to join the charges pertaining to both victims.

Curtis also contended that the trial court erred in refusing to suppress the statements that he made during his interview with an agent from the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. Curtis claimed these statements were involuntary and were made after he had invoked his right to silence. However, Curtis voluntarily waived his Miranda rights, agreed to take a polygraph examination, was not in custody during the examination, and did not unambiguously invoke his right to silence. In addition, the officer’s conduct was not coercive. Therefore, the trial court did not err in denying Curtis’s motion to suppress.

Finally, Curtis contended that the trial court abused its discretion in admitting evidence of his conduct concerning S.C.’s stillborn baby after its birth (specifically, that Curtis removed the stillborn baby from S.C.’s room and concealed it in a box and then in a jar). Curtis’s conduct after the stillborn birth reflected efforts to conceal that birth, shows consciousness of guilt, explained how the abuse continued leading to S.C.’s second pregnancy, and undermined Curtis’s defense that he was unaware he had intercourse with S.C. because she had drugged and sexually assaulted him. Therefore, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting the evidence at issue here. The judgment was affirmed.

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

Colorado Court of Appeals: Defendant Lacked Knowledge of Crime Where No Reason to Believe Victim Was Underage

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Heywood on Thursday, August 14, 2014.

Internet Sexual Exploitation of a Child—Importuned—Invited—Enticed.

Heywood invited a person to view a webcam stream of him masturbating, and then did not stop the stream until several minutes after the viewer (an investigator) had said she was 14 years old. A jury convicted him of violating CRS §18-3-405.4(1)(b), Internet sexual exploitation of a child.

On appeal, Heywood argued that the prosecution failed to prove that he committed Internet sexual exploitation of a child. The Court of Appeals agreed. CRS §18-3-405.4(1)(b) requires knowledge or belief as to the victim’s age. Initially, Heywood did not have any information regarding the investigator’s age. In addition, the Internet chat room was restricted to people at least 18 years old. Further, even though Heywood continued the chat conversation after Gallagher informed Heywood of her age, there was insufficient evidence that he “importuned, invited, or enticed” her to continue viewing. In fact, he said that she “shouldn’t be watching,” and he would “turn it off.” Therefore, Heywood did not continue to invite Gallagher to view his webcam stream merely by failing to disconnect her access to it. The judgment was reversed and the case was remanded to the trial court with directions to enter judgment of acquittal.

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

Tenth Circuit: Failure to Exhaust Administrative Remedies Resulted in Dismissal of ERISA Claim

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Holmes v. Colorado Coalition for the Homeless Long Term Disability Plan on Tuesday, August 12, 2014.

Lucrecia Carpio Holmes was employed by Colorado Coalition for the Homeless and suffered from a number of debilitating medical conditions. She applied for disability benefits through the Coalition’s employee benefit plan disability policy through Union Security Insurance Company. Union Security denied her claim, and Holmes appealed the denial on November 21, 2005. Union Security had 45 days within which to either overturn or uphold the denial, excluding certain tolling periods. Union Security issued its denial on April 7, 2006, 137 days after Holmes appealed. Included in each of Union Security’s denials was a document detailing the appeal procedure, which consisted of two levels of administrative appeal with Union Security prior to filing a civil action in district court.

Instead of filing a second appeal with Union Security, Holmes filed a civil action against the Coalition’s Long Term Disability Plan in the district court on April 28, 2008. The defendant was not aware of the appeal, and default judgment entered against it. Upon learning of the suit, Defendant removed the action to federal court and moved to have the default judgment set aside. The district court granted Defendant’s motion, ruling it had not been properly noticed in the lower court proceeding. Both parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. While those motions were pending, Holmes filed a motion to stay decision, reopen discovery, and proceed to trial if necessary. The district court denied her motion and granted summary judgment to Defendant, holding that Holmes’s claim was barred because she failed to exhaust her administrative remedies. It found that although Union Security issued its second denial after 137 days, 67 of those days were attributable to Holmes, and Holmes had forfeited her right to enforce ERISA deadlines. The district court also held Union Security had complied with applicable ERISA notice and disclosure requirements. Holmes appealed.

The Tenth Circuit first evaluated Holmes’s argument that the district court erred by ruling she failed to exhaust her administrative remedies. Holmes argued that her Summary Plan Description failed to define the two-level review process, and alternatively she should be deemed to have exhausted her administrative remedies because Union Security failed to comply with ERISA’s timing and notice requirements. The Tenth Circuit addressed the language regarding administrative remedies contained in the plan and the Summary Plan Description, and determined that the administrative appeal process was contained in the plan by reference. Because Holmes failed to complete the administrative appeal process, district court review was barred.

The Tenth Circuit agreed with Holmes that Union Security failed to comply with ERISA’s timing and notice requirements; however, it found Holmes was not prejudiced by that failure. Although the Summary Plan Description failed to inform claimants of the review process, it incorporated by reference the letter detailing the review process that Union Security included with each denial.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal.

Tenth Circuit: Fundamentally Ambiguous Questioning Required Plain Error Reversal

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in United States v. Hale on Tuesday, August 12, 2014.

Thomas Hale filed a voluntary Chapter 13 bankruptcy petition in 2005. He listed three pieces of property in Schedule A, including a Salt Lake City property he listed as valued at $190,000 despite a property tax assessment indicating the property was worth $268,900; he had challenged the property tax valuation. He moved to convert his Chapter 13 case to Chapter 7 in July 2006 and an order was entered to that effect. This transferred control of his non-exempt assets, including the Salt Lake City property, to a bankruptcy trustee, Elizabeth Loveridge. Loveridge questioned Hale under oath at a creditors’ meeting on August 22, 2006, and Hale testified that the information he provided in his bankruptcy document was true, complete, and accurate. However, that same day, he advertised the Salt Lake City property in two newspapers for $396,075 or appraisal. A real estate agent contacted him and eventually found a buyer for the property who would pay $395,000 if Hale paid half the closing costs. Hale entered into a contract with the buyer and did not inform the buyer about the bankruptcy proceedings. Hale also signed an agreement with the buyer that Hale could continue to live on the property. He did not inform the trustee about the transaction.

When a title insurance representative contacted Loveridge, she instructed him to cancel the sale. Hale appeared at her office twice that day unannounced and appearing “agitated and angry.” At the second meeting, he gave Loveridge several documents, including an ex parte motion to approve the sale and a motion to revert to Chapter 13 status, both of which he had filed with the bankrutpcy court. He attached a letter to the ex parte motion dated ten days previous and an affidavit by his office manager that the letter was mailed on that previous date. However, the letter referenced the ex parte motion, which was filed ten days later and would not have been created if Loveridge had received the letter.

Loveridge hired a real estate agent to renegotiate the contract with the buyer. The renegotiated contract specified that all tenants would be evicted. The bankruptcy court approved the sale and Loveridge initiated eviction proceedings. Hale sent Loveridge several handwritten notes via fax, one of which advised her of a possible haz-mat problem in an orange package. When the orange package arrived, Loveridge called the police. After much inspection, the package was opened, and it contained a baggie with unidentified material and a note that said “Possible haz-mat? Termites or hanta virus [sic] from mice?” It was eventually determined to contain no hantavirus material.

After a jury trial, Hale was convicted of making a materially false statement under oath during the bankruptcy proceeding regarding the value of the Salt Lake City property, concealing the purchase contract from the trustee and creditors, and perpetrating a hoax regarding the transmission of a biological agent. Hale challenged his convictions.

The Tenth Circuit first addressed Hale’s challenge for knowingly and fraudulently making a false statement under oath. The government alleged that he knew well that his property was worth more than he listed in the bankruptcy documents at the time he made statements under oath that the documents were true and correct. Hale countered that the questions were fundamentally ambiguous. The Tenth Circuit conducted a plain error review and concluded that the statements were indeed ambiguous based on prior Tenth Circuit precedent involving similar questions. The Tenth Circuit reversed Hale’s conviction based on this charge and remanded for entry of judgment of acquittal on the false statement charge.

Next, the Tenth Circuit turned to Hale’s concealment of the purchase of the Salt Lake City property. Hale argued that the purchase agreement was void or, alternatively, that it did not meet the statutory definition of “property belonging to the estate of a debtor.” The Tenth Circuit did not support Hale’s argument that the contract was void ab initio, instead finding it was voidable. Hale conceded that the proceeds would be property of the bankruptcy estate but the contract was not. However, the purchase agreement created an interest in proceeds, so the Tenth Circuit affirmed Hale’s conviction on this count.

Finally, the Tenth Circuit addressed Hale’s conviction for perpetrating a hoax involving biological weapons. Hale had relied on the pending U.S. Supreme Court decision in Bond v. United States to render the error plain by holding an analogous statute unconstitutional. However, the Bond ruling did not reach the constitutional issue. Hale’s attack to the sufficiency of the evidence failed and the Tenth Circuit affirmed his conviction on this count.

The order of the district court was affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for entry of acquittal on the false statement charge.

Tenth Circuit: Unpublished Opinions, 8/15/2014

On Friday, August 15, 2014, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued no published opinion and 11 unpublished opinions.

United States v. Chronister

Brown v. Dowling

United States v. Reeves

United States v. Lee-Speight

Adam v. Holder

Olusegun Akinmade v. Holder

Oliver v. Cline

Nouri v. Farris

Bales v. Colvin

Holz v. Oliver

United States v. Gallegos

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