January 31, 2015

Frederick Skillern: Real Estate Case Law — Contracts, Purchase and Sale, Transactions (5)

Editor’s note: This is Part 8 of a series of posts in which Denver-area real estate attorney Frederick Skillern provides summaries of case law pertinent to real estate practitioners (click here for previous posts). These updates originally appeared as materials for the 32nd Annual Real Estate Symposium in July 2014.

By Frederick B. Skillernfrederick-b-skillern

In the Interest of Delluomo v. Cedarblade
Colorado Court of Appeals, April 10, 2014
2014 COA 43

Revocable living trust; breach of fiduciary duty; undue influence; no attorney fees under breach of trust exception to American Rule.

Delluomo created a revocable living trust and included all of his assets, including title to his real property. He named two beneficiaries, his niece, Cedarblade, and his nephew, Corcoran. Cedarblade uses undue influence (according to the jury) on her uncle and gets him to convey title to Delluomo and herself in joint tenancy. Corcoran objects, and ultimately a conservator is appointed for Delluomo, who brings suit to set aside the property conveyance. The case is tried to a jury, which finds that Cedarblade breached a fiduciary duty. The court set aside the conveyance and granted Cedarblade’s directed verdict on damages. The court did, however, allow the jury to award attorney fees for prosecuting the litigation, as an exception to the American rule allows fees in actions for breach of trust.

The court of appeals reverses that ruling, drawing a distinction between a garden variety breach of fiduciary duty and the kind of breach of trust in which a court has allowed recovery of attorney fees. The lead case is Buder v. Sartore, 774 P.2d 1383, 1390-91 (Colo. 1989), where a custodian of a minor’s account mismanaged funds by investing the funds in penny stocks. The court here notes that Colorado courts have denied recovery of litigation fees “when the circumstances do not involve a type of fund, type of wrong, or type of wrongdoer” at issue in Buder. In other words, Cedarblade did not manage funds for her brother or serve as his trustee; she was a beneficiary, and only controlled funds after her wrongful act. A mere existence of a fiduciary duty is enough; the breach of trust exception calls for control of funds for another, and egregious conduct of some kind. A breach of trust, the court notes, is but one species of breach of fiduciary duty. It is a “failure by the trustee to comply with any duty that the trustee owes, as trustee, to the beneficiaries.” Restatement (Third) of Trusts § 93. This panel notes that our supreme court has “expressly cautioned against liberally construing exceptions to the American rule on attorney fees, because that is “a function better addressed by the legislative than the judicial branch of government.”

Frederick B. Skillern, Esq., is a director and shareholder with Montgomery Little & Soran, P.C., practicing in real estate and related litigation and appeals. He serves as an expert witness in cases dealing with real estate, professional responsibility and attorney fees, and acts as a mediator and arbitrator in real estate cases. Before joining Montgomery Little in 2003, Fred was in private practice in Denver for 6 years with Carpenter & Klatskin and for 10 years with Isaacson Rosenbaum. He served as a district judge for Colorado’s Eighteenth Judicial District from 2000 through 2002. Fred is a graduate of Dartmouth College, and received his law degree at the University of Colorado in 1976, in another day and time in which the legal job market was simply awful.

Frederick Skillern: Real Estate Case Law — Contracts, Purchase and Sale, Transactions (4)

Editor’s note: This is Part 7 of a series of posts in which Denver-area real estate attorney Frederick Skillern provides summaries of case law pertinent to real estate practitioners (click here for previous posts). These updates originally appeared as materials for the 32nd Annual Real Estate Symposium in July 2014.

frederick-b-skillernBy Frederick B. Skillern

Taylor Morrison of Colorado, Inc. v. Bemas Construction
Colorado Court Appeals, January 30, 2013
2014 COA 10

Construction defects statute; willful and wanton breach of contract required to overcome liability limitation provisions in contract.

Taylor Morrison of Colorado, Inc. was the developer of a residential subdivision known as Homestead Hills. Pursuant to written contracts with Taylor, Terracon Consultants, Inc. performed geotechnical engineering and construction material testing services at the construction site. Bemas Construction performed site grading.

After many of the homes were constructed, Taylor began receiving complaints about cracks in the drywall of homes. Taylor remedied the defective conditions, and then sued Terracon and Bemas for breach of contract and negligence and other claims.

Taylor also moved for determination as to whether the Homeowner Protection Act of 2007 (HPA) invalidated the limitation of liability clauses in the contracts with Terracon. The trial court denied the motion on the ground that the HPA applies to residential property owners but not to commercial entities.

Terracon moved for leave to deposit into the court’s registry $550,000, representing the maximum amount that Taylor could recover from Terracon under the contractual limitation of liability clauses and the court order. It also requested that upon acceptance of such deposit, the court should declare Taylor’s claims against Terracon moot and dismiss them with prejudice. The trial court ruled in favor of Terracon. The money was deposited and the claims were dismissed with prejudice.

Taylor then went to trial against Bemas. The jury returned a verdict in Bemas’ favor on all of Taylor’s claims. Taylor appeals.

Taylor argued that it was error to rule that the HPA did not invalidate the limitation of liability clauses in Taylor’s contracts with Terracon. The court of appeals panel affirms the trial court’s judgment, but for different reasons. The court holds that regardless of whether the HPA applies to commercial entities, retroactive application of the HPA to these facts would be unconstitutionally retrospective. The Court concludes, however, that further proceedings are necessary to determine whether Taylor should have been permitted to introduce evidence of Terracon’s willful and wanton conduct to attempt to overcome Terracon’s assertion of the limitation of liability clauses.

The judgment is affirmed and the case is remanded to the trial court to determine whether Taylor should have been permitted to introduce evidence of Terracon’s willful and wanton conduct for the sole purpose of attempting to overcome Terracon’s assertion of the limitation of liability clauses at issue.

 

Jehly v. Brown
Colorado Court of Appeals, March 27, 2014
2014 COA 39

Fraudulent Concealment; Imputed Knowledge.

“Actual knowledge,” in the context of a fraudulent concealment claim, cannot be imputed to a principal through knowledge of its agent. Defendant Brown owned real property in Teller County and hired a general contractor to build a house on it. Before commencing, the contractor discovered that part of the property was located in a floodplain. Brown was not told of this fact.

Plaintiffs David and Peggy Jehly entered into a contact to purchase the house from Brown. Brown filled out a Seller’s Property Disclosure form by writing “New Construction” diagonally across every page and not checking any of the boxes. Before buying the house, the Jehlys were never informed that part of the property was located in a floodplain.

Approximately five years after the home purchase, heavy rains caused severe flooding and damage to the basement of the house. The Jehlys sued Brown, alleging he fraudulently concealed knowledge of the floodplain to induce plaintiffs to buy the house. During a bench trial, defendant denied having any personal knowledge of the floodplain at the time of the sale and denied that his general contractor or any subcontractors had so informed him. The trial court found as a matter of fact that he had no knowledge, and found in favor of defendant.

On appeal, plaintiffs asserts that it was error not to impute the general contractor’s knowledge that part of the property was in a floodplain to Brown. The court of appeals disagrees, and affirms. To prevail on a claim of fraudulent concealment, a plaintiff must show that a defendant actually knew of a material fact that was not disclosed. It is not enough that defendant should have or might have known the fact, and knowledge of his agent cannot be imputed for the purpose of this particular tort claim. Plaintiffs did not contest on appeal the trial court’s factual finding that defendant had no active or conscious belief or awareness of the existence of the floodplain. The trial court did not apply the wrong legal standard, because defendant did not have the requisite actual knowledge of the information allegedly concealed.

Frederick B. Skillern, Esq., is a director and shareholder with Montgomery Little & Soran, P.C., practicing in real estate and related litigation and appeals. He serves as an expert witness in cases dealing with real estate, professional responsibility and attorney fees, and acts as a mediator and arbitrator in real estate cases. Before joining Montgomery Little in 2003, Fred was in private practice in Denver for 6 years with Carpenter & Klatskin and for 10 years with Isaacson Rosenbaum. He served as a district judge for Colorado’s Eighteenth Judicial District from 2000 through 2002. Fred is a graduate of Dartmouth College, and received his law degree at the University of Colorado in 1976, in another day and time in which the legal job market was simply awful.

Frederick Skillern: Real Estate Case Law — Contracts, Purchase and Sale, Transactions (3)

Editor’s note: This is Part 6 of a series of posts in which Denver-area real estate attorney Frederick Skillern provides summaries of case law pertinent to real estate practitioners (click here for previous posts). These updates originally appeared as materials for the 32nd Annual Real Estate Symposium in July 2014.

frederick-b-skillern

By Frederick B. Skillern

Top Rail Ranch Estates, LLC v. Walker
Colorado Court of Appeals, January 30, 2014
2014 COA 9

Sale of residential lots; claim preclusion; fraud; economic loss rule.

Top Rail Ranch entered into a contract with Walker Development to purchase a subdivision of platted residential lots for $1 million, with $200,000 down, and a promissory note for the balance, secured by a second lien deed of trust which it agreed to subordinate to bank financing with Canon National Bank for the subdivision development. Walker Development then attempted to rezone adjoining property that it owned to Agricultural Forestry, with plans to sell the adjoining parcel to a mining company. Walker told Top Rail’s owner, Jensen, that the rezoning was to facilitate a conservation easement.

At this point, everything fell apart, and it is not over yet. Walker sold the adjoining land to a mining company after the rezoning was approved. When the sale was announced, Top Rail sales to potential homeowners froze. The County reversed the mining company’s zoning approval. Top Rail defaulted on its loan with Canon National, which foreclosed on the subdivision lots. Top Rail could not cure; Walker Development redeemed from its second lien position, acquiring title to all but two of the subdivision lots. The parties sued each other in separate actions, and this consolidated appeal follows.

In the first case, Top Rail sued Walker for fraud, breach of contract, bad faith breach of contract and other claims. Walker Development counterclaimed for breach of the covenants in its deed of trust, seeking to recover damages for $200,000 that it had paid to cure a lien for nonpayment of a water tap. The trial court granted a directed verdict on the counterclaim, on the basis that the Walker Development deed of trust had merged into the Public Trustee’s deed after the Canon National Bank foreclosure, and the jury found for Top Rail on its tort and contract claims, awarding in excess of $1 million.

In the meantime, Walker Development sued Top Rail and its principals on the promissory note given in purchase of the property, and for foreclosure on the two lots not covered by Canon National Bank’s foreclosure. The district court dismissed Walker Developments on the basis of claim preclusion, based on the judgments entered in the first action.

On appeal, the court holds that the district court improperly dismissed Walker Development’s counterclaims in the first action on a motion for directed verdict. Regardless of whether the lien imposed by the Walker Development deed of trust was extinguished by foreclosure of the bank’s senior lien – Walker Development acquired title through its certificate of redemption – the contractual covenants in the deed of trust were not extinguished by the foreclosure. Schwab v. Martin, 165 Colo. 547, 441 P.2d 17, 19 (1968). Walker had a valid claim for the money spent to remove the water tap lien.

The court then holds that the fraud and bad faith breach of contract claims asserted by Top Rail are barred by the economic loss rule. It affirms the judgment on Top Rail’s breach of contract claim ($500,000) is affirmed. The case is then remanded for trial on Walker Development’s counterclaim on the tap lien.

Addressing the second case, Walker Development argues that its claims are not barred by claim preclusion, as its promissory note claims were not compulsory counterclaims in the first action; the counterclaims were only permissive. The appeals court agrees. Adjudication of the claims on the promissory notes would not result in inconsistent verdicts or a deprivation of rights established in the first litigation.

Frederick B. Skillern, Esq., is a director and shareholder with Montgomery Little & Soran, P.C., practicing in real estate and related litigation and appeals. He serves as an expert witness in cases dealing with real estate, professional responsibility and attorney fees, and acts as a mediator and arbitrator in real estate cases. Before joining Montgomery Little in 2003, Fred was in private practice in Denver for 6 years with Carpenter & Klatskin and for 10 years with Isaacson Rosenbaum. He served as a district judge for Colorado’s Eighteenth Judicial District from 2000 through 2002. Fred is a graduate of Dartmouth College, and received his law degree at the University of Colorado in 1976, in another day and time in which the legal job market was simply awful.

Frederick Skillern: Real Estate Case Law — Contracts, Purchase and Sale, Transactions (2)

Editor’s note: This is Part 5 of a series of posts in which Denver-area real estate attorney Frederick Skillern provides summaries of case law pertinent to real estate practitioners (click here for previous posts). These updates originally appeared as materials for the 32nd Annual Real Estate Symposium in July 2014.

frederick-b-skillern

By Frederick Skillern

Van Rees, Sr. v. Unleaded Software, Inc.
Colorado Court of Appeals, December 5, 2013
2013 COA 164

Economic loss rule; contract for design of website; no tort claim because no independent duty.

Although this is not a real estate case, I note it simply as an example of how the economic loss rule is spreading to preclude a wide array of fraud claims arising out of contractual relations. In this case, the court deals with the scope and applicability of Colorado’s economic loss rule in the context of an agreement for the design and maintenance of a website. Under the economic loss rule, no independent duty exists for tort claims of fraud, fraudulent concealment, constructive fraud, or negligent misrepresentation when the alleged misrepresentations and false statements are about the ability to perform contractual duties. The court affirms the trial court’s dismissal of the fraud, negligent misrepresentation, negligence, Colorado Consumer Protection Act, and civil theft claims. The breach of contract claim has it all.

 

Hickerson v. Vessels
Colorado Supreme Court, January 13, 2014
2014 CO 2.

Collections; statute of limitations; C.R.S. § 13-80-103.5 (1) (a) (six-year statute); partial payment doctrine; laches.

This case takes up the collection efforts of the holder of a $386,000 promissory note given in 1989 to the Vessels Oil Company. The note was due in ten years. Shortly after 1999, the maker started making payments on the note, and that continued for a couple of years. After payments stopped, Vessels sued to collect the entire balance. Under existing common law, which the court refers to as the partial payment doctrine, the running of the six-year statute of limitations begins anew whenever payments are made voluntarily, as the debt is recognized and acknowledged. The trial court held that the debtor should be protected under the circumstances of this case by the equitable defense of laches. The court of appeals reversed, but the Supreme Court reinstates the trial court’s ruling.

Four statutes refer to the partial payment scenario. See C.R.S. §§ 13-80-113 to 116. The court refers to these as examples of the common-law rule, and not a replacement of the rule.

In a fairly bold stroke in support of the exercise of equitable powers, the court holds that the separation of powers doctrine does not bar application of the equitable defense of laches to a debt collection action filed within the original or restarted six-year statute of limitations period. Laches does not conflict with the plain meaning of the relevant statute of limitations, nor does it conflict with the partial payment doctrine, which is a creature of Colorado common law. Since early statehood, Colorado case law has recognized the application of equitable remedies to legal claims. Accordingly, the Court reverses the judgment of the court of appeals and remands the case for consideration of issues it did not reach, to wit – does the record support a defense of laches. Maybe not.

“The essential element of laches is unconscionable delay in enforcing a right under the circumstances, usually involving a prejudice to the one against whom the claim is asserted.” The elements of laches are: (1) full knowledge of the facts; (2) unreasonable delay in the assertion of available remedy; and (3) intervening reliance by and prejudice to another. Laches requires “such unreasonable delay in the assertion of and attempted securing of equitable rights as to constitute in equity and good conscience a bar to recovery.”

The court remands the case to the court of appeals for review of whether the elements of laches are satisfied by evidence in the record. And father time marches on.

Frederick B. Skillern, Esq., is a director and shareholder with Montgomery Little & Soran, P.C., practicing in real estate and related litigation and appeals. He serves as an expert witness in cases dealing with real estate, professional responsibility and attorney fees, and acts as a mediator and arbitrator in real estate cases. Before joining Montgomery Little in 2003, Fred was in private practice in Denver for 6 years with Carpenter & Klatskin and for 10 years with Isaacson Rosenbaum. He served as a district judge for Colorado’s Eighteenth Judicial District from 2000 through 2002. Fred is a graduate of Dartmouth College, and received his law degree at the University of Colorado in 1976, in another day and time in which the legal job market was simply awful.

Frederick Skillern: Real Estate Case Law — Contracts, Purchase and Sale, Transactions (1)

Editor’s note: This is Part 4 of a series of posts in which Denver-area real estate attorney Frederick Skillern provides summaries of case law pertinent to real estate practitioners (click here for previous posts). These updates originally appeared as materials for the 32nd Annual Real Estate Symposium in July 2014.

frederick-b-skillernBy Frederick Skillern

Gattis v. McNutt (In re Estate of Gattis)
Colorado Court of Appeals, November 7, 2013
2013 COA 145
Residential sales contract; nondisclosure; economic loss rule
.

This case presents another test of the outer limits of the economic loss rule. The buyer of a house, Carol Gattis, sues for fraudulent concealment and recovers a judgment against McNutt. McNutt’s company acquired the property to “fix and flip,” and obtained detailed soils reports outlining damage that was caused by shifting soils. On the disclosures form included in the standard form residential purchase and sale contract, McNutt disclaimed any “personal” knowledge of defects, and identified only the name of a company which had performed structural repairs — without describing the nature of the repair. McNutt appeals on the basis that the fraud claim is barred by the economic loss rule. He argues that the contract calls for specific disclosures, which were given, and that tort actions are precluded by the economic loss rule, as the requirement for disclosures “subsumes” the common-law duty to disclose material information.

The appeals court disagrees and affirms the judgment. Under the economic loss rule, “a party suffering only economic loss from the breach of an express or implied contractual duty may not assert a tort claim for such a breach absent an independent duty of care under tort law.” The court rejects the economic loss rule defense for two reasons. First, home sellers owe consumers an independent duty to disclose latent defects of which they are aware. Second, the court reasons that the disclosure provisions in the commission-approved form do not subsume the independent duty so as to trigger the economic loss rule. Although sellers were not required by the disclosure form to disclose their involvement with the entity that had performed repairs, the trial court found that this fact was material and should have been disclosed. Gattis could have prevailed on this nondisclosure claim without relying on the form disclosure. In short — the seller was perhaps “too cute by half.”

The court distinguishes two recent decisions in which a real estate seller has successfully invoked the economic loss rule to avoid a fraud claim. In those cases — Former TCHR, LLC v. First Hand Mgmt. LLC, 2012 COA 129 (Colo. App. 2012), and Hamon Contractors, Inc. v. Carter & Burgess, Inc., 229 P.3d 282 (Colo. App. 2009) — the parties negotiated “transaction-specific” contracts. Here, the parties used standard real estate commission forms. The court holds that neither the Seller’s Property Disclosure nor any other term in the form contract limits or subsumes the home sellers’ common-law duty to disclose latent defects of which they are aware.

 

Planning Partners International, LLC v. QED, Inc.
Colorado Court of Appeals, July 1, 2013.
2013 CO 43
Contracts; attorney fee shifting provision; discretion to reduce fee claim to account for successful claim for offsets; no mandatory rule.

Our supreme court accepts this case to decide a recurring issue in attorney fee hearings pursuant to contractual fee shifting provisions. The court of appeals held that the trial court erred in failing to apportion a fee award to account for an offset caused by judgment or a counterclaim. The Supreme Court rejects a per se rule of mandatory apportionment in this circumstance. Requiring proportional diminishment in all cases where the judgment based on a note or contract had been reduced by a counterclaim arising out of the transaction would undermine the trial court’s ability to determine a reasonable fee under the specific facts of the cases before them. The widely divergent circumstances under which attorney fee issues are litigated militate in favor of flexibility and discretion on the part of the trial court, rather than a rule of mandatory apportionment. In the current case, the trial judge proceeded methodically through the planning company’s accounting, discounting the fees incurred in a claim he found to be unsupported by the evidence and reducing the entire amount of requested fees by 20%. He further determined that the attorney’s fee issues were sufficiently intertwined and inter-related that apportionment was not appropriate.

The court notes that a trial court’s discretion may be circumscribed by the statute or contract giving rise to fees. It points out that the note provision here did not require or preclude apportionment, which is a factor that a drafter of such a note or contract might consider. As a result, a trial court may determine that some apportionment is necessary for a fee to be reasonable, or it may not. The court here holds only that the widely divergent circumstances under which attorney fee issues are litigated militate in favor of flexibility and discretion on the part of the trial court, rather than a rule of mandatory apportionment.

Frederick B. Skillern, Esq., is a director and shareholder with Montgomery Little & Soran, P.C., practicing in real estate and related litigation and appeals. He serves as an expert witness in cases dealing with real estate, professional responsibility and attorney fees, and acts as a mediator and arbitrator in real estate cases. Before joining Montgomery Little in 2003, Fred was in private practice in Denver for 6 years with Carpenter & Klatskin and for 10 years with Isaacson Rosenbaum. He served as a district judge for Colorado’s Eighteenth Judicial District from 2000 through 2002. Fred is a graduate of Dartmouth College, and received his law degree at the University of Colorado in 1976, in another day and time in which the legal job market was simply awful.

Frederick Skillern: Real Estate Case Law — Condemnation, Eminent Domain

Editor’s note: This is Part 3 of a series of posts in which Denver-area real estate attorney Frederick Skillern provides summaries of case law pertinent to real estate practitioners (click here for previous posts). These updates originally appeared as materials for the 32nd Annual Real Estate Symposium in July 2014.

frederick-b-skillernBy Frederick Skillern

Regional Transportation District v. 750 West 48th Ave, LLC
Colorado Court of Appeals, December 5, 2013
2013 COA 168
Qualification of eminent domain commissioner; partiality.

The only question for a trial to a panel of three commissioners is, in most cases, the value of property taken by the government. Three commissioners were appointed by the court, including a Cassidy Turley broker, Ms. Hook. The commissioners were approved after a 90-minute voir dire hearing in the district court. Six months later, but before trial, RTD challenged the partiality of Ms. Hook, on the basis that two other brokers in her firm had testified on value issues in a separate but similar RTD eminent domain case. The question raised here is whether the standard of review on the disqualification motion is based on the standard applicable to a judge, or a juror. The eminent domain statute, C.R.S. § 38-1-105(1), instructs the trial court to disqualify a proposed commissioner who is “not disinterested and impartial.” Under C.R.C.P. 97 and Colorado Code of Judicial Conduct Rule 1.2, by contrast, judges may be disqualified if they “appear” partial. In the latter case, courts have held that the test for appearance of partiality of a judge is whether a reasonable person, knowing all the relevant facts, would doubt the judge’s impartiality.

Applying the plain language of the eminent domain statute, the court agrees with the trial court and affirms. The applicable standard for disqualifying commissioners is not “an appearance of partiality,” a standard applicable to sitting judges, but whether the commissioner was “in fact interested and partial.” The court holds that Hook’s professional relationship with two fellow employees who had testified against RTD did not make her interested or partial.

The court comments on the special role of a condemnation commissioner: “The court relies on their experience and knowledge of the law of real estate to make the appropriate determination of just compensation. Because commissioners are supposed to bring expertise to valuation proceedings . . . they could not do so if the very knowledge and experience that made their views desirable also disqualified them.”

Frederick B. Skillern, Esq., is a director and shareholder with Montgomery Little & Soran, P.C., practicing in real estate and related litigation and appeals. He serves as an expert witness in cases dealing with real estate, professional responsibility and attorney fees, and acts as a mediator and arbitrator in real estate cases. Before joining Montgomery Little in 2003, Fred was in private practice in Denver for 6 years with Carpenter & Klatskin and for 10 years with Isaacson Rosenbaum. He served as a district judge for Colorado’s Eighteenth Judicial District from 2000 through 2002. Fred is a graduate of Dartmouth College, and received his law degree at the University of Colorado in 1976, in another day and time in which the legal job market was simply awful.

Frederick Skillern: Real Estate Case Law — Common Interest Communities, Covenants, and CCIOA

Editor’s note: This is Part 2 of a series of posts in which Denver-area real estate attorney Frederick Skillern provides summaries of case law pertinent to real estate practitioners (click here for previous posts). These updates originally appeared as materials for the 32nd Annual Real Estate Symposium in July 2014.

frederick-b-skillernBy Frederick Skillern

Triple Crown at Observatory Village Association v. Village Homes of Colorado
Colorado Court of Appeals, November 7, 2013
2013 COA 150
Construction defect claims; interlocutory review; relationship between revised Nonprofit Corporation Act and the Common Interest Ownership Act.

Arising from alleged construction defects in a common interest community, this interlocutory appeal under C.A.R. 4.2 presents four questions of first impression in Colorado, which the court answers as follows:

  1. Where an association is a nonprofit corporation, the Colorado nonprofit act establishes the time limit for amending its declaration based on action taken without a meeting;
  2. The statutory power to engage in “litigation” under C.R.S. § 38-33.3-302(1)(d) includes arbitration;
  3. C.R.S. § 38-33.3-302(2) does not invalidate the mandatory arbitration provision, because the dispute resolution procedures apply to parties other than the declarant; and
  4. Colorado consumer protection act claims may be subject to mandatory arbitration, because the CCPA does not include a nonwaiver provision.

Village Homes, a residential developer, built homes subject to recorded covenants, and thereby created an association, Triple Crown. Triple Crown was set up as a nonprofit corporation under C.R.S. §§ 7-121-101, et seq. In the declaration of covenants, the developer included a dispute resolution procedure for claims arising from the design or construction of homes in the Triple Crown development. The declaration required that construction defect claims be arbitrated under American Arbitration Association rules.

In 2012, residents began a campaign to amend the declaration by repealing the arbitration clause. Unfortunately, it took more than sixty days to gather the votes to amend the covenants. After sixty days, 48% of the members had cast votes in favor of revocation. After another sixty days, the Association had obtained the required 67% of votes to effect the amendment. The Association recorded the amendment, and then brought this action against Village Homes, alleging negligent construction, Colorado Consumer Protection Act (CCPA) violations, and breach of fiduciary duties.

Village Homes moved to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction, based on the arbitration clause in the declaration. It argued that the amendment repealing the arbitration provision was ineffective because the Association failed to amend Article 14 within the time limits in the Nonprofit Corporations Act, specifically C.R.S. § 7-127-107(2), which deals with time limits for actions taken without a meeting. The trial court granted the motion, dismissed the case, and ordered the case to arbitration. This order is affirmed on appeal. The court holds that when an association amends its declaration without a meeting under the CCIOA, the association, if it is a nonprofit corporation, must comply with the 60-day time limit provided in section 7-127-107.

The Court also agreed that the Common Interest Association Act gives power to associations to “institute, defend, or intervene in litigation or administrative proceedings . . . on the matters affecting the common interest community.” However, the court reasons that “litigation” includes both civil actions in court and arbitrations. It holds that the mandatory arbitration clause did not infringe on the association’s statutory power to “institute litigation.”

The association then argues that CCIOA § 38-33.3-302(2) invalidated Article 14. The trial court rejected this argument. The court agreed with the trial court, finding that the CCIOA section forbids only restrictions unique to the declarant. Article 14 controlled disputes between all parties.

The trial court rejected the association’s argument that its CCPA claims should not be subject to mandatory arbitration, because CCPA provisions by statute “shall be available in a civil action.” The court holds that such a right can be waived, and that Article 14 of the Triple Crown declaration was such a waiver.

 

Ryan Ranch Community Assn., Inc. v. Kelley
Colorado Court of Appeals, March 27, 2014
2014 COA 37M
Liability for homeowner association assessments; annexation; developer side agreement.

This is an interesting situation involving a developer, a side agreement with another landowner to exempt that owner’s land from subdivision covenants, and the annexation provisions of the CCIOA. As a prequel, the following general principles stated in the dissent by Judge Terry set the stage.

  • “Provisions of this article may not be varied by agreement. . . . A declarant may not . . . use any . . . device to evade the limitations or prohibitions of this article or the declaration.” C.R.S. § 38-33.3-104. . . .
  • Members are not “entitled to set up agreements reached with the developer as defenses to the obligation to pay assessments . . . . [T]he developer does not have the power to waive the assessment obligations imposed on property within the common-interest community.” Restatement (Third) of Property: Servitudes, 6.5, cmt. e (2000).

Nice notions, but the developer here found the approval process for a second filing of his development sometimes required some last-minute adjustments. He had a side agreement with Kelley, an owner of a minority of land to be included in a second filing of a large development, to keep the “Kelley Lots” from control of any covenants or new HOAs. At the late stages of approval of the new filing, however, the developer included Kelley’s land in the filing – Kelley signed the plat – and sold the lots in bulk to Ryland.

Ryland, going along with the deal, sold the Kelley lots immediately back to developer, and the developer then deeded the land to Kelley. Kelley sold the lots to another builder, who sold homes to consumers. Several years go by, during which the consumers enjoy neighborhood improvements, and then the HOA takes action to collect assessments – including back fees totaling $70,000. The homeowners had constructive notice of the plat and the declaration from exceptions to their deed warranties. In defense, the homeowners and Kelley argued that their lots had not been appropriately “annexed” into the association. The decision goes through the statutes, and two judges reverse the trial court and hold that the requirements for annexation had not been met.

The reasoning of the majority goes like this. To exercise a development right under CCIOA, a developer must comply with the plat and map requirements of C.R.S. § 38-33.3-209 and the recording requirements of C.R.S. § 38-33.3-217(3). The homeowner defendants argue that to exercise a reserved development right, CCIOA requires the recording of an amendment to the declaration that must contain certain information and be properly indexed. The court agrees that the recording of an Official Development Plan and the declaration was not sufficient to meet these requirements. The original declaration cannot logically be considered an amendment to itself such that it could annex the Kelley Lots. Moreover, nothing was denominated as an amendment, nothing assigned identifying numbers to newly created units, there was no reallocation of interests among all units, and no common elements were described. Nothing on the Filing 2 plat map subjected the described property to the Declaration.

On the other hand, the dissent notes, the Declaration provides that the additional lots will be annexed into the HOA when (1) a plat for additional properties to be annexed is recorded, and (2) either an annexation form is recorded, or a deed for real property within the plat is conveyed from Ryland to a third party other than Ryland. “On November 17, 2005, Ryland recorded the Filing 2 plat, which included the Kelley Lots. On December 20, 2005, Ryland conveyed the Kelley Lots back to the developer by deed. These two actions — filing of the plat and conveyance by deed — fulfilled the requirements of the Declaration to annex real property to the HOA.”

CCIOA fans and developers’ counsel will want to dive into this discussion — and avoid those shortcuts.

Frederick B. Skillern, Esq., is a director and shareholder with Montgomery Little & Soran, P.C., practicing in real estate and related litigation and appeals. He serves as an expert witness in cases dealing with real estate, professional responsibility and attorney fees, and acts as a mediator and arbitrator in real estate cases. Before joining Montgomery Little in 2003, Fred was in private practice in Denver for 6 years with Carpenter & Klatskin and for 10 years with Isaacson Rosenbaum. He served as a district judge for Colorado’s Eighteenth Judicial District from 2000 through 2002. Fred is a graduate of Dartmouth College, and received his law degree at the University of Colorado in 1976, in another day and time in which the legal job market was simply awful.

Frederick Skillern: Real Estate Case Law — Brokers

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of posts in which Denver-area real estate attorney Frederick Skillern provides summaries of case law pertinent to real estate practitioners. These updates originally appeared as materials for the 32nd Annual Real Estate Symposium in July 2014.

frederick-b-skillernBy Frederick Skillern

CapitalValue Advisors, LLC v. K2D, Inc.
Colorado Court of Appeals, August 15, 2013
2013 COA 125

K2D was a business that required new capital, and it contracted with CapitalValue Advisors for a number of different tasks. CapitalValue entered into an engagement agreement whereby it agreed to either help sell K2D (either a majority or minority interest) or to assist K2D in obtaining debt financing. The rub is that CapitalValue does not have a real estate broker license or a securities license. That is required in order to market the sale of K2D as an entity, as one asset of the company was a leasehold interest in property, or to market its stock under state and federal securities laws.

During the course of its engagement, K2D terminated Capital Value and engaged another company for help. That company obtained a bank loan for K2D — an action which, of itself, does not require a specific license. Since the loan was obtained during the carryover period under the CapitalValue engagement agreement, CapitalValue sued for a 4.5% commission under the terms of its agreement.

The engagement agreement provided:

In executing this Agreement, [CapitalValue] is committing its resources to provide you the best possible representation in the sale of your business, and in turn, you are granting [CapitalValue] the sole, exclusive, and irrevocable right to procure parties (“Buyer(s)”) to purchase, exchange, lease, invest in, loan to, contract for the services of, or otherwise obtain an interest in the Client’s business, its corporate stock, business assets, right and properties or any portion thereof of Client or Client’s affiliates.

(Emphasis added.)

In addition, the Agreement set forth that CapitalValue would earn 4.5% of the total amount secured for “debt financing.”

The district court dismissed all claims on summary judgment, holding that the entire engagement agreement was an illegal contract. CapitalValue does not contest that it lacked either license, and does not appeal the trial court’s finding that two parts of the contract are void under these theories. However, it argues that other contractual obligations in the agreement are lawful, and that those provisions are severable from the “void” agreements, even in the absence of an express contract provision allowing the obligations to be severed. The district court dismissed the complaint on summary judgment, finding that the agreement had no severability clause, so the entire contract was unenforceable.

The court of appeals reverses the summary judgment order, finding that the lack of a severability clause is not determinative as to whether portions of the contract can be enforced.

Where a contract contains multiple provisions, some of which cannot be legally performed, the remaining provisions are not necessarily unenforceable. Rather, “[w]here an agreement founded on a legal consideration contains several promises, or a promise to do several things, and a part only of the things to be done are illegal, the promises which can be separated, or the promise, so far as it can be separated, from the illegality, may be valid.” Reilly v. Korholz, 320 P.2d 756, 760 (Colo. 1958).

The court distinguishes Broughall v. Black Forest Development Co., 196 Colo. 503, 593 P.2d 314 (1978), the leading case on the requirement for a real estate license to sell a business owning real property. That case involved a single agreement — to find a buyer to purchase a business, including its real estate interest. The broker there argued that, although he was not a licensed real estate broker, his commission could be “based on that part of the sale price which did not involve real estate.” The court there ruled that “severing” the contract by simply discounting Broughall’s fee “would allow finders and business brokers to disregard completely the licensing requirement to the detriment of the public whom the statute is designed to protect.”

In contrast, the court here finds that the CapitalValue agreement contains multiple agreements, each of which could be a separate contract. The Agreement provides that CapitalValue would earn (1) 4.5% for a sale of less than a majority interest in K2D, Inc.; (2) 4.0% for a sale of more than a majority interest in K2D, Inc.; or (3) 4.5% for helping K2D obtain debt financing. CapitalValue does not appeal the district court’s rulings that the first and second provisions violate federal and state securities licensing requirements. However, because the Agreement also contains a third provision for payment for securing debt financing that the parties do not contend violates either set of licensing laws, the district court erred in concluding as a matter of law that the Agreement could not be severed. The case is remanded for further proceedings to determine an issue of fact — whether the parties intended the provisions of the contract to be severable.

Frederick B. Skillern, Esq., is a director and shareholder with Montgomery Little & Soran, P.C., practicing in real estate and related litigation and appeals. He serves as an expert witness in cases dealing with real estate, professional responsibility and attorney fees, and acts as a mediator and arbitrator in real estate cases. Before joining Montgomery Little in 2003, Fred was in private practice in Denver for 6 years with Carpenter & Klatskin and for 10 years with Isaacson Rosenbaum. He served as a district judge for Colorado’s Eighteenth Judicial District from 2000 through 2002. Fred is a graduate of Dartmouth College, and received his law degree at the University of Colorado in 1976, in another day and time in which the legal job market was simply awful.

New Legal Technology: Reduced Risk, Increased Flexibility, Automated Systems—Better for Lawyers

tech-lawIt’s estimated that 90% of lawyers use mobile to check email; 34% of lawyers use tablets in the courtroom; 27% of law firms have legal blogs; 10% of individual lawyers have blogs; 48% use a tablet at work (and the tablet is capturing laptop share); 17% use litigation support software; 39% of blogs resulted in clients or referrals; 40% of solos and 30% of all lawyers use cloud services; and 58% use Dropbox to transfer and store files. Technology (including legal technology) moves fast, with new products and updates arriving at a dizzying pace.

Wouldn’t it be nice if this burgeoning technology resulted in less time in the office and an increase in billings? Many attorneys are finding this to be the case. Automating systems and keeping better track of files and cases has actually resulted in more flexibility and peace of mind for attorneys, even those having to juggle more responsibilities. In addition, smaller firms have discovered by using new technologies they are able to better compete with larger firms.

This year’s first Colorado Legal Technology Expo is October 27-28, 2014, at the CBA-CLE offices in Denver. The Legal Technology Expo is free and the place for the technology and legal communities to interact and to mutually benefit.

Not only will there be legal technology companies exhibiting, but short, educational seminars offered on the latest in technology for the legal community. Legal technology tips and best practices will be shared by experts with topics that include: Managing Interruption and Info Overload; Cloud Security; E-Recording; Using the Latest in Technology to Market Your Law Firm; and 5 Technologies Every Lawyer Should be Using Today.

We invite you to drop by, even for an hour or two, to the free Legal Tech Expo. Click here to find out more and to register for the 20-30 minute educational seminars.

CLE Program: The 2014 Colorado Legal Technology Expo

This CLE presentation will take place from Monday, October 27 through Tuesday, October 28, 2014. Click here to register.

 

Colorado Supreme Court Reverses Years of Precedent in Softrock and Western Logistics

It is advantageous to employers to retain the services of independent contractors when possible. Contractors are not required to be covered by workers’ compensation insurance and employers need not pay unemployment tax out of the contractors’ wages. However, classifying workers as contractors has its risks; after an audit, the employer may be found liable for back taxes on workers who are found to be employees rather than contractors.

That is precisely what happened to Carpet Exchange in 1993, when the Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Carpet Exchange of Denver v. Industrial Claim Appeals Office, 859 P.2d 278 (Colo. App. 1993). The court of appeals analyzed C.R.S. § 8-70-115(1)(b) and, after applying the factors, decided that the workers in question were employees rather than contractors because they were not “customarily engaged in an independent trade, occupation, profession, or business related to the service performed.” Since then, courts have relied on this one-factor test to determine whether long-term workers are employees or contractors.

Industrial Claim Appeals Office v. Softrock Geological Services, 2014 CO 30 (Colo. May 12, 2014), reversed that precedent. In Softrock, the Colorado Supreme Court rejected the outside employment test as dispositive of whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor, ruling instead that the totality of the circumstances must be considered and no single factor can be dispositive in deciding whether an individual is customarily engaged in an independent business or trade.

Michael Santo, lead counsel in Softrock, will present a lunchtime program on Friday, August 22, 2014 at the CLE offices to discuss Softrock‘s impact on employment law. Santo will also discuss Western Logistics, Inc. v. Industrial Claim Appeals Office, 2014 CO 31 (Colo. May 12, 2014), a related opinion that the supreme court delivered the same day as Softrock. Employment attorneys, business attorneys, and in-house counsel should attend this informative lunchtime program.

CLE Program: Independent Contractor or Employee? Softrock‘s and Western Logistics‘ Effect

This CLE presentation will take place on August 22, 2014. Click here to register for the live program and click here to register for the webcast. You can also register by phone at (303) 860-0608.

Can’t make the live program? Order the homestudy here — MP3 audio downloadVideo OnDemand

6 Ways To Overcome Fear of Failure

Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared on the ALPS 411 blog on August 11, 2014. Reprinted with permission.

SusanCartierLiebelBy Susan Cartier Liebel

Life begins at the end of your comfort zone ~ Neale Donald Walsh

We’ve all been there. We are so morbidly afraid to fail. So afraid, in fact, we find ourselves paralyzed and simply can’t take the next step forward. Not one. And when it comes to starting a solo practice or taking on a legal matter one grade level above our expertise or leaving the Big Law job you hate, you name it, it can cripple us and severely limit our futures.

This fear is quite possibly the single strongest force holding people down far below their professional and personal potential. In a crazy world full of uncertainty, a roller coaster economy, the myriad of unexpected disasters that could happen to anyone at any time, isn’t it easy to see why most people will take the safest route possible, the tried and true?

But this is where the joke is on us: playing it safe has risk as well. If you never give yourself permission to fail, your success in life will have clear self-imposed limits. Most people grossly underestimate their recuperative powers if they don’t succeed. This underestimation leads them to pass on valuable opportunities that come knocking. And we’ve all read with awe and longing the stories of those who failed often, failed big and then rose to the top with incredible success. It’s part of our business folklore!

If you are reading this, chances are you want to open a solo practice. Here are a few strategies that can help you put risk and reward of opening up your own business in perspective. It may even help you to challenge the fears which have been holding you back from taking the plunge.

1. Missed opportunities don’t happen without a cost – Without taking risk, you can’t take advantage of opportunities that present themselves. While a steady paycheck may sound appealing, a pink slip can hit you upside the head without warning, too. But, even in with this possibility, your life can still be pleasing and predictable, quiet and reasonably fulfilling. However, the odds of you creating something original are very low and most likely you will not leave any lasting mark on the world. (And that’s not to say that’s a bad thing.) But the reality is today’s careers are dynamic, not static and you may not have the luxury of a pleasing and predictable life. Career planning is less about planning and more about being continuously alert to opportunities that present themselves to you spontaneously. You need to be able to respond. Therefore, the ideal career is one where there is a wide range of opportunities (some more risky, some less) that together form a relatively safe career choice with a high upside for growth. Taking some of these high risk opportunities is essential because at the end of the day, they offer the greatest upside for reward.

2. Banish Ignorance – What we don’t know is the source of most fear. Eliminate the paralyzing power of fear by learning and understanding what you are up against. Research and be aware of all the possible outcomes (both the good and the bad) so you can get both a macro and micro picture of the benefits of success and the risks of failure. This analysis will help you see beyond the fear and help you make a more reasoned and dispassionate decision. Learn what it really means to run your own business as a lawyer. Talk to lawyers who are doing it; talk to lawyers who have done it and now are doing something else. Educate yourself. It is the most powerful antidote to fear.

3. And if you fail? – Know how long it will take you to recover if you fail. Odds are it will be less time than you think and not as financially disruptive as you fear. Is the fear of a few potentially difficult months so strong it can keep you in a mediocre or miserable situation indefinitely?

4. Understand the benefits of failure – While I say there is no such thing as failure if you try (only not trying is failure) others believe you can fail and should fail and should fail often. So if you are in this category know that every failure is an experiment and an opportunity to grow. Sometimes, even if the failure impacts you financially, oftentimes the knowledge you accumulate from the experience can be worth the financial downside. It can even position you for the next opportunity which will help you not only recoup the losses but take you further in your life than you would have gone otherwise. In the corporate world, it is well known that managers prefer to hire someone who tried to start a company and failed than someone who has always been strictly corporate. It is true in the legal world, too. Many who have gone solo have been offered jobs because they showed initiative, took risks, showed they could wear multiple hats and hustle. That the solo practice wasn’t a raging success didn’t matter to the hiring lawyer. The initiative, chutzpah and self-taught education the lawyer received is what mattered.

5. Have a Plan BContingency plans (or a safety net) are yet another way to minimize risk. If Plan A doesn’t work out you always have Plan B. Sometimes just knowing there is a Plan B makes it easier to move forward with Plan A. I find, depending upon the situation, having contingency plans allows me to take more risks and take them with greater confidence simply because I know it’s not ‘do or die.’

6. Start Moving – Sometimes the best way to climb the mountain is not to look at the mountain peak but down at your feet and put one foot in front of the other. As soon as you take the first step you begin to gain experience and education. We’ve all been there. Everything is or seems hardest the first time we do it quite simply because we’ve never done it before. So, you just put one foot in front of the other, build up momentum and rhythm and as you get closer to your goal, the fear of not succeeding seems less overwhelming.

How have you addressed your fears?

Susan Cartier Liebel is the Founder & CEO of Solo Practice University® (solopracticeuniversity.com), the only educational and professional networking community for lawyers and law students designed for those who want to create and grow their solo or small firm practices.

A coach/consultant for solos and small firms, an attorney who started her own practice right out of law school, a Member of the Suffolk School of Law – Institute on Law Practice Technology & Innovation advisory board charged with guiding the Institute’s future, an Entrepreneur Advisor for Law Without Walls, an adjunct professor at Quinnipiac University School of Law for eight years teaching law students how to open their own legal practices right out of law school, a columnist for LawyersUSA Weekly, the Connecticut Law Tribune, The Complete Lawyer, and Law.com, she has contributed to numerous online publications such as Forbes.com, legal publications and books on this topic as well as the issues facing women in the workforce. She speaks frequently to law schools and professional organizations around the country on issues facing solos, offering both practical knowledge and inspiration. She can be contacted at: susan@solopracticeuniversity.com.

CLE is hosting Hanging Your Shingle this weekend. If you are ready to overcome your fears and hang your shingle, this program is for you. Order the homestudy below.

CLE Program: Hanging Your Shingle

This CLE presentation will take place on August 14  through 16, 2014. Click here to order the CD homestudy – click here to order the Video OnDemand homestudy – click here to order the MP3 Audio Download homestudy. You can also order by phone at (303) 860-0608.

Walking the Talk: An Interview with Judy Mares-Dixon

JudyMaresDixonJudy Mares-Dixon, M.A., is well experienced in conflict resolution. Since 1986, she has been working in the dispute resolution field as a trainer, mediator, coach, facilitator, consultant, and dispute resolution systems designer. We are honored to have Judy return to CLE for our 40 Hour Mediation Training beginning on August 11, and are excited to present an interview with Judy.

CLE: Thank you for allowing us to interview you. First, what brought you to the field of conflict resolution?

Judy: I was working full-time as a contract negotiator for the state. I really enjoyed the high-energy interaction and the relationship with customers from around the state. I’ve always been fueled by negotiations. I found out that the City of Boulder was looking for mediators to help resolve landlord-tenant and neighbor-neighbor disputes, so I went through their training course — it’s similar to the 40 Hour course I teach at CLE — and absolutely loved it. I continued working full-time for the state and would mediate for Boulder’s program at night. Some nights, I would return home at 9 o’clock or later and could not sleep because I was so charged up from the excitement of the mediation. The interaction between people who start out so far apart, and their capacity to find intelligent solutions, is fascinating to me.

CLE: What is your favorite part of doing dispute resolution?

Judy: My favorite part is assisting people who have not been able to get through their conflicts to analyze their situation and come up with smart solutions. I love being able to effectively analyze situations and find the pros and cons of a variety of ideas and really assist people in finding the best solutions for everyone, especially in situations where one or more parties think it’s hopeless. I love really thinking about what it’s going to take to solve the problem.

CLE: How do you apply the techniques you teach to your day-to-day life?

Judy: There is always an exchange in business. My colleagues and I are always looking at our projects to decide who is going to do which project, whose skills match best with the job at hand, and we negotiate. I think one of the keys to being a successful mediator is that you have to walk the talk – it is critically important to the job. I work with a small number of associates and we’ve been together for several years. The reason we work so well together and have such a fun, respectful relationship, is that we all walk the talk. We expect high quality work — we expect perfection and are hard on ourselves — but we are good at what we do because we walk the talk. It’s critically important to success as a mediator.

CLE: You mentioned situations where one or more parties think it’s hopeless. Can you share with us a story of a conflict that seemed impossible that you helped resolve?

Judy: I once did a mediation for five physicians who co-owned a practice. Two of the physicians were very senior and three were very junior — new to medicine and new to the practice. Three of the physicians had serious conflicts with each other. There were concerns as to whether everyone was doing their fair share — bringing enough business and revenue to the practice, contributing the right amount. They came to me because they were not sure if they should try to work together or if there should be a buy-out of some of the partners. They felt hopeless and frustrated to say the least — they weren’t getting what they wanted from one another. Ultimately, they decided to stay together in the practice. We developed a monthly evaluation tool so the partners could evaluate who was bringing in revenue and how the work load was shared.

One other thing they were quick to identify was how poorly they responded to conflicts. Three of them would duck and run, one would try to bring the issue to the table, and the other would get aggressive. We worked out a plan for how they could address their concerns when conflicts arise in the future, and expected time frames for resolution of future conflicts.

 

CLE is honored to have Judy return for our 40 Hour Mediation Training. Join us on August 11, 12, 13, 18, and 19 for our 40 Hour Mediation Training with renowned mediator Judy Mares-Dixon. To register, click the links below or call (303) 860-0608.

CLE Program: 40 Hour Mediation Training

This CLE presentation will take place on August 11, 12, 13, 18, and 19, 2014. Click here to register for the live program. You can also register by phone at (303) 860-0608.