March 28, 2015

Frederick Skillern: Real Estate Case Law — Titles and Title Insurance (1)

Editor’s note: This is Part 16 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

Grosboll v. Grosboll (In re Estate of Grossboll)
Colorado Court of Appeals, October 24, 2013
2013 COA 141

Partnership property; statute of frauds.

Jo Ann Grosboll, decedents’ daughter, appeals the district court’s order finding that the sales proceeds of an apartment building are an asset of the parents’ estates rather than an asset of Grosboll Manor, L.L.L.P., a limited partnership formed by Jo Ann and her parents. Jo Ann’s brother, understandably, argues that the apartments are property of the estate. The key issue revolves around the fact that there is no deed of conveyance to the partnership.

As a matter of first impression, the court considers whether real property owned individually by one who enters into a partnership with others may become a partnership asset without a written conveyance sufficient to satisfy the statute of frauds. The court holds that a written conveyance (such as a deed) from a partner to the partnership is not necessarily required.

The court reviews the historical development of the entity theory of partnerships and the Uniform Partnership Act. The current version of the partnership act allows real property titled in an individual partner’s name to be deemed an asset of the partnership. The trust relationship between partners provides adequate protection against fraud in oral agreements making a partner’s real property a partnership asset. As a result, by statute, the intention of the partners determines whether such real property is a partnership asset. The existence of a written conveyance is a factor for a court to consider in evaluating that intent.

Jo Ann contended that, according to the terms of the written partnership agreement and the intention of the partners, Loma Vista was a partnership asset. The partnership agreement provided that (1) title to all assets of the partnership shall be deemed to be owned by the partnership”; (2) record title to any or all assets of the partnership may be held in the name of . . . one or more nominees”; and (3) all assets of the partnership shall be recorded as the property of the partnership in the books and records of the partnership, irrespective of the name in which record title to such assets is held.” Jo Ann testified that when the partnership was established, she and her parents had agreed to make Loma Vista a partnership asset. Additionally, the accountant for the partnership testified that he treated Loma Vista as a partnership asset on the partnership books. Therefore, Jo Ann asserted she was entitled to the sale proceeds because decedents’ wills devised their interests in the partnership to her.

The partnership act provides a rebuttable presumption that a partner’s property is separate if it is not acquired with partnership assets:

Property acquired in the name of one or more of the partners, without an indication in the instrument transferring title to the property of the person’s capacity as a partner or of the existence of a partnership and without use of partnership assets is presumed to be separate property, even if used for partnership purposes.

C.R.S. § 7-64-204(4).

Because the UPL and UPA specifically contemplate that real property titled in an individual partner’s name may be deemed an asset of the partnership, the appeals court holds here that a written conveyance from a partner who originally brings real estate into the partnership, although a factor to consider, is not required to convert real property into partnership property.

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.

Bills Regarding Trustee Notification, Recorded Documents, and More Signed

On Wednesday, March 18, 2015, Governor Hickenlooper signed nine bills into law. Governor Hickenlooper has now signed 58 bills this legislative session. The bills signed Wednesday are summarized here.

  • HB 15-1010 – Concerning a Presumption that a Trustee has Notified a Beneficiary when the Trustee has Adopted a Beneficiary Notification Procedure, and, in Connection Therewith, Clarifying that a Trustee May Deliver Information to Beneficiaries Electronically, by Reps. Tracy Kraft-Tharp & Dan Nordberg and Sen. Cheri Jahn. The bill creates a presumption that a beneficiary of a trust has received notifications about the status of a trust when the trustee has notification procedures in place, and also allows electronic notifications for beneficiaries who elect electronic notifications.
  • HB 15-1022 – Concerning Juveniles Charged with Certain Minor Offenses, by Rep. Beth McCann and Sens. Pat Steadman & John Cooke. The bill allows police officers to issue petty offense tickets to juveniles if certain conditions are met.
  • HB 15-1028 – Concerning Repeal of the Mercantile Licensing Standards, by Rep. Jon Keyser and Sen. Cheri Jahn. The bill repeals licensing requirements for merchants because the requirements are not enforced.
  • HB 15-1062 – Concerning Increasing the Penalties for Persons who Engage in Animal Fighting, by Reps. Jovan Melton & Steve Lebsock and Sens. David Balmer & Jerry Sonnenberg. The bill requires mandatory fines for convictions for animal fighting.
  • HB 15-1064 – Concerning Access to the Safe Deposit Box of a Decedent, and, in Connection Therewith, Limiting the Obligations of Custodians who Access the Box, by Rep. Dan Nordberg and Sen. Chris Holbert. The bill clarifies who has access to a decedent’s safe deposit box under the Colorado Probate Code and and clarifies that the custodian is not deemed to have knowledge about the contents of the box.
  • HB 15-1069 – Concerning Information Required to be Included in Recorded Written Instruments Filed with the County Clerk and Recorder to Claim a Homestead Exemption, by Rep. Su Ryden and Sen. Chris Holbert. The bill adds a requirement that a property owner’s name be included on a homestead exemption document.
  • HB 15-1071 – Concerning Clarification that, Following a Merger of Entities, the Surviving Entity is Entitled to Control the Premerger Attorney-Client Privileges of a Constituent Entity, by Rep. Jon Keyser and Sen. Owen Hill. The bill specifies that a corporation that merges with another entity inherits the attorney-client privilege from the other entity.
  • SB 15-057 – Concerning the Reporting Requirements of the Colorado Clean Claims Task Force, by Sen. David Balmer and Rep. Angela Williams. The bill changes the reporting requirements for the Colorado Medical Clean Claims Task Force so that the reports will go to the Commissioner of Insurance and the business committee of the General Assembly.
  • SB 15-142 – Concerning a Change in State Law to Make Requirements for Moneys Held in Escrow for the Payment of Ad Valorem Property Taxes the Same as the Requirements of the Federal “Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act of 1974″, by Sen. Ellen Roberts and Rep. Dan Pabon. The bill conforms state law to the requirements of the federal Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act, specifically repealing May 30 date for final settlement and changing the provision to reference RESPA.

For a complete list of Governor Hickenlooper’s 2015 legislative decisions, click here.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Lessee of Oil and Gas Interest Must Incur Post-Production Costs Where Lease is Silent

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Patterson v. BP America Production Co. on Thursday, March 12, 2015.

Class Action—Moratory Interest Request—CRS § 5-12-102(1)(a) and (b)—Fraudulent Concealment and Equitable Tolling—Jury Instructions.

In the early 1970s, named plaintiffs and approximately 4,000 royalty owners (collectively, Royalty Owners) entered into lease agreements with BP America Production Company (BP) to be paid royalties in exchange for natural gas extracted from their wells. The lease agreements provided that BP would pay Royalty Owners “1/8 of the proceeds of the market value of such gas at the mouth of the well; if said gas is sold by [BP], then as royalty 1/8 of the proceeds of the sale thereof at the mouth of the well.” Post-production costs were not expressly authorized as being deductible from royalty payments.

In the 1980s, BP changed how it calculated royalties and started employing a netback methodology whereby BP deducted a proportionate share of the post-production costs. The royalty statements did not disclose these deductions.

In 2003, Royalty Owners sued BP for breach of contract, alleging underpayment of royalties between January 1, 1986 and December 1, 1997. A jury found that BP breached the lease agreements by underpaying royalties and that BP fraudulently concealed the underpayments, thereby tolling the applicable statute of limitations. The jury awarded Royalty Owners $7,941,809.23 in damages. The district court amended the judgment to add $32,273,817 in statutory prejudgment interest, pursuant to CRS § 5-12-102(1)(b).

Royalty Owners appealed the district court’s pretrial grant of BP’s CRCP 56(h) motion and its denial of moratory interest. CRS § 5-12-102(1)(a) codifies the common law concept of moratory interest. Moratory interest is intended to be compensatory, not punitive. To obtain moratory interest, a plaintiff must demonstrate the defendant’s gain or benefit realized on the withheld money by a preponderance of the evidence. The Court of Appeals found no evidence or discernible means to calculate any such gain or benefit by BP on the underpaid royalty money. Therefore, the district court’s grant of the motion denying moratoryinterest was affirmed.

On cross-appeal, BP contended that the district court erred by denying its motions for a directed verdict and judgment notwithstanding the verdict because (1) Royalty Owners could not prove their fraudulent concealment and equitable tolling claims for all class members; and (2) the evidence demonstrated that Royalty Owners’ gas was undisputedly marketable at the well and thus the post-production deductions from royalties were proper. In reviewing the record and the evidence in the light most favorable to Royalty Owners, the Court concluded the evidence was sufficient to send the issue of fraudulent concealment to the jury and that reasonable jurors could find that Royalty Owners were ignorant of BP’s concealed royalty deductions, relied on the concealment, and were unable, using reasonable diligence, to discover the concealment.

Colorado law provides that where, as here, royalty agreements are silent on the allocation of post-production costs, the “implied covenant to market must be considered in determining the rights and obligations of the parties.” This covenant obligates BP, not Royalty Owners, to make the gas marketable, and BP must incur those costs. If, however, the gas is marketable at the wellhead, and post-production costs merely enhance the value of the gas, those costs may be shared. Marketability at the wellhead is a question of fact. The Court concluded that a reasonable person could determine that the wellhead was not the first market for gas extracted from the wells during the time period at issue.

BP also argued that it was error to decline to instruct the jury that “[i]f a person signs a contract without reading it, that person is barred from claiming he or she is not bound by what it says.” The Court disagreed, holding that this instruction would have only confused jurors, incorrectly informed them on the issues in the case, and improperly directed them as to the proper weight to give the contracts.

BP further argued it was error to deny its request to decertify the class. The Court found that the district court rigorously analyzed the evidence and did not abuse its discretion in concluding that the questions of law or fact common to the members of the class predominated over any questions affecting only individual members. The judgment was affirmed.

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

Tenth Circuit: Citizenship of Beneficiaries to Trust Necessary to Determine Diversity Jurisdiction

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in ConAgra Foods, Inc. v. Americold Logistics, LLC on Tuesday, January 27, 2015.

Multiple plaintiffs brought suit against Americold Logistics, LLC and Americold Realty Trust (collectively, Americold) in Kansas state court. Americold removed to the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas, asserting complete diversity of the parties. No party challenged removal and the district court did not address the issue. The district court granted summary judgment to Americold and plaintiffs timely appealed on the merits. On appeal, the Tenth Circuit noticed a potential defect in the notice of removal and ordered Americold to file supplemental briefing to address whether Americold’s Notice of Removal was sufficient to establish diversity jurisdiction and, if not, what curative facts could correct the defect in the appeal?

In its supplemental briefing, Americold asserted the omission of the citizenship of the beneficiaries of the Americold Realty Trust was not a jurisdictional defect because the citizenship of a trust is determined solely by the citizenship of its trustees. The Tenth Circuit disagreed. After analyzing Supreme Court precedent in Navarro and Carden, the Tenth Circuit found the citizenship of a trust depends on not only the citizenship of the trustees but also that of its beneficiaries. The Tenth Circuit ruled that when a trustee is a party to litigation, it is the trustee’s citizenship that controls for diversity jurisdiction purposes, as long as the trustee satisfies Navarro‘s real-party-in-interest test. However, when a trust itself is party to the litigation, the citizenship of the trust is derived from all of the trust’s “members.” In this case, the Tenth Circuit found that at a minimum the trust’s “members” were its beneficiaries.

The Tenth Circuit found Americold failed to meet its burden to establish diversity jurisdiction because it failed to present evidence of the citizenship of its beneficiaries. The Tenth Circuit remanded to the district court to vacate its judgment on the merits and remand to state court.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Reformation of Conservation Deed Appropriate to Correct Mutual Mistake

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Ranch O, LLC v. Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust on Thursday, February 26, 2015.

Conservation Easement—Summary Judgment—Reformation of Deed Based on Mutual Mistake.

Craig Walker was the sole manager and 99% membership owner of Walker I-Granby, LLC (LLC). Walker owned certain property that he conveyed to the LLC. Walker and the Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust (Land Trust) then signed a deed of conservation easement (Conservation Deed) that purported to give the Land Trust a conservation easement on the subject property. The Conservation Deed named Walker as the grantor, but Walker had previously conveyed the subject property to his LLC. The LLC should have been the grantor. Neither Walker nor the Land Trust was aware of this error.

Walker, on the LLC’s behalf, then entered into discussions with Ranch O, LLC’s principal about selling the subject property to Ranch O. Walker informed Ranch O of the Land Trust’s conservation easement.

Ranch O bought the subject property from the LLC. The deed conveying the property noted that the subject property was encumbered by a conservation easement held by the Land Trust and noted the recording information for the Conservation Deed.

Ranch O requested a declaratory judgment that the Conservation Deed was invalid and had no force and effect because Walker had no ownership interest in the subject property at the time the Conservation Deed was signed and recorded. The Land Trust answered, seeking a declaratory judgment that the Conservation Deed was valid and enforceable despite the scrivener’s error and reformation of the Conservation Deed to correct any error regarding the identity of the grantor. The Land Trust claimed any error was the result of mutual mistake. The district court granted the Land Trust’s motion for summary judgment and denied Ranch O’s request.

On appeal, Ranch O argued that the undisputed facts precluded the district court from reforming the Conservation Deed based on a mutual mistake of fact. The Court of Appeals disagreed. It found that the evidence clearly and unequivocally showed that reformation was appropriate because both parties to the Conservation Deed mistakenly believed that it correctly identified the grantor and that the grantor had the authority to convey the conservation easement. The mutual mistake justified reforming the Conservation Deed.

Ranch O also argued that reformation violated the policies and purposes behind Colorado’s race-notice statute. The Court disagreed, noting that Ranch O had actual notice of the Conservation Deed before it purchased the subject property. It was also advised of the Conservation Deed in the LLC’s deed to Ranch O. Ranch O, given its actual knowledge of the Conservation Deed, cannot simply ignore it and then seek to defeat its reformation in this action. Reformation is an equitable remedy and equity demands that the Conservation Deed be reformed. The judgment was affirmed.

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

e-Legislative Report: February 17, 2015

legislationCBA Legislative Policy Committee

For followers who are new to CBA legislative activity, the Legislative Policy Committee (“LPC”) is the CBA’s legislative policy making arm during the legislative session. The LPC meets weekly during the legislative session to determine CBA positions from requests from the various sections and committees of the Bar Association.

Meeting held Friday, February 13

SB 15-129 — Preserving Parent-child Relationships
Sponsor: Senator Kevin Lundberg (R)
The LPC voted to oppose this bill in part because of the fundamental way that it changed the presumption of parenting time away from the “best interest of the child” to a different standard more focused on the parents in divorce proceedings. The bill was heard in committee on Wednesday the 11th and was passed on a party line vote after substantial amendments. SB-129 was referred to the Appropriations Committee for consideration of the bill’s fiscal impact.

SB 15-174 — Uniform Substitute Decision Making Documents Act
Sponsor: Senator Patrick Steadman (D)
The LPC voted to oppose this bill. The committee felt that the bill conflicts with existing statute, was unnecessary in many respects and that it potentially created more gaps and questions with existing law than its adoption would solve.

HB 15-1091 — Policies On Juvenile Shackling In Court
Sponsors: Representative Susan Lontine (D), Senator Michael G. Merrifield (D)
The LPC was concerned that while this bill was very well intentioned, it raised significant potential problems with separation of power between the legislative and judicial branches.

At the Capitol: Week of February 9

SB 15-049 — Real Estate Title Vests In Entity Once Formed
Sponsors: Senator Beth Martinez Humenik (R), Representative Jon Keyser (R)
This bill, supported by the Bar, passed through the Senate this past week. It has been assigned to the House Business Affairs and Labor Committee and has not yet been calendared for a hearing.

HB 15-1121 — Wind Energy Generation
Sponsors: Representative Jon Becker (R), Senator Jerry Sonnenberg (R)
The bill, supported by the Bar, also passed through its first chamber (the House) last week. It will next be heard in the Senate, where it has been assigned to the Agriculture, Natural Resources & Energy Committee. It will be heard by that committee on February 19.

SB 15-077 — Parents’ Bill of Rights
Sponsors: Senator Tim Neville (R), Representative Patrick Neville (R)
The bill passed out of the Senate committee hearing on a party line vote, and was debated on the floor. The bill was passed with amendments, and now moves to the House for consideration. It has not been calendared for consideration.

SB 15-042 — Mandatory Reports Of Animal Abuse
Sponsors: Senator Jerry Sonnenberg (R), Representative Jon Becker (R)
This bill was Postponed Indefinitely (killed) in committee. It will not be considered again this year. The CBA was opposed to the legislation.

HB 15-1101 — Public Defender ADC Records Open Records
Sponsors: Representatives Rhonda Fields (D), Polly Lawrence (R)
This bill was Postponed Indefinitely (killed) in committee. It will not be considered again this year. The CBA was opposed to the legislation.

HB 15-1174 — Information Protections Domestic Violence Victims
Sponsors: Representative Terri Carver (R), Senator Laura Woods (R)
The CBA has not taken a position on this bill—though we are working with the sponsors to ensure that the program will work as intended and not harm the real estate transaction process as a result of its adoption or implementation. It is likely that the CBA and its sections will participate in stakeholder groups and work sessions this summer.

New Bills of Interest

Senate

SB 15-177 — HOA Construction Defect Lawsuit Approval Timelines
Sponsors: Brian DelGrosso (R), Mark Scheffel (R), Jonathan Singer (D), Jessie M. Ulibarri (D)
The bill states that when the governing documents of a common interest community require mediation or arbitration of a construction defect claim and the requirement is later amended or removed, mediation or arbitration is still required for a construction defect claim. These provisions are in section 2 of the bill.

Section 2 also specifies that the mediation or arbitration must take place in the judicial district in which the community is located and that the arbitrator must:

  • Be a neutral third party;
  • Make certain disclosures before being selected; and
  • Be selected as specified in the common interest community’s governing documents or, if not so specified, in accordance with the uniform arbitration act.

Section 1 adds definitions of key terms. Section 3 requires that before a construction defect claim is filed on behalf of the association:

  • The parties must submit the matter to mediation before a neutral third party; and The board must give advance notice to all unit owners, together with a disclosure of the projected costs, duration, and financial impact of the construction defect claim, and must obtain the written consent of the owners of units to which at least a majority of the votes in the association are allocated.

Section 4 adds to the disclosures required prior to the purchase and sale of property in a common interest community a notice that the community’s governing documents may require binding arbitration of certain disputes.

House

HB 15-1025 — Competency To Proceed Juvenile Justice System
Sponsors: Representative Paul Rosenthal (D), Senator Linda M. Newell (D)
The bill establishes a juvenile-specific definition of “incompetent to proceed” for juveniles involved in the juvenile justice system, as well as specific definitions for “developmental disability”, “intellectual disability”, “mental capacity”, and “mental disability” when used in this context. The bill clarifies the procedures for establishing incompetency, as well as for establishing the restoration of competency.

HB 15-1216 — Basis For Expert Opinion Testimony
Sponsors: Representative Kevin Priola (R), Senator John Cooke (R)
The bill prohibits a person from testifying concerning the person’s expert opinion unless certain conditions are met.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Blunt Wraps Not “Tobacco Products” under Statutory Definition so Tax Disallowed

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Creager Mercantile Co., Inc. v. Colorado Department of Revenue on Thursday, February 12, 2015.

Blunt Wraps—Tobacco—Tax—CRS § 39-28.5-101(5).

Creager Mercantile Company, Inc. (Creager) is a distributor of groceries, tobacco, and other products to convenience stores. In 2003, Creager began distributing Blunt Wraps, which are rolling papers consumers can use to roll their own cigars or cigarettes. Blunt Wraps are made from homogenized tobacco leaves and contain between 30% and 48% tobacco. Although the Colorado Department of Revenue (DOR) did not previously assess tax on these products, it audited Creager and assessed tax on the Blunt Wraps for tax years 2004–06. Creager appealed to the district court, and the district court affirmed the DOR’s final determination that Creager is liable for certain taxes on tobacco products.

On appeal, Creager claimed that the district court erred in holding that Blunt Wraps are “tobacco products” within the meaning of CRS § 39-28.5-101(5). Blunt Wraps are not specifically listed in the statute, and the statute’s phrase “other kinds and forms of tobacco, prepared in such manner as to be suitable for chewing or for smoking in a pipe or otherwise” is ambiguous. The listed products include several varieties of cigars, chewing tobacco, and forms of tobacco generally consumed by smoking in a pipe or hand-rolled cigar or cigarette. Each of the products on the list is a focus of consumption; absent are products that, like Blunt Wraps, contain some tobacco but are only suitable for consuming other products. Therefore, Blunt Wraps are not “tobacco products” within the meaning of CRS § 39-28.5-101(5), and the district court erred in affirming the tax assessment related to Blunt Wraps. The judgment was reversed and the case was remanded with directions.

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

e-Legislative Report: February 10, 2015

legislationCBA Legislative Policy Committee

For followers who are new to CBA legislative activity, the Legislative Policy Committee (“LPC”) is the CBA’s legislative policy making arm during the legislative session. The LPC meets weekly during the legislative session to determine CBA positions from requests from the various sections and committees of the Bar Association.

Meeting held Friday, February 6
The following bills were discussed for action during last Friday’s LPC meeting.  Other bills of interest from that agenda are tracked and updated below.

SB 15-042 – Mandatory Reports Of Animal Abuse
(Senator Sonnenberg & Representative J. Becker)
The intent of the sponsors was to criminalize the recording of undercover videos showing animal cruelty in farming practices.  The Bar sections could not support the bill, or a subsequent “strike below”* amendment, because the language was overly broad, potentially unconstitutional and would lead to unintended consequences.  The LPC voted to oppose this bill at the recommendation of the Animal Law and Agricultural Law Sections.

HB 15-1101 – Public Defender ADC Records Open Records
(Representatives Field and Lawrence)
The LPC voted to oppose this bill as well.  The committee was concerned about the impact of Rule 1.6 and the financial impact of the bill to the State.  There was also concern that this bill would open the door for CORA requests of the Judicial Branch – and the potential impact that would have.  The LPC voted unanimously to oppose this bill.

HB 15-1037 – Freedom of Conscience Higher Ed
(Representative Priola & Senator Neville)
This bill was considered at the request of the Civil Rights Committee who presented that the bill was intended to “protect religious freedom and the right of association.”  After some discussion, the LPC voted to take no position on this bill.

At the Capitol: Week of February 2

HB 15-1135 – Terminally Ill Individuals End-of-life Decisions
(Representatives Court and Ginal & Senator Guzman)
HB 1135 was the big bill last week at the capitol.  Testimony began a little after 9:30am and concluded shortly before 10pm!  The emotional level of testimony was compelling.  There were approximately 120 people that signed up to testify for the bill ranging from all types of organizations and all walks of life. Many made passionate testimony on both sides of the bill which was a true indicator that our group made the correct policy decision to fix the issues and then maintain our neutrality. It is an issue that people either feel at a core level to support or they don’t.  The Committee voted to send the bill to the next committee Appropriations.  That motion failed 8-5.  There was a motion to Postpone the bill indefinitely, (passing 9-4) killing the bill for the remainder of the session.

Many Bar sections weighed in on the bill, its technical merits, and the drafting problems of the bill.  While individual sections had vigorous debates on the policy of “death with dignity” or physician assisted suicide, the LPC took no position on the bill itself.

SB 15-077 – Parents’ Bill of Rights
(Senator Neville & Representative Neville)
This Senate Bill sponsored by the father-son legislative team from Jefferson County was heard and passed out of the Senate committee last week.  The bill is set for its key second reading on Wednesday. Senate Bill 77, the so-called “Parents’ Bill of Rights” sponsored by Sen. Tim Neville and Rep. Patrick Neville, would give parents certain rights over the health care, education and mental health care of minor children.  The Bar Association voted to oppose this legislation at its LPC meeting on January 30.

SB 15-049 – Real Estate Title Vests In Entity Once Formed
(Senator Martinez Humenik & Representative Keyser)
This bill – supported by the bar – continues through the legislature on a straightforward course. It has now passed the Senate and will be heard in the Hose Business Affairs and Labor Committee, where Rep. Keyser will be the key sponsor.

HB 15-1121 – Wind Energy Generation
(Representative J. Becker & Senator Sonnenberg)
This Bar supported bill is also progressing through the legislative process.  Representative Becker has successfully completed the House process, and the bill passes to Senator Sonnenberg for the final leg of its legislative journey.

New Bills of Interest

Senate

SB 15-129 – Preserving Parent-child Relationships
(Senator Lundberg)
The bill amends provisions relating to best interests of a child in domestic relations actions and certain other actions in the juvenile code. With respect to such actions, the bill:

Amends the legislative declaration to emphasize the fundamental liberty interest of both parents and children in maintaining the parent-child relationship;

With respect to temporary orders hearings, if there has been a temporary or permanent protection order entered against one or both parties either prior to or in conjunction with the domestic relations action, requires the court to grant an expedited hearing at the request of either party for purposes of modifying provisions in the protection order relating to parenting time, communication, and access to a child. The court shall order substantially equal parenting time and access to the child unless it finds that such orders are clearly not in the child’s best interest. The court shall also enter any orders necessary for the safety of the protected party relating to the restrained party’s parenting time with the child.

Changes the nature of an investigation by a court-appointed child and family investigator (CFI) from evaluation and recommendations to investigation and fact-finding. CFIs will conduct an objective investigation of issues as specifically directed by the court and will provide written factual findings to the court that are supported by credible evidence. A CFI’s report will not make recommendations regarding the allocation of parental responsibilities but will provide the court with the factual findings the court deems necessary to make such determinations.

Amends language in the legislative declaration regarding the allocation of parental rights and responsibilities relating to the best interests of the child. Also, the bill requires the court to allocate substantially equal parenting time unless the court finds that doing so would endanger a child’s physical health or significantly impair the child’s emotional development. In addition, the court shall award mutual decision-making responsibilities with respect to the child unless the court finds that such an order is clearly not in the child’s best interest.

For purposes of temporary orders in a domestic relations action, requires the court to award substantially equal parenting time to the parties unless the court finds that doing so would endanger a child’s physical health or significantly impair the child’s emotional development. In addition, the court shall order mutual decision-making responsibilities unless mutual decision-making is clearly not in the child’s best interest.

Changes the nature of an evaluation by a court-appointed parental responsibilities evaluator to an investigation by a mental health professional. The mental health investigation is limited to mental health diagnoses, assessments of relevant addictions, or other mental health-related issues that are relevant to the court’s allocation of parental responsibilities for the child. The investigator’s report shall contain findings of fact but shall not contain conclusions or recommendations relating to the allocation of parental rights and responsibilities.

Clarifies that the 2-year restriction on filing motions that request a substantial change in parenting time and that also change the party with whom the child resides the majority of the time do not apply to moderate changes to parenting time when the existing parenting time order awarded substantially equal parenting time to the parties; and

Amends the provisions relating to modification of decision-making responsibility for a child from requiring the court to retain the prior decision-maker unless certain criteria are met to permitting the court to change the decision-maker after considering certain criteria, including whether an award of mutual decision-making responsibilities is now in the child’s best interest.

SB 15-174 – Uniform Substitute Decision Making Documents Act
(Senator Steadman)
Colorado Commission on Uniform State Laws. The bill adopts, with amendments, the “Uniform Substitute Decision-making Documents Act” as Colorado law. The bill establishes the circumstances under which a substitute decision-making document (document) executed outside this state is valid in this state. A person may assume in good faith that a document is genuine, valid, and still in effect and that the decision-maker’s authority is genuine, valid, and still in effect. A person who is asked to accept a document shall do so within a reasonable amount of time. The person may not require an additional or different form of document for authority granted in the document presented. A person who refuses to accept a substitute document is subject to:  A court order mandating acceptance of the document; and Liability for reasonable attorney’s fees and costs incurred in an action or proceeding that mandates acceptance of the document. A person is not required to accept a substitute document under certain described conditions.

House

HB 15-1043 – Felony Offense For Repeat DUI Offenders
(Senators Cooke and Johnson & Representatives McCann and Saine)
Under current law, a DUI, DUI per se, or DWAI is a misdemeanor offense. The bill makes such an offense a class 4 felony if the violation occurred: (1) After 3 or more prior convictions for DUI, DUI per se, or DWAI; vehicular homicide; vehicular assault; or any combination thereof; or (2) not more than 7 years after the first of 2 prior convictions for DUI, DUI per se, or DWAI; vehicular homicide; vehicular assault; or any combination thereof, if the violation included at least one of the following circumstances: One or more persons less than 18 years of age were present in the person’s vehicle at the time of the violation;  In committing the violation, the person caused damage or injury to any property or persons;  After committing the violation, the person fled the scene; or At the time of the violation, or within 2 hours after the violation, the person’s BAC was 0.15 or higher. Under current law, aggravated driving with a revoked license is a class 6 felony. The bill changes the penalty to a class 1 misdemeanor but requires a sentencing court to ensure that an offender spends a minimum of 60 days in the custody of a county jail. Under current law, a person whose privilege to drive was revoked for multiple convictions for any combination of a DUI, DUI per se, or DWAI must hold an interlock-restricted license for at least one year following reinstatement prior to being eligible to obtain any other driver’s license. The bill expands this period to a minimum of 2 years and a maximum of 5 years. The bill repeals provisions relating to the crime of aggravated driving with a revoked license when the offender also commits DUI, DUI per se, or DWAI as part of the same criminal episode. The bill makes conforming amendments.

HB 15-1161 – Public Accommodation First Amendment Rights
(Representative Klingenschmitt)
The bill specifies that neither the civil rights division, the civil rights commission, nor a court with jurisdiction to hear civil actions brought under the public accommodations laws may compel involuntary speech or acts of involuntary artistic expression or involuntary religious expression by a person when such speech or acts of artistic or religious expression would lead to that person directly or indirectly participating in, directly or indirectly supporting, or endorsing or impliedly endorsing an ideology, ceremony, creed, behavior, or practice with which the person does not agree.

HB 15-1189 – Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act
(Representative Keyser & Senator Steadman)
Colorado Commission on Uniform State Laws. The bill enacts the “Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act”, as amended, as Colorado law. The bill sets forth the conditions under which certain fiduciaries may access: The content of an electronic communication of a principal or decedent; A catalog of electronic communications sent or received by a decedent or principal; and  Any other digital asset in which a principal has a right or interest or in which a decedent had a right or interest at death. As to tangible personal property capable of receiving, storing, processing, or sending a digital asset, a fiduciary with authority over the property of a decedent, protected person, principal, or settlor may access the property and any digital asset stored in it and is an authorized user for purposes of computer fraud and unauthorized computer access laws.

“Fiduciary” means a personal representative, a conservator, an agent, or a trustee. A custodian and its officers, employees, and agents are immune from liability for an act or omission done in good-faith compliance with the provisions of the bill.

HB 15-1203 – Concerning earned time for certain offenders serving life sentences as habitual offenders
(Representative Rosenthal & Senator Steadman)
Under current law, an offender who was sentenced to a habitual offender 40-calendar-year life sentence before July 1, 1993, is not accruing earned time. The bill permits those sentenced under those circumstances to accrue earned time.

HB 15-1212 – Authority To Sell State Trust Lands To Local Gov
(Representative KC Becker & Senator Kerr)
In 2010, a law was enacted that allowed the state board of land commissioners (board) to convey land to units of local government if the conveyance would add value to adjoining or nearby state trust property, benefit board operations, or comply with local land use regulations. When enacted, the authority was set to repeal on July 1, 2015. The bill repeals that automatic repeal and makes the board’s authority permanent.

 

*a “Strike Below” amendment essentially replaces the entire bill below the title with an entirely different bill.  In practice this changes almost everything about the bill – but addresses the same topic, allowing for the sponsor to retain his/her bill and to continue working on the topic.  It is generally used when interested parties and stakeholders need a complete rewrite of the bill as originally introduced in ordrr to try and reach consensus.

 

Colorado Supreme Court: Entity that was Non-Existent when Contractual Duty Created Still May Be Subject to Interrelated Contracts Doctrine

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in S K Peightal Engineers, Ltd. v. Mid Valley Real Estate Solutions V, LLC on Monday, February 9, 2015.

Economic Loss Rule—Interrelated Contracts Doctrine.

In this civil case, the Supreme Court considered: (1) whether entities that did not exist at the time the relevant contracts were completed can still be subject to the economic loss rule through the interrelated contracts doctrine; and (2) whether commercial entities situated similarly to respondent, which was a third-party beneficiary to a contract that interrelated to the contract by which the home at issue was built, are among the class of plaintiffs entitled to the protections of the independent tort duty to act without negligence owed by construction professionals to subsequent homeowners when constructing residential homes. The Court held that (1) the fact that an entity was nonexistent at the time the relevant contracts were completed does not alter the analysis under the interrelated contracts doctrine; and (2) the independent duty at issue does not apply here because, as a third-party beneficiary of a commercially negotiated contract that interrelates to the contract under which the home was built, respondent cannot properly be considered a subsequent homeowner. The judgment was reversed and the case was remanded to the court of appeals to return to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

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

Tenth Circuit: PSLRA Requires Showing of Intent to Deceive, Defraud, or Manipulate In Order to Prove Scienter

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in In re Gold Resource Corp. Securities Litigation: Banker v. Gold Resource Corp. on Friday, January 16, 2015.

Gold Resource Corporation (GRC) is a publicly traded Colorado corporation engaged in mining for gold, silver, and other minerals in Mexico. At one of its mines, the El Aguila property, GRC began stockpiling ore and developed an aggressive business plan calling for increased mining activities. GRC had a single buyer for its mining products from the El Aguila property. GRC issued a press release in January 2012, announcing “record” production at the El Aguila facility and predicting continued growth and success. GRC issued several other press releases and filings with the SEC documenting “record” production and growth.

GRC first announced production problems at the El Aguila facility on July 19, 2012, admitting its second quarter production was lower than expected due to several factors. It lowered its production outlook by 15 percent, causing stock values to plummet. GRC announced its third quarter results in an October 2012 press release, notifying investors that production was lower still than expected. In November 2012, GRC issued a press release announcing that settlement of its billing dispute with its single buyer required restatement of the already-reported financial results. It submitted a Form 8-K to the SEC explaining that executive management became aware of significant variances between GRC’s assays and those of the buyer in the third quarter of 2012, but that GRC believed those discrepancies were remedied as of September 30, 2012.

Nitesh Banker and others, investors, brought suit against GRC, alleging violation of § 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act. Investors asserted that by September 30 at the latest, GRC was aware of serious problems with its accounting control, and therefore misled investors with its first and second quarter financial reportings. Investors also alleged that two statements in the January 30, 2012, press release were materially misleading, because GRC was aware of significant production problems but failed to report them, and because the statement about continuing on the trajectory of projected growth did not prove to be accurate. The district court dismissed the complaint with prejudice, finding plaintiff investors failed to meet the heightened scienter requirement required by the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act (PSLRA). Plaintiffs appealed.

The Tenth Circuit first examined the requirements for properly stating a claim for securities fraud, and the heightened pleading requirements for the untrue statement and scienter requirements under the PSLRA. The PSLRA requires that plaintiffs must show with particularity a mental state involving intent to deceive, manipulate, or defraud, in order to prove the scienter requirement.

First addressing plaintiffs’ allegations of scienter because of the misstatement of first and second quarter profits, the Tenth Circuit found no wrongdoing by GRC. The Tenth Circuit found other plausible inferences in GRC’s accounting misstatements and SOX miscertifications, including that employees in Oaxaca did not immediately tell executive management in Denver about the variances because they thought buyer’s figures were wrong, and it was prudent of the management to investigate the variances before confirming the discrepancy publicly. Addressing the accounting practices, the Tenth Circuit found no recklessness where GRC recognized as income the amount buyer agreed to pay, rather than the amount buyer eventually did pay, since that was the contractual agreement between GRC and the buyer. The Tenth Circuit similarly dismissed plaintiffs’ remaining assertions of scienter, finding instead that at most the conduct constituted negligence, and defendants’ explanation offered a plausible alternative. The defendants had every right not to disclose the variances before the matter was investigated and resolved.

As for the production problems, the Tenth Circuit accepted defendants’ explanations for encountering difficulties as a plausible reason to produce less ore than originally expected. The risks of the mining business were set forth in the cautionary statements issued to investors, and encountering the risks did not rise to the level of scienter.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of plaintiffs’ claims with prejudice. The Tenth Circuit also concluded the district court did not abuse its discretion by failing to allow plaintiff to amend its complaint and in denying its motion to strike.

Compensation During Dissolution of Law Firm LLCs

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the Colorado Bar Association Business Law Section’s January 2015 newsletter. Click here for the Business Law Section webpage.

HerrickLidstoneBy Herrick K. Lidstone, Jr., Esq.

The Colorado Limited Liability Company Act was front-and-center in a January 2015 decision from the Colorado Supreme Court. The case, LaFond v. Sweeney, 2015 CO 3 (January 20, 2015) involved the dissolution of a law firm organized as a two-member LLC with no written agreement regarding the treatment of assets and liabilities on dissolution. Richard LaFond brought a contingent fee case into the law firm and performed a significant amount of work on that case before the firm dissolved. He continued his work on the matter after dissolution. His now former partner, Charlotte Sweeney, claimed an interest in the contingent fee.

Mr. LaFond brought a declaratory judgment action against Ms. Sweeney to obtain a judicial determination regarding her right to any portion of the contingent fee. The trial court entered judgment for Ms. Sweeney, finding that she would be entitled to one-half of the fees earned from the contingency case, up to a maximum of $298,589.24 potentially to be paid to Ms. Sweeney (based on the time spent by the LaFond & Sweeney law firm before dissolution and assumed billable rates).

Ms. Sweeney appealed the trial court’s decision to the Colorado Court of Appeals. Ultimately, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that absent an agreement to the contrary, all profits derived from winding up the LLC’s business belong to the LLC to be distributed in accordance with the members’ or managers’ profit sharing agreement, and the LLC Act does not grant winding up members or managers the right to receive additional compensation for their winding up services.

Court of Appeals Decision

In its decision (2012 WL 503655, Feb. 16, 2012), the Court of Appeals recognized that it would have to decide:

[That since] there was no written agreement that specifically described how the contingent fee generated by the case should be distributed[,] we must look to other authority to decide the ultimate issue raised by this appeal: should the contingent fee be divided between LaFond and Sweeney, and, if so, how?

The Court of Appeals went on to decide that:

  1. Cases belong to clients, not to attorneys or law firms;
  2. When attorneys handle contingent fee cases to a successful resolution, they have enforceable rights to the contingent fee; and
  3. A contingent fee may constitute an asset of a dissolved law firm organized as a limited liability company.

The important conclusion by the Court of Appeals and affirmed by the Supreme Court was that when a limited liability company formed under Colorado law dissolves, the members/managers owe a duty to each other to wind up the business of the LLC, and unless otherwise agreed between the parties, no additional compensation is paid for winding up activities.

Supreme Court Decision

The statute in question is § 7-80-404(1)(a), which provides that members in a member-managed LLC and managers of a manager-managed LLC have a duty to:

Account to the limited liability company and hold as trustee for it any property, profit, or benefit derived by the member or manager in the conduct of winding up of the limited liability company business or derived from a use by the member or manager of property of the limited liability company, including the appropriation of an opportunity of the limited liability company.

The Supreme Court noted that, in 2006, the General Assembly added C.R.S. § 7-80-803.3 (entitled “Right to wind up business”) to Colorado’s limited liability company act, but did not include any provision allowing the person winding up the business of the LLC to be compensated for such actions, absent an agreement for such compensation. The Supreme Court also noted that the 1996 version of the Uniform Limited Liability Company Act did contemplate compensation to members who engage in winding up activities: (“A member is not entitled to remuneration for services performed for a limited liability company, except for reasonable compensation for services rendered in winding up the business of the company.” See Unif. Ltd. Liab. Co. Act § 403(d) (1996)). Colorado did not adopt this provision even though, as the Supreme Court noted, “the General Assembly’s 2006 amendments to the LLC Act incorporated some elements from the Model Act.”

The Supreme Court also noted that, in 1997, the General Assembly enacted the Colorado Uniform Partnership Act which, in C.R.S. § 7-64-401(8) “explicitly states that a partner is entitled to additional compensation for services performed in winding up the business of the partnership.” The Supreme Court went to the next logical conclusion:

If it wished, the legislature could have included language that would give members or managers the right to additional compensation for their services in winding up the LLC, but did not do so in the original LLC Act or its subsequent amendments.

Based on its analysis of the Colorado limited liability company act, the Colorado Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals’ decision and concluded that:

  1. an LLC continues to exist after dissolution to wind up its business;
  2. upon dissolution, pending contingency fee cases are an LLC’s business;
  3. absent an agreement to the contrary, all profits derived from winding up the LLC’s business belong to the LLC to be distributed in accordance with the members’ or managers’ profit sharing agreement; and
  4. the LLC Act does not grant winding up members or managers the right to receive additional compensation for their services in winding up LLC business.

Members and Managers Fiduciary Duties?

In another portion of the opinion (at paragraphs 36–37), the Supreme Court addressed fiduciary duties in the LLC context in a manner that is inconsistent with the Colorado LLC Act. While acknowledging that the client has the right to choose legal counsel and to enter into and to terminate engagements with counsel, the Supreme Court said:

Under Colorado law, members and managers of an LLC cannot act to induce or persuade a client to discharge the LLC for the benefit of a particular member or manager of the LLC to the exclusion of the others; they breach their fiduciary duties to the LLC if they attempt to do so.

Unfortunately this misinterprets the Colorado LLC Act which carefully does not use the term “fiduciary duty” to define the duties of the members and managers. Furthermore the Supreme Court’s language treats the duties of members and managers as being identical, whether or not the LLC is member-managed or manager-managed. For example, the duty to “account to the limited liability company and hold as trustee for it any property, profit, or benefit derived by the member or manager in the conduct or winding up of the limited liability company business” (C.R.S. § 7-80-404(1)(a)) only applies to members of a member-managed LLC, not to members of a manager-managed LLC. Members of a manager-managed LLC only owe the obligation to “discharge the member’s … duties to the limited liability company and exercise any rights consistently with the contractual obligation of good faith and fair dealing.” (C.R.S. § 7-80-404(3)) The Supreme Court’s ultimate conclusion is not dependent on the fiduciary duty analysis which may, in fact, be applicable in other forms of ownership (such as a general partnership).

In this case, the articles of organization reflect that LaFond & Sweeney was, in fact, organized as a member-managed LLC and, therefore, the members did in fact have the duties to “hold as trustee” for the benefit of the LLC. In a trust as described in C.R.S. § 15-16-302, a trustee “shall observe the standards in dealing with the trust assets that would be observed by a prudent man dealing with the property of another, and if the trustee has special skills or is named trustee on the basis of representations of special skills or expertise, he is under a duty to use those skills.” This arises to a higher duty than the “contractual obligation of good faith and fair dealing. ” The Court should have reached a similar conclusion in the context of this case without using the overly-broad language referring to fiduciary duties.

In the end, Mr. LaFond is obligated to share the contingent fee with his former law partner under the same sharing ratio as the two had shared things during the existence of their law firm, and he was not separately compensated for his efforts in finishing the case as part of his obligation to wind up the business of the LLC. Is it fair that Richard LaFond took the case to a successful conclusion after the dissolution of LaFond & Sweeney while his former partner shares on a 50-50 basis in the award? Is it fair that had the decision been under CUPA or the Uniform Limited Liability Company Act the decision would likely have been different? Whether the Colorado LLC Act should be amended to provide for “reasonable compensation for services rendered in winding up the business of the limited liability company” is an open policy question.

Herrick K. Lidstone, Jr., Esq., is a shareholder of Burns Figa & Will, P.C. in Greenwood Village, Colorado. He practices in the areas of business transactions, including partnership, limited liability company, and corporate law, corporate governance, federal and state securities compliance, mergers & acquisitions, contract law, tax law, real estate law, and natural resources law. Mr. Lidstone’s work includes the preparation of securities disclosure documents for financing transactions, as well as agreements for business transactions, limited liability companies, partnerships, lending transactions, real estate and mineral property acquisitions, mergers, and the exploration and development of mineral and oil and gas properties. He has practiced law in Denver since 1978. He writes for many publications, including the Colorado Bar Association Business Law Newsletter, where this article originally appeared.

The opinions and views expressed by Featured Bloggers on CBA-CLE Legal Connection do not necessarily represent the opinions and views of the Colorado Bar Association, the Denver Bar Association, or CBA-CLE, and should not be construed as such.

Nominations Now Being Accepted for Denver Business Journal’s Outstanding Women in Business Award

The Denver Business Journal is seeking nominations for its 2015 Outstanding Women in Business special section. Nominations can be in multiple categories, such as law, government and nonprofits, small and large business owner, lifetime achievement award, and Mile High leaders. Nominees will be evaluated on innovation, entrepreneurship, professional accomplishment, and community leadership.

The special section will run August 21, 2015, and women selected as Outstanding Women in Business will also be honored at an awards event. Nominations must be submitted via the Denver Business Journal’s online form and must be received no later than 5 p.m. on Friday, April 24, 2015.

For more information about eligibility requirements and the nomination process, click here.