April 20, 2018

Colorado Court of Appeals: Announcement Sheet, 4/19/2018

On Thursday, April 19, 2018, the Colorado Court of Appeals issued nine published opinions and 45 unpublished opinions.

People v. Figueroa-Lemus

People v. Margerum

People v. Bryant

People v. Butcher

Paradine v. Goei

Pena v. American Family Mutual Ins. Co.

People in Interest of L.M.

People in Interest of E.R.

Franklin Drilling & Blasting, Inc. v. Lawrence Construction Co.

Summaries of these cases are forthcoming.

Neither State Judicial nor the Colorado Bar Association provides case summaries for unpublished appellate opinions. The case announcement sheet is available here.

Colorado Supreme Court: Announcement Sheet, 4/16/2018

On Monday, April 16, 2018, the Colorado Supreme Court issued two published opinions.

People v. Brown

People v. Quick

Summaries of these cases are forthcoming.

Neither State Judicial nor the Colorado Bar Association provides case summaries for unpublished appellate opinions. The case announcement sheet is available here.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Judge Committed Reversable Error by Not Recusing Where Judge Was Previously GAL in Different Case Involving Mother

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People in Interest of C.Y. and J.O. on Thursday, April 5, 2018.

Dependency and Neglect—Recusal—Disqualification.

In this dependency and neglect proceeding, during the termination hearing, the judge realized she had served as a guardian ad litem (GAL) on a different case involving mother’s oldest child. The judge declined to recuse herself from the case over mother’s objection and terminated mother’s parental rights.

On appeal, mother contended that the judge erred by not recusing herself from the termination hearing based on her having served as the GAL of mother’s older child in 2005. The Code of Judicial Conduct requires judges to disqualify themselves in any proceeding in which their impartiality might reasonably be questioned. Here, both the GAL and the Department of Human Services discussed the 2005 case and urged the court to rely on it when ruling on the termination motion, which the court did. Under these circumstances, the judge created the appearance of impropriety by presiding over the case and abused her discretion by not recusing herself.

The judgment was reversed and the case was remanded for a new termination hearing before a different judicial officer.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Excess Insurer Must Step Into Shoes of Insured and Plead Primary Bad Faith

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Preferred Professional Insurance Co. v. The Doctors Co. on Thursday, April 5, 2018.

Medical Malpractice—Primary Insurance Policy—Excess Insurance Policy—Equitable Subrogation —Bad Faith.

A medical malpractice suit was filed against Dr. Singh and other parties. The Doctors Company (TDC), the primary insurer, defended Dr. Singh in the suit as required by its primary liability policy. Preferred Professional Insurance Company’s (PPIC) insurance policy was an “excess policy,” which would cover any losses that exceeded TDC’s $1 million coverage up to an additional $1 million. As an excess insurer, PPIC did not have any duty to defend Dr. Singh in the suit. The plaintiff in the medical malpractice suit offered to settle the case with Dr. Singh for $1 million, the amount of TDC’s policy limits. Dr. Singh conveyed his desire to accept the settlement offer to both insurers, but TDC declined to settle the case. PPIC told Dr. Singh he should accept, and it paid the $1 million settlement. PPIC then filed suit against TDC for equitable subrogation to recover the amount paid. The district court granted summary judgment in PPIC’s favor without addressing TDC’s argument that PPIC was required to prove that TDC refused to settle in bad faith.

On appeal, TDC contended that the district court erred as a matter of law because an equitable subrogation claim brought by an excess insurer against the primary insurer to recover the amount paid in settlement can only be derivative of the insured’s rights. Thus, PPIC’s refusal to plead and present evidence that TDC acted in bad faith in declining to settle required dismissal of PPIC’s claim. An excess insurer seeking recovery under equitable subrogation for a primary insurer’s failure to settle a case against their mutual insured “steps in the shoes of the insured” and must plead and prove the primary insurer’s bad faith. Here, without an assertion that TDC acted in bad faith, PPIC’s equitable subrogation claim is not legally viable.

The order granting summary judgment for PPIC was reversed and the case was remanded for entry of judgment of dismissal in TDC’s favor.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Payments by Victim’s Compensation Board are Direct Result of Defendant’s Conduct and Properly Ordered as Restitution

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Henry on Thursday, April 5, 2018.

Restitution—Victim Compensation Board—Rebuttable Presumption—In Camera Review.

A jury convicted defendant of third degree assault. The trial court imposed a two-year jail term and ordered defendant to pay $900 in restitution. Defendant objected to the amount, requesting additional documentation to support the restitution request and a hearing. The court denied the request for additional documentation and granted the hearing request. After an evidentiary hearing, the court upheld its order regarding the restitution amount because defendant failed to offer any evidence rebutting the compensation board director’s testimony.

On appeal, defendant contended that the record did not contain sufficient evidence to support the trial court’s decision to order him to pay $230 in restitution to the compensation board for the victim’s lost wages. C.R.S. § 18-1.3-603(10)(a) creates a rebuttable presumption: once the compensation board has established that it paid a victim a set amount, the defendant has the burden of introducing evidence to show that the amount paid was not the direct result of his criminal conduct. Here, the prosecution proved by a preponderance of the evidence that the victim had lost $230 in wages and that the compensation board had paid that amount to her, and defendant did not rebut the presumption.

Defendant also asserted that the trial court should have conducted an in camera review of the compensation board’s records. Because defendant’s request for an in camera review was speculative and not based on an evidentiary hypothesis, the court did not err in denying defendant’s request for an in camera review.

The order was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Announcement Sheet, 4/12/2018

On Thursday, April 12, 2018, the Colorado Court of Appeals issued no published opinion and 40 unpublished opinions.

Neither State Judicial nor the Colorado Bar Association provides case summaries for unpublished appellate opinions. The case announcement sheet is available here.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Defendant’s Exculpatory Statement to Police Admissible Under Rule of Completeness is Not Subject to Impeachment

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Short on Thursday, April 5, 2018.

Sexual Assault on Child—Testimony—Credibility—Rule of Completeness—Exculpatory Statement—Hearsay Exceptions—Sentence.

A jury found Short guilty of sexual assault on a child and sexual assault on a child as a pattern of abuse.

On appeal, Short contended that the testimony of three witnesses improperly bolstered the victim’s credibility. Short did not object to any of this testimony. It was not improper for the therapist to testify as an expert as to the typical demeanor and behavioral traits displayed by a sexually abused child. It was also not improper for the detective to testify concerning his observations about child victim disclosures; he rendered no opinion about whether a child’s difficulty in disclosing something made it more or less likely that he or she was telling the truth. Finally, although the grandmother’s testimony that the victim “normally would not lie about something like that” was improper, it did not warrant reversal.

Short also argued that the trial court erroneously compelled him to forgo admitting an exculpatory part of a statement he gave to the police by telling him that, if that part of the statement was admitted, the prosecution would be permitted to expose the jury to the fact that he had previously been convicted of a felony. The trial court properly determined that Short’s otherwise inadmissible self-serving hearsay was admissible under the rule of completeness to qualify, explain, or place into context the evidence proffered by the prosecution. However, a defendant’s exculpatory statement to the police admissible under the rule of completeness is not subject to impeachment under CRE 806. Although the trial court erred, the error was harmless.

Short also contended and the People conceded that only one judgment of conviction and sentence should have been imposed in this case. The trial court incorrectly entered separate convictions for sexual assault on a child and sexual assault on a child as a pattern of abuse. The pattern of abuse count acts only as a sentence enhancer.

The judgment was affirmed in part and vacated in part, and the case was remanded with directions.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Prosecutor Committed Misconduct by Repeatedly Referencing Other Bad Acts Not Properly Admitted at Trial

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Fortson on Thursday, April 5, 2018.

Sexual Assault on a Child—Prosecutorial Misconduct—Character Evidence—Other Acts Evidence.

A jury found Fortson guilty of one count of sexual assault on a child and one count of sexual assault on a child as a part of a pattern of abuse.

On appeal, Fortson contended that the prosecutor improperly referenced and elicited evidence of other acts of sexual assault and sexual misconduct for propensity purposes and that she did so without first seeking to admit the evidence, presenting an offer of proof, or obtaining a ruling. The prosecutor committed misconduct when she repeatedly introduced, referenced, and argued to the jury that defendant previously committed uncharged sexual assaults against four other girls and the victim. The prosecutor did not seek the admission of the alleged uncharged sexual assaults for a proper purpose and improperly used this evidence for propensity purposes. The prosecutor’s pervasive misconduct undermined the fundamental fairness of the trial and cast serious doubt on the reliability of the judgment.

The judgments of conviction were reversed and the case was remanded.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Announcement Sheet, 4/5/2018

On Thursday, April 5, 2018, the Colorado Court of Appeals issued five published opinions and 17 unpublished opinions.

People v. Fortson

People v. Short

People v. Henry

Preferred Professional Insurance Co. v. The Doctors Co.

People in Interest of C.Y. and J.O.

Summaries of these cases are forthcoming.

Neither State Judicial nor the Colorado Bar Association provides case summaries for unpublished appellate opinions. The case announcement sheet is available here.

Colorado Court of Appeals: District Courts Must Exercise Reasonable Discretion in Determining the Person for Substituted Service

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Minshall v. Johnston on Thursday, March 22, 2018.

C.R.C.P. 4(f)Substituted ServiceDefault Judgment.

The Minshalls filed a complaint against Johnston. Johnston was not personally served with process; instead, the court permitted substitute service under C.R.C.P. 4(f) on the registered agent of Aries Staffing LLC (Aries), a corporation of which Johnston was a co-owner and shareholder. The district court entered a default judgment against Johnston when he failed to respond to the complaint. Six months after he claimed he learned of the default judgment, Johnston moved pro se to set it aside, arguing that he was not properly served with process. The district court denied the motion.

On appeal, Johnston argued that the judgment against him is void for lack of jurisdiction. He contended that the Minshalls did not exercise due diligence in attempting to serve Johnston personally, which was a necessary condition precedent to serving him by substituted service. It was undisputed that the Minshalls complied with the procedural requirements of Rule 4(f) by filing an affidavit from the process server detailing his numerous unsuccessful attempts to serve Johnston. They also documented numerous other ways they tried to locate and serve Johnston. The record supports the district court’s finding that the Minshalls met the due diligence requirement of the rule.

Johnston also argued that substituted service on Aries’ registered agent, Incorp Services, Inc., was not reasonably calculated to give him actual notice of the suit. The court of appeals found no authority supporting the proposition that service on a registered agent of a corporation is sufficient, by itself, to effectuate valid service on a “co-owner” of a corporation. Here, there was no indication in the record of a separate relationship between Incorp and Johnston or other facts that would support the required finding under Rule 4(f).

The order was vacated. The case was remanded for a determination as to whether service on Incorp under Rule 4(f) was reasonably calculated to give actual notice to Johnston.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Prior Public Use Doctrine Precludes Condemnation that would Eliminate Public Use

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in CAW Equities, L.L.C. v. City of Greenwood Village  on Thursday, March 22, 2018.

Eminent DomainPrivate CondemnationPrior Public Use DoctrineColorado Constitution Article XVI, Section 7.

CAW Equities, L.L.C. (CAW) sought private condemnation of a public equestrian and pedestrian trail (public trail) that bisects two of its adjacent properties to construct a ditch from the Highline Canal to the southern end of its properties. The City of Greenwood Village (City) owned the public trail from a plat dedication and separate dedication for equestrian and pedestrian use. The City moved to dismiss under CRCP 12(b)(1).The district court denied the petition and awarded the City attorney fees and costs.

On appeal, CAW argued that the district court erred in holding that CAW lacked the authority to condemn the public trail. The Court of Appeals agreed with the district court, finding that the legislature, through the eminent domain statutes, may regulate Colo. Const. art. XVI, section 7 (Section 7) so long as it does not unnecessarily limit or curtail the constitutional right.

CAW also argued that Section 7 is self-executing and cannot be limited or curtailed by the eminent domain statutes. The Court concluded that while Section 7 may be self-executing, well-settled law recognizes the legislature’s ability to regulate private condemnation, and the eminent domain statutes properly regulate the exercise of this right under Section 7.

CAW alternatively argued that even if the eminent domain statutes apply, its proposed plan does not violate them. It claimed that Section 7 does not require it to show a ditch is necessary, and that it provides an absolute right to condemn. The Court did not decide whether CAW must prove the ditch is necessary to access its water rights to be able to condemn the ditch because the land CAW sought to condemn was already in public use as a public trail. The Court decided, as a matter of first impression, that the prior public use doctrine applies to private condemnation proceedings under Section 7. Though Section 7 grants general authority to condemn public property for a right-of-way to access water, it does not expressly grant the authority to extinguish an existing public use on such property; it merely grants express authority to a right-of-way if that right-of-way does not extinguish the public use. Further, the right to condemn an entire tract of public land in public use is not a necessary implication of the general right to privately condemn a right-of-way for a ditch. Here, there were other ways of transporting the water without interfering with the public trail. Where a private condemnor can obtain a right-of-way without extinguishing the existing public use, the condemnation power does not necessarily imply such a power. The district court was correct in finding that CAW failed to (1) allege express authority for its right to condemn all of the public trail; (2) prove that the right to condemn property already in public use was a necessary implication of its private condemnation right; and (3) prove that some public exigency existed to justify the necessity of condemning the public trail.

The Court also affirmed the City’s award of its attorney fees and costs.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Civil Service Commission Must Defer to Hearing Officer’s Findings of Fact

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Johnson v. City & County of Denver on Thursday, March 22, 2018.

Police Officer DisciplineUse of ForceStandard of Review in Disciplinary Appeals.

Johnson, a Denver police officer, worked off-duty at a nightclub in downtown Denver. One night Brandon and his friends left the nightclub and began arguing with Johnson about Johnson’s earlier interaction with one of their friends. Johnson moved the group under a High Activity Location Observation (HALO) camera, which video-recorded their interactions (no audio was recorded). The video revealed that everyone in the group was visibly intoxicated. Eventually only Brandon and another man remained. Johnson then told Brandon he was going to detox and to turn around to be handcuffed. Brandon profanely told Johnson not to touch him. Johnson then suddenly moved toward Brandon and shoved him with both hands near the neck. Brandon fell backward onto some stairs and was handcuffed.

Brandon filed a disciplinary complaint against Johnson. The Chief of Police determined that Johnson had violated Denver Police Department Rules and Regulations RR-306 (inappropriate force) and suspended him for 30 days without pay. The Manager of Safety (MOS) approved the discipline imposed. Johnson appealed to a civil service commission hearing officer. The hearing officer reversed the suspension because (1) the MOS had erroneously applied the deadly force rather than the non-deadly force standard to Johnson’s conduct, and (2) the MOS had failed to present sufficient evidence to create a reasonable inference that finding a violation of RR-306 was correct.

The City appealed to the Civil Service Commission (Commission). The Commission reversed the hearing officer. The district court affirmed the Commission.

On appeal, Johnson contended that the Commission abused its discretion when it made its own findings of fact from a video recording of events at issue and rejected contrary facts found by the hearing officer. The “video exception” was created in a prior Commission case and is described as “statements an officer makes in direct contradiction to objectively verifiable facts in an otherwise authenticated video of the scene are not entitled to a presumption of truth.” Both the Denver City Charter’s and the Denver Civil Service Commission Rules’ standards of review govern the Commission’s review of the MOS’s order and the hearing officer’s findings, and they require the Commission to defer to the hearing officer’s findings of fact. They do not address a video exception, which is beyond the Commission’s authority to make. The video exception is contrary to law and invalid, and both the Commission and district court erred in relying on it to reverse the hearing officer’s decision.

The Court of Appeals further held that the Denver Police Department’s use of force policy articulates a single standard for reviewing an officer’s use of force and that separate standards do not exist for deadly and non-deadly force. Accordingly, the Commission correctly determined that the hearing officer erred in her application of the use of force standard.

Despite finding that the Commission erred in relying on the video exception to reverse the hearing officer’s decision, the Commission nevertheless reached the right result because (1) the hearing officer erroneously concluded that separate standards existed for deadly and non-deadly force, and (2) the hearing officer did not properly defer to the MOS’s findings as required by the clearly erroneous standard of review applicable to hearing officers and as set forth in the Commission’s rules. The hearing officer erred in substituting her own findings for those of the MOS.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.