February 19, 2018

Colorado Court of Appeals: Easement Deed Valid Even Without Description of Dominant Estate

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in City of Lakewood v. Armstrong on Thursday, December 28, 2017.

Real Property—Easements Appurtenant—Dominant Estate—Servient  Estate—Statute of Frauds—Constructive Notice—Extrinsic Evidence—Reverter Clause.

In 1984, Mackey executed a deed (Mackey deed) purporting to convey to Jefferson County a permanent public easement over a portion of the southeast corner of her property. Jefferson County executed a deed to the City of Lakewood (Commissioners deed) conveying the Mackey deed easement using the same legal description. The Commissioners deed contained a reverter clause that required Lakewood to use the easement exclusively for public open space, park, and recreational purposes. In 2011, the Armstrongs bought the property from Mackey’s successor in interest and occupied it. After the Armstrongs attempted to obstruct the easement’s use by locking a gate at one entrance to it, Lakewood filed suit. The district court entered summary judgment for Lakewood, finding that the easement was a valid express easement appurtenant.

On appeal, the Armstrongs asserted that the district court erred in granting Lakewood’s motion for summary judgment because the Commissioners deed violates the statute of frauds and is void for failing to legally describe the easement itself or the dominant estate. An easement does not require the precise description that a possessory interest does. While an instrument must identify with reasonable certainty the easement created and the dominant and servient estates, no particular words are necessary. Here, although the Commissioners deed does not expressly describe a dominant estate, it describes the entire servient estate and describes the easement itself with reasonable certainty and is not rendered invalid by any deficiency in the easement’s description. Further, the easement was recorded in the Jefferson County Clerk and Recorder’s Office over 25 years before the Armstrongs’ purchase of the property. Therefore, the Armstrongs had constructive notice of the easement.

The Armstrongs also contended that the district court impermissibly looked to extrinsic evidence to interpret the Commissioners deed. However, a court may consider extrinsic evidence to determine whether the description of an easement in a deed is reasonably certain or instead is invalid for vagueness. The district court did not err in considering undisputed extrinsic evidence to determine that the easement’s description encompassed the entire servient estate and what, if any, dominant estate the easement served for the purpose of determining whether the easement was identified with reasonable certainty and was therefore valid.

The Armstrongs further contended that the district court erred in enforcing the Commissioners deed because the reverter clause in the deed had been triggered, so the deed expired. The easement’s use is the determinative factor for triggering the reverter clause, not the zoning of the land benefited. Lakewood produced undisputed evidence showing that the dominant estate served by the easement has been continuously used exclusively for public open space, park, and recreational purposes. The reverter clause was not triggered.

The Armstrongs additionally argued that the Commissioners deed was void because Jefferson County did not have the authority to purchase the easement for use by Lakewood. Here, Jefferson County had the authority to purchase an easement for access to a public park or open space owned by Lakewood under its implied powers to promote public projects or public open space and parkland.

The order was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Parent’s Counsel Not Necessarily Entitled to be Present at In Camera Interview of Children

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People in Interest of S.L. on Thursday, December 28, 2017.

Dependency and Neglect—Due Process—In Camera Review—Ineffective Assistance of Counsel—Disclosures—Expert Witness.

The Rio Blanco County Department of Human Services (Department) became involved with the parents in this case as a result of concerns about the children’s welfare due to the condition of the family home, the parents’ use of methamphetamine, and criminal cases involving the parents. Attempts at voluntary services failed, and on the Department’s petition for dependency and neglect, the district court ultimately terminated the parents’ rights.

On appeal, the parents contended that the Department failed to make reasonable efforts to reunify them with their children. Specifically, the parents contended that the Department did not give them sufficient time to complete the services under their treatment plans and failed to accommodate their drug testing needs. The termination hearing was not held until more than a year after the motion to terminate was filed. For nine months before the motion to terminate was filed, the Department provided numerous services to the parents, including substance abuse therapy, therapeutic visitation supervision, drug abuse monitoring, and a parental capacity evaluation. The Department also provided counseling for the children. Both parents missed drug tests and tested positive during the testing period, and both were arrested for possession of methamphetamine during the pendency of the case. The Department made reasonable accommodations to meet the parents’ needs and the parents had sufficient time to comply with their treatment plans. The record supports the trial court’s findings that termination was appropriate because (1) the court-approved appropriate treatment plan had not been complied with by the parents or had not been successful in rehabilitating them; (2) the parents were unfit; and (3) the conduct or condition of the parents was unlikely to change within a reasonable time.

Father also contended that the trial court’s decision to interview the 9-year-old twin children together in chambers fundamentally and seriously affected the basic fairness and integrity of the proceedings and violated his due process rights. Father also argued that answers the judge gave to the children’s questions during the interview were improper. More than five months before the termination hearing, the court interviewed the children in chambers. The interview was recorded and transcribed, and a copy of the transcript was provided to the parties before the termination hearing. Whether counsel may be present during an in camera interview of a child in a dependency and neglect proceeding is determined on a case-by-case basis and is within the trial court’s discretion. In making this determination, the trial court should consider, among other things, the child’s age and maturity, the nature of the information to be obtained from the child, the relationship between the parents, the child’s relationship with the parents, any potential harm to the child, and ultimately any impact on the court’s ability to obtain information from the child. In addition, in the interests of fairness and to allow for the record to be fully developed, the trial court should allow the parents or trial counsel to submit questions to the child, which the court may ask in its discretion. Further, the interview, regardless of whether counsel is present, must be on the record, and a transcript of the interview must be made available to the parties before a termination hearing. Here, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in the interview procedures that it followed nor in the weight it accorded to the information solicited.

Father next contended that he was provided ineffective assistance of counsel. Although his trial counsel failed to meet discovery and disclosure deadlines for an expert witness, the record fails to demonstrate the necessary prejudice to establish a claim based on ineffective assistance.

Father further contended that the trial court abused its discretion and violated his due process rights in allowing five of the Department’s witnesses to testify as experts despite the Department failing to comply with C.R.C.P. 26(a). Despite inadequacies in the C.R.C.P. 26 disclosures, the bases for the experts’ testimony at the hearing had been disclosed to father. Therefore, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that father was not prejudiced by the inadequate C.R.C.P. 26(a) disclosures.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Announcement Sheet, 12/28/2017

On Thursday, December 28, 2017, the Colorado Court of Appeals issued two published opinions and 13 unpublished opinions.

City of Lakewood v. Armstrong

People in Interest of S.L.

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.

Judge Ted Tow III Appointed to Colorado Court of Appeals

On Friday, December 15, 2017, the governor appointed Judge Ted C. Tow, III, to the Colorado Court of Appeals. Judge Tow will fill a vacancy created by the retirement of Hon. Dennis Graham, effective February 12, 2018.

Judge Tow is currently a District Court Judge in the 17th Judicial District, where he has served since November 2010. He oversees a civil and domestic relations docket. Prior to his appointment to the bench, he practiced for several years in Chicago and Denver in labor and employment, then served as a Deputy District Attorney in the Seventeenth Judicial District for seven years. He was also the District Director for the Colorado District Attorneys’ Council prior to his appointment to the bench. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Kansas and his law degree from Wayne State University Law School.

For more information about the appointment, click here.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Trial Court Erroneously Denied Defendant’s Challenge for Cause

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Abu-Nantambu-El on Thursday, December 14, 2017.

Juror—Challenge for Cause—Law Enforcement Agency—C.R.S. § 16-10-103—Disqualification—Res Gestae Evidence.

Defendant forced his way into an apartment and physically attacked the occupants, one of whom died from the result of stab wounds. A jury convicted defendant of multiple offenses against two victims, including first degree murder (felony murder); second degree murder; first degree burglary (assault/menace); and first degree burglary (armed with explosives/weapon).

On appeal, defendant argued that the trial court erred in denying his challenge to a juror who was a compensated employee of a law enforcement agency. The Attorney General conceded that the court should have excused the juror, but contended that reversal was not required because the juror did not indicate that she was actually biased. The juror was disqualified under C.R.S. § 16-10-103(1)(k), which sets out categories of jurors deemed to be impliedly biased. This statute does not require a showing of actual bias that would violate due process.

Defendant also argued that the trial court erred in admitting as res gestae evidence about defendant’s emotional state after a friend (one of the victims at issue in this case) left him at a 7-Eleven store three days before the charged offenses. This evidence provided context for the jury and a more complete understanding of events leading up to the charged offenses and was properly admitted.

The judgment was reversed and the case was remanded for a new trial.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Announcement Sheet, 12/21/2017

On Thursday, December 21, 2017, the Colorado Court of Appeals issued no published opinion and 36 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: Statutory “First Petition Filed with the Court” Language Does Not Encompass Later Additions

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People in Interest of I.S. on Thursday, December 14, 2017.

Juvenile—Sex Offender Registration—Exemption—C.R.S. § 16-22-103.

I.S., a juvenile, was originally charged in a delinquency petition with three felony counts of sexual assault on a child. Under a plea deal, the prosecution added a fourth misdemeanor count of unlawful sexual contact to its petition, to which I.S. pleaded guilty in return for the three felony counts being dismissed. At sentencing, I.S. argued that because the prosecution had added a misdemeanor offense to the first petition instead of filing a second petition, his misdemeanor offense had been charged in the first petition as required by C.R.S. § 16-22-103(5)(a)(III) and he was thus exempt from registering as a sex offender. Because the first petition filed with the court charged I.S. with the three felony counts of sexual assault on a child and not the misdemeanor, the district court ruled that I.S. must register as a sex offender.

On appeal, I.S. contended that the court erred in denying his request for exemption from sex offender registration. Under C.R.S. § 16-22-103(5)(a), a court may exempt a person from registering as a sex offender when five criteria are met, including the requirement that the first petition filed with the court must charge a misdemeanor offense of either unlawful sexual contact or indecent exposure. The “first petition filed with the court” does not encompass later amendments to that petition. Because the original petition in this case did not charge a misdemeanor offense of either unlawful sexual contact or indecent exposure, I.S. is not eligible for relief under this statute and must register as a sex offender.

The order was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Juvenile Court Magistrate Has Jurisdiction to Consider Motion to Withdraw Previous Guilty Plea

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People in Interest of J.D. on Thursday, December 14, 2017.

Juvenile Delinquency—Plea Agreement—Ineffective Assistance of Counsel—Withdrawal of Plea—Magistrate—Jurisdiction.

J.D. appeared before a magistrate in a delinquency case. He was represented by counsel and signed an “advisement of rights in a juvenile delinquency proceeding” and pleaded guilty to acts that if committed by an adult would have constituted second degree criminal trespass. The magistrate accepted the plea and entered a one-year deferred adjudication. After the prosecution sought restitution and J.D. failed to file an objection within the deadline, the magistrate ordered restitution. Four months later and through new counsel, J.D. moved to withdraw his guilty plea under Crim. P. 32(d) based on ineffective assistance of plea counsel for improperly advising J.D. as to the likely restitution amount and the bankruptcy consequences of restitution, as well as failing to formally withdraw as J.D.’s counsel. The magistrate granted the motion and vacated the plea. On review, the district court judge held that the magistrate lacked jurisdiction to hear J.D.’s motion and vacated the order.

On appeal, J.D. argued that the magistrate had authority to enter the order withdrawing his guilty plea and the district court erred in vacating that order. Because the issue of which judicial officers have authority in particular cases is substantive, not procedural, the Children’s Code prevails over any conflicting provisions in the Colorado Rules for Magistrates. The Children’s Code authorizes the juvenile court to appoint magistrates “to hear any case or matter under the court’s jurisdiction, except where a jury trial has been requested . . . .” The magistrate had jurisdiction to consider J.D.’s Crim. P. 32(d) motion.

The district court’s order was reversed and the magistrate’s order vacating the plea was reinstated. The case was remanded to the district court to address the merits of the People’s petition to review the magistrate’s order under C.R.S. § 19-1-108(5.5).

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Mother Had No Administrative Right to be Present at Child’s Placement Meeting

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People in Interest of C.J. on Thursday, December 14, 2017.

JuvenileDependency and NeglectKinship PlacementDue Process.

The Department of Human Services (Department) filed a petition in dependency and neglect after the child was born addicted to methadone and opiates. Several months later, the Department placed the child in foster care due to mother’s continued substance abuse. About six months later, a paternal aunt contacted the Department and expressed interest in caring for the child. Following a home study to evaluate the aunt as a placement option for the child and an administrative review, the Department decided not to recommend placement with the aunt. The trial court, citing the child’s emotional needs, her bond with her foster parents, and her lack of attachment with the aunt, denied mother’s request to permanently place the child with the aunt. Thereafter, the court terminated mother’s parental rights.

On appeal, mother argued that her due process rights were violated because she was denied the opportunity to be heard on the issue of the child’s placement. She asserted that if she or her attorney had been present at the Department’s administrative review, she could have provided evidence or alternatives to refute the Department’s reasons for disapproving the aunt’s home study. Mother’s due process rights were protected by her opportunity to challenge the Department’s recommendation at both the motions and termination hearings. The record establishes that the trial court afforded mother a full opportunity to be heard and to present evidence in contravention of the Department’s placement recommendation. Mother was not entitled to participate in the Department’s administrative review and thus had no right to assistance of counsel during that administrative review.

Mother also asserted that she did not timely receive a copy of the home study and thus had no notice of the basis for the Department’s decision and could not properly challenge it. Mother knew the home study had been completed and the burden was on her to request a copy of it. Mother failed to avail herself of the procedures that existed by which she could have timely obtained the information she sought and challenged the Department’s recommendation.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: County Treasurer Must Exercise Due Diligence When Notice Returned Undelivered

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Wells Fargo Bank Financial Colorado, Inc. v. Olivas on Thursday, December 14, 2017.

TaxationSale of Tax LiensTax DeedNoticeDiligent Inquiry.

Buyers signed a deed of trust with Wells Fargo Financial Colorado, Inc. (WFFC) to secure a mortgage and an open-end deed of trust to Wells Fargo Financial Bank (WFFB) to secure a line of credit. Beginning in 2008, buyers failed to pay both the monthly mortgage installments to WFFC and the property taxes on their house. WFFC did not pay the taxes after September 2009, and Housman paid the 2009 taxes on October 20, 2010, when the Treasurer, Olivas, sold a tax lien on the house by public auction. Housman also paid taxes on the property for tax years 2010, 2011, and 2012. In 2013, Housman applied for a tax deed. In early January 2014, the Treasurer took steps pursuant to C.R.S. § 39-11-128 to notify all parties with an interest in the property of an impending issuance of a tax deed and a right to redeem. The notice to WFFC was returned as undeliverable as addressed. The notice to WFFB was not returned to the Treasurer. Believing that he had provided the required notice because one Wells Fargo entity had received the notice, the Treasurer issued Housman a tax deed on May 28, 2014. Housman sold the property to Moran a few weeks later, and Housman continued to hold a deed of trust on the property. In May 2015, WFFC filed a complaint for declaratory relief seeking to void the tax deed to Housman, the special warranty deed from Housman to Moran, and the deed of trust held by Housman. WFFC moved for summary judgment, and Housman and Moran cross-moved for summary judgment asserting, among other things, that WFFC’s complaint should be barred by laches. The district court granted summary judgment for defendants, concluding that Housman’s tax deed was valid.

On appeal, WFFC contended that the district court erred in granting summary judgment to defendants. A reasonably diligent treasurer should know that secured parties on different deeds of trust that secure different loan amounts, with different names and addresses, may not be so closely affiliated that notice to one may be assumed to effect notice to the other. The Treasurer failed, as a matter of law, to perform his statutory duty to exercise reasonable diligence in seeking an alternative address for WFFC. When notice is defective because it was given without the diligent inquiry required by law, the tax deed is voidable.

The judgment was reversed and the case was remanded for further proceedings on the affirmative defense of laches. If the court concludes that laches does not bar WFFC’s claims, it shall address the request for declaratory relief. If recovery of the land conveyed by the tax deed is effected by this suit, the court shall consider whether C.R.S. § 39-12-101 applies.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Announcement Sheet, 12/14/2017

On Thursday, December 14, 2017, the Colorado Court of Appeals issued five published opinions and 40 unpublished opinions.

People v. Kazembe Abu-Nantambu-El

People in Interest of I.S.

People in Interest of J.D.

People in Interest of C.J.

Wells Fargo Financial Colorado, Inc. v. Olivas

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: Announcement Sheet, 12/7/2017

On Thursday, December 7, 2017, the Colorado Court of Appeals issued no published opinion and 18 unpublished opinions.

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