October 22, 2016

Colorado Court of Appeals: Arbitration Agreement Must Strictly Comply with Statute

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Fischer v. Colorow Health Care, LLC on Thursday, September 8, 2016.

Arbitration Agreement—Motion to Compel—C.R.S. § 13-64-403—Strict Compliance.

Colorow Health Care, LLC, and its management company, QP Health Care Services, LLC, operate a long-term healthcare facility. When Fischer (the decedent) was admitted to the facility, her daughter, acting under a power of attorney, signed an arbitration agreement. The decedent passed away while a resident of the facility. Plaintiffs Amy and Roger Fischer pleaded tort claims arising from the decedent’s death. Defendants appealed the trial court’s order denying their motions to compel arbitration.

Defendants then filed this interlocutory appeal as of right under C.R.S. § 13-22-228(1)(a), contesting the trial court’s order denying their motions to compel arbitration. C.R.S. § 13-64-403 sets out specific language that an arbitration agreement must include to comply with the Health Care Availability Act. Defendants contended that the statute requires only substantial compliance with its provisions; plaintiffs argued that the arbitration agreement had to strictly comply, and because it admittedly did not, it was invalid. The court of appeals concluded that C.R.S. § 13-64-403 calls for strict compliance, and based on the complete lack of bold-faced type in the agreement, the court agreed that the agreement was invalid.  The court further concluded that this neither creates an absurd result nor violates Colorado’s public policy favoring arbitration.

The order was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Announcement Sheet, 9/15/2016

On Thursday, September 15, 2016, the Colorado Court of Appeals issued no published opinion and 31 unpublished opinions.

Neither State Judicial nor the Colorado Bar Association provides case summaries for unpublished appellate opinions.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: No Time Limit Exists for Prosecuting Sexual Assaults Where DNA Proves Defendant’s Identity

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Shores on Thursday, September 8, 2016.

Sexual Assault—Statute of Limitations—CRE 404(b) Evidence.

In 1994, an elderly woman was found badly beaten and sexually assaulted. No suspect was initially identified. The victim died in 2000 from cancer. In 2010, the DNA evidence from the victim’s case was matched to Shores’s DNA, but the district attorney’s office chose not to file charges against Shores at that time. Several years later, the Denver Police Department learned that Shores had been tied, through DNA, to a 2013 sexual assault of a woman, D.B., in Texas. This information led to the 2014 charges against Shores for first degree sexual assault and a crime of violence enhancer. Shores was convicted as charged.

On appeal, Shores argued that the trial court erred in denying his motion to dismiss for failure to file charges within the 10-year statute of limitations in effect in September 1994. The change in the statute, however, provides that there is no time limit for prosecuting certain sexual assaults committed after July 1, 1991, if (1) the defendant’s identity is determined in whole or in part by DNA and (2) the offense is reported to a law enforcement agency within 10 years after its commission. Shores conceded that his identity was determined by DNA but argued that the second prong was not met because the victim herself did not report the crime to law enforcement. The statute does not require that the victim be the person who reported the offense, only that the offense was reported. Here, the police had known about the physical assault on the victim from their response to the initial call, and they received further information from the hospital about her condition, including the results of the sexual assault examination kit.  Accordingly, there was no statutory time limit in which to file charges against Shores, and the trial court correctly denied his motion to dismiss.

Shores next argued that the trial court abused its discretion in admitting CRE 404(b) evidence of the 2013 sexual assault in Texas. The evidence relating to D.B. was probative of the ultimate fact of whether Shores committed the offense charged and was logically relevant independent of bad character evidence because it had a tendency to make it more probable that the victim did not consent than it would be without the evidence. The court acted within its discretion in determining that the danger of unfair prejudice did not outweigh the probative value of this evidence.

The judgment of conviction was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Trial Court Did Not Err in Considering Unredacted Invoices on Remand

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Thompson v. United Securities Alliance, Inc. on Thursday, September 8, 2016.

Judgment—Garnishment—Mandate—Prejudgment Interest—Post-judgment Interest.

Plaintiffs obtained a judgment against United Securities Alliance, Inc. (United), and then instituted garnishment proceedings against Catlin Insurance Company (UK) Ltd. (Catlin), United’s insurer. The district court deducted from the policy limit the amount of attorney fees incurred by Catlin in defending the underlying arbitrations against United, and entered judgment for plaintiffs for the remainder of the policy. The court denied plaintiffs’ requests for pre- and post-judgment interest.

On appeal, plaintiffs contended that the district court acted beyond the scope of the court of appeals’ mandate because, by considering the unredacted attorney fees invoices submitted after the mandate, the district court expressly disregarded the mandate’s instruction to review “the existing record.” Given the unusual procedural posture of this case and the largely “indiscernible” unredacted invoices, the language to review “the existing record” was permissive rather than restrictive, and the remand order meant that the district court could rely exclusively on the existing record to calculate reasonable fees, not that it had to. Accordingly, the district court did not err in considering the unredacted invoices.

Plaintiffs next contended that the district court erred in declining to award prejudgment interest pursuant to C.R.S. § 5-12-102(1). This statute, however, governs contract and property damage cases. Because garnishment actions do not result in damages to the garnishor, prejudgment interest is not appropriate.

Plaintiffs also argued that an award of post-judgment interest was mandatory under C.R.S. § 5-12-106(1)(b) and the district court erred by denying their request. Because the court of appeals’ mandate did not direct the district court to award post-judgment interest and plaintiffs did not request that the court amend its mandate, the district court correctly held that it lacked jurisdiction to make such an award.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary available courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Insurer’s Definition of “Resident Relative” Void as Against Public Policy

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Grippin v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. on Thursday, September 8, 2016.

Shane Grippin was seriously injured when he was hit by a truck while riding his motorcycle. After collecting the policy limits on the tortfeasor’s insurance and his motorcycle insurance, Grippin sought underinsured motorist benefits from State Farm pursuant to his grandparents’ four policies on which he was named as an “other household driver.” Although Grippin owned a home in Colorado Springs, he and his family resided approximately one week per month with his grandparents.

State Farm moved for summary judgment on the grounds that because Grippin did not reside primarily with his grandparents, he was not a “resident relative” as contemplated by the policies. Grippin responded that State Farm’s definition of “resident relative” was void as against public policy because the qualifier “primarily” diluted the statutory definition of resident relative. He alternatively argued the contracts were ambiguous because he was listed as an “other household driver” and therefore had a reasonable expectation of coverage. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of State Farm, and Grippin appealed.

On appeal, the Colorado Court of Appeals evaluated Colorado’s statutory mandate of uninsured/underinsured motorist (UM/UIM) coverage and noted that insurance policy provisions that attempt to dilute, condition, or limit statutorily mandated coverage are void and unenforceable. The court of appeals evaluated the definition of resident relative under C.R.S. § 10-4-601(13) and found no qualifying language as to the insured’s primary residence. The court of appeals agreed with Grippin that a person can have multiple residences under Colorado law and the statute’s plain language does not restrict the definition of “resident relative” to a single, “primary” residence. State Farm argued that Grippin’s reading would render some statutory language superfluous, but the court of appeals disagreed, finding the statutory definition cohesive.

The court of appeals disagreed with Grippin’s alternative contention that the contracts were ambiguous, since the policies at issue unambiguously failed to list Grippin as a covered insured. The court also determined that Grippin could not rely on the doctrine of reasonable expectations because that doctrine would only apply after coverage was determined.

The court of appeals reversed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment and remanded for further proceedings.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Defendant’s Confrontation Clause Rights Not Violated by Video Conference Deposition

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Hebert on Thursday, September 8, 2016.

Michelle Ann Hebert convinced an elderly gentleman to give her loans totaling several hundred thousand dollars and did not repay him. The elderly gentleman called the police, and Hebert was charged with theft from an at-risk adult. A public defender was appointed for Hebert, and the prosecution moved that same day to depose the victim. The prosecution requested that the victim be deposed from his own home via video conference due to his failing health. The defense argued that allowing a video conference deposition would violate Hebert’s Confrontation Clause rights, and that his assistance would be ineffective because he did not have time to prepare. The district court granted the prosecution’s motion after a hearing, but ordered that the deposition be held in five weeks in order to give the defense time to prepare. Six weeks later, the victim was deposed via video conference and the deposition was recorded. The victim died before trial, so the recorded deposition was admitted at trial.

After the deposition but before trial, Hebert retained private counsel. Shortly thereafter, the People charged Hebert with additional tax-related offenses, and her private counsel moved to withdraw. Hebert requested appointed counsel, but the public defender’s office determined she was ineligible. She represented herself at trial and was convicted on all counts. She appealed, arguing that the district court erred in failing to make its own findings after the district court found her ineligible for appointed counsel, and by admitting the recorded deposition at trial.

The Colorado Court of Appeals first addressed Hebert’s contention about appointed counsel. In her application, Hebert contended she had meager assets, was responsible for three children, and was separating from her husband. On her joint tax return, she claimed approximately $76,000 in income for that year. The district court considered the tax return and Hebert and her husband’s testimony. Her husband testified that they had never separated, and Hebert admitted she had only claimed they were separating so she could qualify for a public defender. The district court considered the evidence and determined Hebert was not qualified for a public defender. The court of appeals determined the district court’s findings were supported by evidence and therefore there was no abuse of discretion.

The court of appeals next evaluated Hebert’s claims that she was denied a fair trial when the district court admitted the video testimony before her counsel had adequate time to prepare for the deposition. The court of appeals perceived no error. The district court specifically postponed the deposition so that counsel would be able to prepare prior to the deposition.

Hebert also argued her Confrontation Clause rights were violated because she did not have the opportunity to confront her accuser face-to-face. The court of appeals noted that the right to confront an accuser face-to-face is not absolute, and when public policy concerns warrant and the reliability of testimony is otherwise assured, testimony may be obtained other than face-to-face. The court found that the victim in this case was medically unavailable due to his fragile health, crediting two letters and an affidavit from the victim’s doctor that stated that being in the same room with Hebert would cause the victim’s blood pressure to rise to a potentially fatal level. The court of appeals agreed with the district court that the victim’s fragile health necessitated a video conference deposition from the victim’s home. The court found the video reliable, because he gave testimony under oath, was contemporaneously cross-examined by Hebert’s counsel, and the jury was able to assess his demeanor in the video. The court also found no Crawford violation from the video testimony, because the victim was deceased at the time of trial and Hebert was fully able to cross-examine him during the deposition.

The court of appeals affirmed the conviction and sentence.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Announcement Sheet, 9/8/2016

On Thursday, September 8, 2016, the Colorado Court of Appeals issued eight published opinions and 14 unpublished opinions.

People v. Hebert

Grippin v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co.

Thompson v. United Securities Alliance, Inc.

People v. Shores

Fischer v. Colorow Health Care, LLC

Love v. Klosky

Sierra Pacific Industries, Inc. v. Bradbury

People in Interest of C.J.R.

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: Court Lacked Jurisdiction to Terminate Parent-Child Relationship

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People in Interest of J.W. on Thursday, August 25, 2016.

Termination of Parent–Child Relationship—Lack of Jurisdiction.

The Clear Creek Department of Human Services (department) filed a petition in dependency or neglect concerning J.W. and N.W. Following a jury trial concerning mother, the jury answered “no” to the question of whether the children lacked proper parental care and stated that it was “unable to return an answer” as to whether the children’s environment was injurious to their welfare. Immediately following the jury trial, a hearing was held to discuss scheduling a new adjudication trial for mother. Mother instead chose to admit the children’s environment was injurious to their welfare, and the court accepted her admission. No order adjudicating the children dependent or neglected was entered. The court adopted the treatment plan already in place as the plan going forward. A few months later, the court terminated mother’s parental rights. More than a month after mother’s parental rights were terminated, the court entered a written order adjudicating the children dependent or neglected with respect to her.

Mother appealed the order purporting to terminate her legal relationship with her children. The Court of Appeals considered whether the trial court had jurisdiction to terminate mother’s parental rights before it entered an order adjudicating the children dependent or neglected with respect to her and concluded it did not. Without adjudication, a court does not acquire subject matter jurisdiction to terminate a parent–child relationship.

In addition, the Court found that the written adjudicatory order was entered several weeks after mother filed her notice of appeal. Once the notice of appeal was filed, the trial court lacked jurisdiction to take any action because jurisdiction had been shifted to the Court of Appeals.

The order adjudicating the children dependent or neglected with respect to mother and the judgment terminating her parental rights with respect to the children were vacated. The case was remanded for the trial court to resume proceedings at the adjudicatory stage.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: District Court Had Discretion Whether to Award Presentence Confinement Credit

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Garcia on Thursday, August 25, 2016.

Presentence Confinement Credit—Youthful Offender System.

Defendant was charged as an adult with multiple felonies in two cases for offenses he committed while a juvenile. The cases were resolved through a disposition in which defendant pleaded guilty to one felony in each case. The parties stipulated to concurrent sentences in the custody of the Department of Corrections (DOC) with a controlling sentence of 18 years. The parties also agreed that each DOC sentence would be suspended if defendant successfully completed six years in the Youthful Offender System (YOS). The district court refused to award presentence confinement credit (PSCC) at sentencing.

Defendant appealed the court’s refusal to award PSCC. C.R.S. § 18-1.3-407(2)(a)(I) provides that the court “may award an offender sentenced to the [YOS] credit for presentence confinement; except that such credit shall not reduce the offender’s actual time served in the [YOS] to fewer than two years.” Defendant argued that this section was not discretionary, and that “may” meant “shall.” The Court of Appeals disagreed. The language of the statute is not ambiguous. The use of the word “may” is indicative of a grant of discretion by the legislature, particularly where it is used in the same sentence with the word “shall.” The Court noted that if defendant does not successfully complete his six-year YOS sentence and is resentenced to DOC, he will be entitled to an award of PSCC under C.R.S. § 18-1.3-405.

Alternatively, defendant argued that even if “may” is permissive, the district court abused its discretion in refusing to award PSCC. The Court held it was not an abuse of discretion for the district court not to award PSCC for the 358 days defendant spent in jail before he was sentenced in one case and the 418 days in the other. The Court found ample documentation in the record to support the district court’s decision.

The order was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Reformation of Covenants Agreement Placed Parties in Position with CCIOA-Compliant Agreement

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Arrabelle at Vail Square Residential Condominium Association, Inc. v. Arrabelle at Vail Square LLC on Thursday, August 25, 2016.

Development—Association—Colorado Common Interest Ownership Act—Small Planned Community—Reformation—Special Master.

The Arrabelle at Vail Square (Arrabelle) is a luxury development built and managed by Vail Resorts Development Company and Arrabelle at Vail Square LLC (Vail Resorts). Arrabelle includes multi-million dollar residential condominiums, a boutique hotel, restaurants, retail shops, an ice-skating rink, a spa, parking, and other amenities. At the time of development, Vail Resorts recorded a plat establishing seven separate real estate parcels collectively titled “Lot 1” and “Airspace Lots A-F” at Arrabelle. Vail Resorts then entered into a Reciprocal Easements and Covenants Agreement (RECA) governing those parcels and creating two lots—the Airspace Lot (which would be developed into condominiums) and the Project Lot (the remainder of the property). The RECA establishes benefits, burdens, and cost allocations between both lots, and it regulates the use and enjoyment of both lots. Immediately after recording the RECA, Vail Resorts recorded a condominium plat creating 67 condominiums in the Airspace Lot and a condominium declaration creating the Arabelle at Vail Square Condominium Association, Inc. (Association). Problems soon developed between Vail Resorts and the Association. The Association subsequently filed this action seeking a declaratory judgment allowing it to terminate the RECA or, alternatively, ruling that the RECA was in violation of the Colorado Common Interest Ownership Act (CCIOA), requiring reformation. Among other things, the trial court (1) ruled that Arrabelle is not a small planned community under C.R.S. § 38-33.3-116(2), because it was subject to development rights; (2) reformed the RECA to adjust the cost allocation ratio between the lots; and (3) had a special master draft an amendment to the RECA.

On appeal, Vail Resorts argued that the trial court erred in ruling that Arrabelle is not a “small planned community” under CCIOA § 38-33.3-116(2) because Vail Resorts reserved development rights under the RECA. By definition, the Arrabelle, which contains 67 units, is not a small planned community containing fewer than 20 units under CCIOA.

Vail Resorts also argued that the trial court erred in reforming the cost allocation and RECA and master association documents because those documents contain terms not required by CCIOA. Because the 59.7% cost allocation to the Association did not correspond to the formula established in RECA section 6(b), and because that allocation discriminated in favor of Vail Resorts’ Project Lot without properly disclosing that the allocation substantially benefited that lot, the trial court did not err in reforming RECA section 6(b) pursuant to the Association’s expert’s recommendation based on as-built drawings of the Arrabelle.

Vail Resorts also contended that additional court-ordered reformations to the RECA exceeded the authority of the court. Principles of equity support the trial court’s conclusion that reformations were necessary for the RECA to comply with CCIOA, and the trial court did not abuse its discretion in adopting the special master’s reformations. The court placed Vail Resorts and the Association in the position they would have been had Vail Resorts initially created a CCIOA-compliant common interest community.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Law Firm Breached Contract Not to Represent One Association Member Against Another

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Semler v. Hellerstein on Thursday, August 25, 2016.

Notice of Appeal—Timeliness—Amended Complaint—Jurisdiction—Motion to Dismiss—Fraud—Concealment—Misrepresentation—Civil Conspiracy—Breach of Fiduciary Duty—Breach of Contract—Third Party Beneficiary—Attorney Fees.

Plaintiff Semler and defendant Perfect Place are both members of the 1940 Blake Street Condominium Association (Association). Defendant Hellerstein owns and controls both Perfect Place and Bruce S. Hellerstein, CPA P.C. Hellerstein also served as treasurer of the Association. Defendant Bewley is an attorney employed by defendant law firm Berenbaum Weinshienk, P.C. At all relevant times, Bewley represented Hellerstein and his two corporate entities.

This case stems from a related quiet title action in which Perfect Place asked the court to determine that it was the rightful owner of parking spaces C, D, and E. The court presiding over the quiet title action determined that Semler owned parking spaces C and D, while Perfect Place owned parking space E. Semler then brought the current suit, claiming that Bewley and Hellerstein devised a scheme to gain title to Semler’s building parking spaces C and D. Semler’s first amended complaint alleged claims for breach of fiduciary duty against Hellerstein, aiding and abetting that breach against Bewley, and civil conspiracy against all defendants. The court granted defendants’ motions to dismiss. Semler then moved to amend his complaint for the second time, proposing to add claims for fraud, nondisclosure and concealment, negligent misrepresentation, negligent supervision, vicarious liability, and breach of contract. He also more clearly explained that he was seeking damages for the lost income opportunities he suffered as a result of having to defend against the quiet title action. The court denied Semler’s second motion to amend based on lack of standing and awarded attorney fees in favor of defendants.

On appeal, defendants asserted that Semler’s notice of appeal was untimely and, therefore, the Court of Appeals lacked jurisdiction to consider the appeal. The Court determined that Semler timely filed his notice of appeal.

Semler contended that the trial court erred by denying his motion for leave to amend his complaint a second time. The court, however, considered the claims in the second amended complaint when ruling on the motion to dismiss.

Semler argued that the trial court erred in granting defendants’ motions to dismiss. The Court reviewed the trial court’s dismissal of the action based on Semler’s second amended complaint. Semler’s fraud, concealment, and misrepresentation claims were all premised on conversations and transactions between a third party and defendants in which Semler was not involved. Semler lacked standing to bring these claims. Moreover, Semler’s claims for lost opportunity damages are too remote and unforeseeable to be recoverable under these claims. Therefore, these claims failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted and should have been dismissed under C.R.C.P. 12(b)(5).

Semler also contended that defendants conspired with each other to obtain his parking spaces. He is not entitled to relief on a civil conspiracy claim because a director cannot conspire with the corporation which he serves, which is the premise of Semler’s argument. Semler’s claim for breach of fiduciary duty against Bewley failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Additionally, because Hellerstein was not acting in his role as treasurer when he engaged in the allegedly fraudulent conduct, Semler’s breach of fiduciary duty claim against Hellerstein fails. Because these claims fail, Semler’s aiding and abetting breach of fiduciary duty claim against Bewley and negligent supervision and vicarious liability claims against Bewley’s law firm, Berenbaum Weinshienk, fail as well.

As to his breach of contract claim, although Semler was not a party to the contract between Berenbaum Weinshienk and the Association in which Berenbaum Weinshienk agreed that it would not represent one Association member against another, Semler sufficiently pleaded a third-party beneficiary breach of contract claim pursuant to this agreement. Therefore, the case was remanded to the trial court for further proceedings on this claim.

Semler also contended that if the dismissal order is reversed, the attorney fees award in favor of defendants must also be reversed. Only Semler’s breach of contract claim survived C.R.C.P. 12(b) dismissal. Thus, because that claim was not pleaded against the Perfect Place defendants, the attorney fees award to them remains undisturbed. The order awarding fees to Bewley and Berenbaum Weinshienk was reversed.

The orders were affirmed in part and reversed in part, and the case was remanded with directions.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Announcement Sheet, 9/1/2016

On Thursday, September 1, 2016, the Colorado Court of Appeals issued no published opinion and 33 unpublished opinions.

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