June 19, 2018

Colorado Court of Appeals: Announcement Sheet, 5/10/2018

On Thursday, May 10, 2018, the Colorado Court of Appeals issued no published opinion and 30 unpublished opinions.

Neither State Judicial nor the Colorado Bar Association provides case summaries for unpublished appellate opinions.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: Land Parcels Only Contiguous If They Touch, so Parcels Separated by Public Right-of-Way Not Contiguous

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Bringle Family Trust v. Board of Assessment Appeals on Thursday, May 3, 2018.

Property Tax—Classification—Residential—Vacant—Contiguous.

The Bringle Family Trust (Trust) owns two parcels of land in Summit County that are platted lots in the Bills Ranch Subdivision. The “residential parcel” is separated from the “subject parcel” by a road. This road is a public right-of-way maintained by the Bills Ranch Subdivision Association. In early 2016, the Trust petitioned the Board of County Commissioners of Summit County (the County) for an abatement or refund of taxes, arguing that the subject parcel’s property tax assessment classification should be changed from vacant to residential for tax years 2013 to 2015. The County denied the Trust’s petitions. The Board of County Commissioners (Board) upheld this decision.

On appeal, the Trust contended that the Board erroneously denied its petition by misconstruing C.R.S. § 39-1-102(14.4)(a) to conclude that the subject parcel was not contiguous to the residential parcel or “used as a unit in conjunction with the residential improvements located thereon.” The subject parcel must be contiguous to the residential parcel to be classified as residential property for tax purpose. Parcels are contiguous only if they touch. The Trust’s subject and residential parcels are distinct parcels separated by a public road that the Trust does not own. The Trust failed to show that the subject parcel meets the C.R.S. § 39-1-102(14.4)(a) contiguity requirement, and thus the Board correctly declined to reclassify the subject parcel as residential property. Given this determination, the court of appeals did not address the Trust’s contention that the subject parcel meets the “used as a unit” requirement.

The Board’s order was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: District Court Retains Jurisdiction Over Allocation of Parental Responsibilities while Prior Order on Appeal

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in In re Parental Responsibilities Concerning W.C. on Thursday, May 3, 2018.

Parental Responsibilities—Jurisdiction—Appeal—Motion to Modify—Changed Circumstances.

In this allocation of parental responsibilities case, father appealed the district court’s permanent orders granting mother sole decision-making authority and majority parenting time. Though his appeal is pending with this court, father filed verified motions to modify parenting time and decision-making in the district court. The district court concluded that it lacked jurisdiction to consider those motions while the appeal was pending; it decided to take no action on father’s motions unless and until the Court of Appeals finds that the district court has jurisdiction or remands and gives the court authority to consider the motions.

The Court determined that under Colorado’s Uniform Dissolution of Marriage Act, a district court retains continuing jurisdiction over motions to modify parental responsibilities while the current allocation order is on appeal, as long as those motions are based on a material change in circumstances that occurred after the original order was entered.

Father’s motion to clarify was granted and the case was remanded.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Statutory Amendment Deprived State of Authority to Prosecute Conviction on Appeal

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Cali on Thursday, May 3, 2018.

Theft—Theft by Receiving—Appeal—Statutory Amendment—Collateral Attack—Crim. P. 35(c)(2)(VI)—Postconviction Remedies.

Cali was convicted of theft and theft by receiving, both class 4 felonies, as well as two habitual criminal counts. The trial court sentenced him to 18 years in the custody of the Department of Corrections. Cali directly appealed his convictions, and his theft conviction was vacated. After Cali had filed his notice of appeal in the direct appeal and while the appeal was still pending, the legislature reclassified theft by receiving, as committed by Cali, to a class 6 felony. After his direct appeal became final, Cali timely filed a pro se Crim. P. 35(c) motion asserting, as relevant here, that he was entitled to the benefit of the changed statute. The postconviction court denied Cali’s motion without a hearing.

On appeal, Cali argued that the trial court erred by analyzing his postconviction claim as a request for retroactive application of the statutory amendment. He contended that because the amendment took effect while his direct appeal was pending and before his conviction became final, he is entitled to the benefit of the amendment. The amended statute applied to Cali because before Cali’s conviction became final, the State lost the authority to prosecute him for committing the class 4 felony of theft by receiving. That a different statute classifying theft by receiving as a class 6 felony could then be applied to Cali does not change the fact that the State lost the authority to enforce the statute under which Cali had been convicted. Although Cali did not raise the State’s loss of authority to prosecute him before his conviction became final on appeal, he could collaterally attack his conviction under Crim. P. 35(c)(2)(VI). Cali asserted a timely postconviction claim that entitles him to reversal of his conviction. But the trial court must convict him of the class 6 felony and sentence him accordingly.

The postconviction order was reversed. Cali’s conviction was vacated, and the case was remanded with directions.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Disposition of Stolen Property Governed by Restitution Agreement, Not UCC or Conversion Principles

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Madison on Thursday, May 3, 2018.

Restitution Agreement.

Madison stole scores of bottles of expensive wine from multiple liquor stores. He pleaded guilty, and the court sentenced him to a two-year term of probation and ordered restitution. As part of the restitution agreement, Madison was permitted to take possession of the stolen property if he paid restitution to the victims within a contractual period of time. (The liquor stores declined to accept the recovered wine because the storage method could not be confirmed, and thus the wine was not marketable.) Madison and the prosecution also entered into an “Evidence Disposition Agreement.” Defendant did not pay the restitution and, five years later, the sheriff’s office moved for an order authorizing it to destroy the stolen property. The motion was granted by the court.

On appeal, Madison argued that he had an ownership interest in the wine. He contended that the court should have either permitted him to sell the wine or ordered the sheriff’s office to sell it, with any proceeds applied to his restitution obligation. Disposition of the wine was governed by the restitution agreement, which expressly provided for the destruction of the wine if Madison failed to both pay the restitution and pick up the wine within 90 days. Because Madison failed to meet that deadline, the sheriff’s office had the right to dispose of the wine without seeking approval from the court or notifying Madison. Further, the agreement did not give Madison the right to determine the particular disposition of the wine or to demand that any proceeds from the disposition be distributed to the victims and then applied to reduce his restitution balance.

Madison also contended that the agreement gave him an ownership interest in the wine, notwithstanding his failure to satisfy its requirements, based on the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) and conversion principles. Disposition of the stolen property is governed by the agreement, not by the UCC or conversion principles. Madison had a right to obtain the property only upon satisfaction of conditions precedent, which he failed to satisfy.

The order was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Finding of Half-empty Schnapps Bottle in Vehicle Did Not Negate Police Officers’ Reasonable Suspicion

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Kessler on Thursday, May 3, 2018.

DUI—Evidence—Possession of a Controlled Substance—Search and Seizure—Search Incident to Arrest—Motor Vehicle—Reasonable Suspicion—Cross-Examination.

Defendant was pulled over by the police for speeding. Upon approaching the car with a flashlight, an officer spotted a half-empty schnapps bottle on the floor behind the passenger’s seat. The officer asked defendant for his license, registration, and proof of insurance multiple times before defendant presented his registration and proof of insurance. Defendant admitted he did not have a valid driver’s license. Because defendant showed signs of intoxication, the officer asked him to step out of the vehicle. Defendant needed to use the car door for support to get out of the car, and he eventually admitted he had drunk from the schnapps bottle. Defendant performed roadside sobriety maneuvers unsatisfactorily, and his breath test registered .154g/210L. Defendant was arrested for DUI and placed in the back of the police car. Two other officers then searched the car for further evidence of alcohol consumption and found a bag of cocaine in the console, inches from where defendant sat. Among other things, defendant was convicted of possession of a controlled substance (cocaine).

On appeal, defendant contended that the evidence was insufficient to convict him of possessing a controlled substance (cocaine). He argued that he was not in exclusive possession of the car on the date in question and denied knowing the cocaine was on the car. The possibility that someone else was in the car earlier that day does not change the fact that defendant was in exclusive possession of the vehicle when it was stopped and searched, making him subject to the inference that he knowingly possessed the cocaine. Further, the location of the cocaine and defendant’s testimony that no one else had interacted with the console support the inference. There was sufficient evidence for the jury to convict him on this charge.

Defendant next contended that the trial court should have suppressed evidence related to the recovery of cocaine from his car because the police lacked sufficient grounds to search the car once they seized the half-empty bottle of schnapps. The police are permitted to search a vehicle incident to a lawful arrest. Here, the officer had probable cause to arrest defendant on a DUI charge, defendant initially denied consuming alcohol, and it was likely the officers would find evidence of alcohol while searching defendant’s vehicle. The officers’ reasonable suspicion that the car contained alcohol did not evaporate once the officers found some alcohol. Therefore, the search that uncovered the cocaine was proper.

Finally, at trial, the amount of alcohol in the schnapps bottle when the officer discovered it was contested: the officer said it was half full, while defendant testified it was two-thirds full. During cross-examination, the prosecution asked defendant if the officer “made up” the amount of schnapps in the bottle. Although the prosecution’s question was improper, it did not cast doubt on the reliability of the conviction. The error was not substantial and did not warrant reversal under the plain error rule.

The judgment of conviction was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Announcement Sheet, 5/3/2018

On Thursday, May 3, 2018, the Colorado Court of Appeals issued seven published opinions and 29 unpublished opinions.

People v. Kessler

People v. Cali

People v. Madison

In re Parental Responsibilities Concerning W.C.

Bridge Family Trust v. Board of County Commissioners

Stor-N-Lock Partners #15, LLC v. City of Thornton

Curry v. Zag Built LLC

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: Where Father Acquitted of Underlying Sexual Abuse Charges, Juvenile Court Erred in Terminating Parental Rights

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People in Interest of L.M. on Thursday, April 19, 2018.

Dependency and Neglect—Juvenile Court—Termination of Parent-Child Legal Relationship.

The juvenile court found by a preponderance of the evidence that father had sexually abused L.M. and that M.M. was suffering secondary trauma as a result of the abuse. The court adjudicated L.M. and M.M. dependent and neglected. The court granted temporary custody to mother and prohibited father from having any contact with the children during the pendency of the case.

Father’s treatment plan was predicated on his guilt, but he was later acquitted in the criminal case. The juvenile court could not find that the assault allegations had been established by clear and convincing evidence and further concluded that it could not discount the possibility that no abuse occurred. Even so, the juvenile court terminated father’s parental rights, finding there were no less drastic alternatives because the children continued to experience trauma specific to father, which he did not recognize.

On appeal, father challenged the finding that there were no less drastic alternatives to terminating his parental rights. When considering termination under C.R.S. § 19-3-604(1)(c), the court must also consider and eliminate less drastic alternatives. The determination of whether there is a less drastic alternative to termination is influenced by a parent’s fitness to care for his or her child. Here, there is no indication in the record that father was offered treatment or a path to becoming a fit parent other than to acknowledge sexual abuse of L.M. It was error to terminate his parental rights.

Although not raised on appeal, the court of appeals also determined that the juvenile court failed to make the required inquiry of father under the Indian Child Welfare Act.

The judgment was reversed and the case was remanded with instructions that before considering termination of parental rights, the court must adopt an appropriate treatment plan under C.R.S. § 19-3-508(1)(e)(I) that relates to the children’s trauma and is reasonably calculated to render father a fit parent. If the court again considers termination of father’s parental rights, it must confirm whether he knows or has reason to know or believe that the children are Indian children.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Child’s Medical Records Admissible Under CRE 803(4) where Statements Made for Medical Diagnosis or Treatment

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People in Interest of E.M. on Thursday, April 19, 2018.

Dependency and Neglect—Admissibility of Evidence under CRE 803(4)—Indian Child Welfare Act.

The child was born prematurely and spent six weeks in the hospital. The Mesa County Department of Human Services (Department) sought and received emergency custody after the hospital reported that it could not locate his parents to take him home. The Department later filed a petition in dependency and neglect. At a shelter hearing, the court granted the Department’s request to return the child to his parents’ care under the Department’s supervision.

Three months later the court held an adjudicatory trial. As the sole basis for adjudication, the court found that the child had tested positive for a schedule II controlled substance at birth and that the positive test did not result from mother’s lawful use of prescribed medication. The court relied on testimony from a physician specializing in neonatal care who had cared for the child immediately after his birth.

On appeal, mother argued that certain test results to which the child’s physician testified were inadmissible hearsay under CRE 803(4). CRE 803(4) creates a hearsay exception for statements that are made for purposes of medical diagnosis or treatment; describe medical history, symptoms, or the inception or cause of symptoms; and are reasonably pertinent to diagnosis or treatment. Here, the testifying physician was qualified, without objection, as an expert in neonatology and pediatrics. He gave comprehensive testimony regarding the child’s symptoms and treatment and mother’s positive toxicology screen for methamphetamine. The physician’s testimony conformed to the requirements of CRE 803(4).

The court also rejected mother’s contention that even if the test results were admissible it was error for the trial court to rely on them because they were only admitted as the basis of the expert’s testimony under CRE 703, not as substantive evidence. The trial court admitted the results under both CRE 803(4) and 703 and they were therefore substantive evidence on which the court could rely to conclude that the child had testified positive for a controlled substance at birth.

Mother also argued that the trial court erred when it determined that the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) does not apply to this proceeding because the child had been returned to mother’s home. The ICWA applies to a child custody proceeding even when, following a shelter hearing, the child is returned to the mother’s home, because the hearing could have resulted in foster care placement. The trial court did not conduct the proper ICWA inquiry.

The part of the judgment adjudicating the child dependent or neglected was affirmed. The dispositional order was reversed and the case was remanded for the purpose of conducting a proper ICWA inquiry.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Complete Exhaustion of Funds by Contractor Without Paying Subcontractor Violates Trust Fund Statute

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Franklin Drilling & Blasting, Inc. v. Lawrence Construction Co. on Thursday, April 19, 2018.

Construction Law—Public Works Trust Fund Statute—Civil Theft Statute—Directed Verdict—Culpable Mental State.

Lawrence Construction Company (Lawrence) was the general contractor on a Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) road project. Franklin Drilling and Blasting Inc. (Franklin) was a subcontractor. Lawrence was paid in full by CDOT but refused to pay Franklin. Franklin sued Lawrence on a variety of claims, and all but the claim for civil theft were arbitrated in favor of Franklin.

Following arbitration, the parties tried the civil theft claim to the court. Franklin alleged that Lawrence violated the Public Works Trust Fund statute (trust fund statute). The trial court granted Lawrence’s motion for directed verdict, finding that Franklin had not proved that Lawrence intended to permanently deprive Franklin of the monies it was owed. The court also awarded Lawrence costs.

Franklin appealed the judgment in favor of Lawrence on the civil theft claim and the costs awarded to Lawrence. The court of appeals first concluded that C.R.C.P. 50 is unavailable when a trial is to the court. Instead, the governing rule is C.R.C.P. 41(b). Under that standard, the court must find that upon the facts and the law the plaintiff has shown no right to relief.

As relevant here, the theft statute, C.R.S. § 18-4-401(1), provides two ways that Lawrence could possess the culpable mental state required for civil liability: knowing use (C.R.S. § 18-4-401(1)(b)), or intent to deprive (C.R.S. § 18-4-401(1)(a)). On the knowing use element, the Court focused on the “res” created when the government entity (CDOT) pays monies to the contractor to be held in trust for its subcontractors and suppliers. When the res is exhausted before payment to the subcontractor, a violation of the trust fund statute, and perhaps the civil theft statute, may be established. Here, the evidence Franklin presented at trial established that at various relevant times the bank account into which Lawrence deposited the CDOT payments had a zero or negative balance. The trial court’s findings do not resolve the “knowingly uses” alternative mental state, and the trial court erred by not addressing this element of the civil theft claim.

Franklin also argued that the trial court’s ruling in Lawrence’s favor regarding the intent to deprive element was unsupported by the record. The trial court made extensive findings regarding Lawrence’s intent to permanently deprive. Reasonable minds could differ about whether Franklin proved that Lawrence intended to permanently deprive Franklin of the CDOT funds, so the court could not conclude that the trial court findings and conclusion were “so manifestly against the weight of evidence as to compel a contrary result.”

The court denied Franklin’s request for attorney fees because it did not enter judgment in Franklin’s favor.

The judgment was affirmed to the extent the trial court determined that Franklin failed to prove Lawrence’s culpable mental state under C.R.S. § 18-4-401(1)(a). It was reversed and the case was remanded with directions for the trial court to determine whether Lawrence possessed the culpable mental state defined by C.R.S. § 18-4-401(1)(b).

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Plaintiff Not Allowed to Treat Denial of Liability as Denial of Coverage

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Pena v. American Family Mutual Insurance Co. on Thursday, April 19, 2018.

Uninsured Motorist—Denial of Liability—Denial of Coverage—CRCP 12(b)(5) Dismissal.

Peña was involved in a three-car collision. Both Peña and Garner, another driver involved in the accident, were insured by defendant American Family Mutual Insurance Company (American Family). Peña sent a letter to American Family asserting a claim under the uninsured motorist provisions of her policy. American Family denied Peña’s claim, asserting that Garner was not responsible for the damage to her vehicle and Garner had coverage at the time of the accident, so Peña’s uninsured motorist property damage (UMPD) provision would not apply.

Peña sued Garner and American Family in separate actions. In this action, she sued American Family under C.R.S. § 10-3-1115 for the unreasonable delay and denial of benefits due under the UMPD provisions of her policy. American Family moved to dismiss, arguing that Peña’s complaint failed, as a matter of law, to state a claim upon which relieve could be granted because Peña’s UMPD coverage applied only if American Family, as Garner’s insurer, denied coverage, rather than liability, for Garner in connection with the accident. The district court agreed with this interpretation of Peña’s policy and the distinction made between denial of coverage and denial of liability. But because American Family had only denied liability and the issue of liability had not yet been determined, the court concluded that Peña’s UMPD coverage did not apply at that point and the lawsuit was premature. The district court dismissed the case without prejudice.

On appeal, Peña contended that the district court erred in dismissing her case. She argued that the district court erred in not considering whether American Family unreasonably delayed or denied her claim before dismissing her action. Because American Family denied liability but not coverage, her policy’s UMPD provision was inapplicable, and there were no benefits that could have been delayed or denied. Peña had no claim as a matter of law. The district court’s determination that Peña’s lawsuit was premature was in error because Peña will never have a claim against American Family under her policy for unpaid UMPD benefits from the accident; Garner’s insurer has not denied coverage, which is the circumstance that would trigger Peña’s UMPD coverage. If Garner is ultimately found liable, Peña will have a claim against American Family under the liability provisions of his policy.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Colorado Wage Claim Act Does Not Categorically Bar Plaintiff from Piercing Corporate Veil

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Paradine v. Goei on Thursday, April 19, 2018.

Wage Claim Act—Corporations—Piercing the Corporate Veil.

Plaintiff served as the chief financial officer and vice president of administration for Aspect Technologies, Inc. (Aspect), a corporation. Defendant Goei was the chief executive officer. Plaintiff sued Goei and Aspect, raising a claim under the Colorado Wage Claim Act (the Act), for fraud, and for breach of contract. He alleged that defendants owed him unpaid wages. The trial court granted Goei’s motion for judgment on the pleadings and dismissed the three claims against him individually with prejudice.

On appeal, plaintiff asserted that he was not barred from piercing the corporate veil and holding Goei personally liable under the Act. The Act does not categorically bar a plaintiff from piercing the corporate veil to hold an individual liable for unpaid wages. Plaintiff’s fraud claim made allegations in support of his request that the trial court pierce the corporate veil to impose liability on Goei, and plaintiff’s breach of contract claim incorporated the allegations in the fraud claim. Because plaintiff pleaded sufficient facts to establish a plausible claim that plaintiff could pierce the corporate veil, the trial court erred when it granted Goei’s motion to dismiss on the pleadings.

The judgment was reversed and the case was remanded with directions.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.