August 19, 2017

Colorado Court of Appeals: Laches is Available as Defense to Long-Overdue Maintenance Award

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in In re Marriage of Kann on Thursday, July 13, 2017.

Post-Dissolution of Marriage—Laches as a Defense to Collection of Spousal Maintenance Arrearages and Interest—Implied Waiver and Estoppel.

A decree of dissolution of marriage between husband and wife was entered in 1989. Husband agreed to pay wife lifetime maintenance of no less than $1,200 per month. In the event of breach, the prevailing party would be entitled to recover costs, expenses, and reasonable attorney fees. For the next 26 years, husband never paid maintenance and wife never asked him to do so.

In 2015, wife retained counsel and sought entry of judgment for $520,636.32—$289,200 in unpaid maintenance and $231,436.32 in interest. She also requested a maintenance modification if the court did not award her the full judgment. Husband raised the affirmative defenses of waiver, estoppel, and laches. He also requested that the court terminate his maintenance obligation if it awarded wife the full judgment. The trial court (1) concluded that husband was required to pay maintenance under the decree; (2) held that Colorado law does not recognize the laches defense; (3) found that husband had failed to meet his burden of proof on the waiver and estoppel defenses; and (4) enforced the full judgment against him. The court also decreased the maintenance going forward to $800 per month and awarded wife attorney fees as the prevailing party under the separation agreement.

On appeal, husband argued that he should have been able to raise laches as a defense. While a novel issue in Colorado, courts have addressed the issue as to child support and child support combined with maintenance. Based on these cases, the court of appeals concluded that laches is available as an affirmative defense when a party seeks maintenance arrearages as well as the interest on those arrearages. The court remanded for the trial court to reconsider the full scope of the laches defense on the existing record.

Husband also challenged the rejection of his implied waiver and estoppel defenses. The record supports the trial court’s rejection of husband’s waiver argument. As to estoppel, husband asserted that he proved all four elements. The trial court rejected this defense, finding that (1) husband understood his obligation to pay maintenance; (2) wife never told him that he did not have to pay; and (3) husband did not detrimentally rely on wife’s assertion that she would not collect maintenance. The court found no basis on which to disturb the trial court’s rejection of the estoppel defense.

Husband further argued that it was error to modify rather than terminate his maintenance obligation. The court could not resolve this issue because the propriety of the trial court’s order will depend whether it awards the wife none, part, or all of her request for maintenance arrearages plus interest.

The portions of the trial court’s order rejecting husband’s laches defense, awarding attorney fees to wife as the prevailing party, and modifying husband’s maintenance obligation were reversed. The case was remanded for the court to consider whether laches bars wife’s entitlement to maintenance interest or arrearages and, based on this determination, to then reconsider the maintenance and attorney fee awards as well as wife’s claim for appellate attorney fees. In all other respects the order was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Announcement Sheet, 7/13/2017

On Thursday, July 13, 2017, the Colorado Court of Appeals issued six published opinions and 13 unpublished opinions.

People v. Jacobson

People v. McKnight

In re Marriage of Kann

Hotsenpiller v. Hon. Bennet A. Morris

People in Interest of C.S.

People v. Johnson

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: Remand Granted for Extended Proportionality Review

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Oldright on Thursday, June 29, 2017.

First Degree AssaultAbbreviated Proportionality ReviewHabitual CriminalPrior ConvictionsExtended Proportionality Review.

A jury convicted Oldright of first degree assault based on evidence that he hit the victim in the head with a metal rod. Following trial, the court conducted an abbreviated proportionality review, adjudicated Oldright a habitual criminal, and sentenced him to 64 years in prison. Oldright’s prior offenses included aggravated driving after revocation prohibited, forgery, fraud by check, theft by receiving, and theft.

On appeal, Oldright contended that the court erred in finding that the triggering offense was grave or serious. Oldright’s triggering offense, first degree assault, is a grave and serious offense because the legislature deems it a crime of violence and an extraordinary risk crime, Oldright used a deadly weapon to commit the crime, and the victim suffered serious bodily injury.

Oldright also argued that the court erred in concluding that all of his prior convictions were serious simply because they were felonies. Although first degree assault is a grave and serious offense, not all of Oldright’s prior offenses were serious because the General Assembly had reclassified three his prior felony convictions as misdemeanors (making them an ineligible basis for habitual sentencing), and one of the prior felonies from a class 4 felony to a class 5 felony. Because the court failed to consider these legislative changes in determining whether Oldright’s sentence was disproportionate, the sentence was vacated and the case was remanded for an extended proportionality review of Oldright’s habitual criminal sentence.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Balancing Test Enunciated when One Party Calls Other Party’s “May Call” Witness

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Sovde v. Scott, D.O. on Thursday, June 29, 2017.

Medical MalpracticeMisdiagnosisExpert WitnessesTimely EndorsementHearsay.

Sovde, a child, sued doctors Scott and Sarka by and through his mother. The lawsuit claimed that defendants had negligently misdiagnosed lesions on the child’s head as something benign instead of manifestations of the herpes simplex virus, and if defendants had timely and properly diagnosed the lesions as products of less harmful skin, eyes, and mucous membrane disease, they could have treated the child with antibiotics, which could have prevented the onset of the more harmful central nervous system disease. The jury found in defendants’ favor.

On appeal, plaintiff argued that the trial court erred when it denied his requests to use the testimony of defendants’ previously endorsed expert witnesses whom defendants had withdrawn. The trial court did not abuse its discretion when it permitted defendants to withdraw Dr. Reiley and Dr. Molteni as expert witnesses and not make them available at trial because they had previously been listed as “may call,” not “will call,” witnesses. Further, because plaintiff did not timely endorse these witnesses or timely inform the court and defendants that he would use their depositions at trial, and the record supports the trial court’s implicit decision that the testimony and depositions would have been cumulative or would have had little probative value, the trial court did not err in denying his requests. For the same reasons, the trial court properly rejected plaintiff’s motion for a new trial.

Plaintiff also argued that the trial court erred in excluding father’s telephone conversation with a licensed medical assistant in a pediatrician’s office, contending that the testimony was admissible under CRE 803(4) as statements made for purposes of medical diagnosis or treatment. Although some of father’s statements fell within the ambit of CRE 803(4) because he provided them to the medical assistant to obtain a diagnosis of and treatment for the child’s condition, plaintiff failed to show that excluding this testimony substantially influenced the basic fairness of the trial. Further, the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it denied plaintiff’s motion for a new trial on these grounds.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Evidence Sufficient to Prove Defendant Knowingly Failed to Register as Sex Offender

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Wilson on Thursday, June 29, 2017.

Sex Offender—Registration—Evidence—Affirmative Defense—Uncontrollable Circumstances.

Wilson was required to register as a sex offender and failed to do so. He was then convicted of failure to register as a sex offender.

On appeal, Wilson contended that the evidence was insufficient to show that he knowingly failed to register as a sex offender. Wilson argued that because he was evicted from the motel he was staying at on the last day of the five-day period, he had an additional five days to register. A defendant is guilty of failing to register as a sex offender when, as relevant here, he does not register with his local law enforcement agency within five business days after being released from incarceration. The evidence is sufficient to support the fact that Wilson knowingly failed to register as a sex offender within five days of being released. Further, the statute required Wilson to register within five days of his release without regard to where he was living or whether his location changed during that five-day period.

Wilson next contended that the trial court erred in “disallowing the affirmative defense of uncontrollable circumstances.” However, lack of a fixed residence is not an uncontrollable circumstance, and Wilson did not present any credible evidence that uncontrollable circumstances existed that prevented him from registering as a sex offender. Thus, the trial court did not err in rejecting his affirmative defense.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Obvious Instructional Error Did Not Fundamentally Undermine Defendant’s Rights

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Hoggard on Thursday, June 29, 2017.

Custody—Child and Family Investigator—Second Degree Forgery—Attempt to Influence a Public Servant—Invited Error—Waiver—Constructive Amendment—Lesser Included Offense—Jury Instructions—Mens Rea.

During a child custody dispute, Hoggard forwarded to the court-appointed child and family investigator a chain of emails between her and her ex-husband. Hoggard allegedly falsified that email chain by adding five sentences that made it appear that her ex-husband had threatened her. As a result of that alleged falsification, Hoggard was convicted of second degree forgery and attempt to influence a public servant.

As an initial matter, the People argued that the doctrines of invited error and waiver preclude appellate review of Hoggard’s instructional error claims. Although Hoggard’s counsel approved the disputed jury instructions, it was an oversight, not a strategy, and therefore not invited error. Further, the failure to object to the jury instructions was not a waiver under the circumstances of this case.

Hoggard contended on appeal that the trial court constructively amended the second degree forgery charge by instructing the jury on the uncharged and more serious offense of felony forgery. Although the trial court’s forgery instruction was erroneous, instructing the jury on felony forgery was not a constructive amendment because Hoggard was both charged with and convicted of second degree forgery, a lesser included offense of felony forgery. Further, there is no reasonable likelihood that the instructional error affected the outcome of the trial.

Hoggard next argued that her conviction for attempt to influence a public servant must be reversed because the trial court did not instruct the jury on the required mens rea for each element of the offense, thereby violating her constitutional due process rights. Although the trial court’s instruction on the charge tracked the statute, it did not expressly require the jury to find that Hoggard acted with intent as to the third and fourth elements of the crime: that she intended to attempt to influence a public servant and that she intended to do so by means of deceit. Nor did the instruction set off the mens rea requirement as a separate element. Accordingly, the trial court’s instruction on attempt to influence a public servant was erroneous and the error was obvious at the time of trial. However, because there was no reasonable probability that the trial court’s instructional error contributed to Hoggard’s conviction, it was therefore not plain error.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Defendant Waived Voluntariness Claim by Failing to Raise it At Suppression Hearing

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Cardman on Thursday, June 29, 2017.

Due Process—Statements to Police—Interrogation—Voluntariness—Promises—Specific Performance—Waiver—Suppression Hearing.

Defendant petitioned for a writ of certiorari to the Colorado Supreme Court. The court granted the petition, vacated the judgment in Cardman I, and remanded to the court of appeals for reconsideration of the trial court’s failure to hold a hearing regarding the alleged promises the detective made to defendant during the interview. The specific issue on appeal was whether “the district court violated the defendant’s constitutional right to due process and reversibly erred by admitting statements the defendant made to a detective without first determining whether the statements were voluntary and whether the defendant was entitled to specific performance of direct and/or implied promises made to him by the detective during the interrogation.”

Defendant contended that statements he made in a police interview were not voluntary and that the trial court erred by not holding a hearing sua sponte on the voluntariness of the statements. Although there were serious concerns with the police interrogation tactics used in this case, defendant waived any arguments on the voluntariness issue by not raising it during the suppression hearing. Further, defendant did not request and the court was not required to sua sponte hold a hearing on voluntariness.

Defendant also contended that the court of appeals must remand for a hearing on whether he was entitled to specific performance of alleged promises made to him by police during an interview. However, defendant did not seek to enforce the alleged promises before trial and cited no cases in support of his argument.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Announcement Sheet, 7/6/2017

On Thursday, July 6, 2017, the Colorado Court of Appeals issued no published opinion and nine 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: Plaintiff Need Only Demonstrate Prima Facie Showing of Personal Jurisdiction to Defeat Rule 12(b) Motion to Dismiss

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Rome v. Reyes on Thursday, June 15, 2017.

Ponzi Scheme—Investments—Insurance—Fraud—Personal Jurisdiction—Long Arm Statute—Colorado Securities Act—C.R.C.P. 12(b)(2)—C.R.C.P. 9(b).

This case arises out of a Ponzi scheme that defrauded at least 255 investors out of $15.25 million dollars. To implement the scheme, Schnorenberg formed KJS Marketing, Inc. in Colorado to obtain funds for investment in insurance and financial products sales companies. Schnorenberg hired Reyes, a California resident, and Kahler, a Wyoming resident, to solicit investor funds on behalf of KJS and its successor company, James Marketing. Rome, the Securities Commissioner for the State of Colorado, brought claims against Schnorenberg, Reyes, and Kahler for securities fraud, offer and sale of unregistered securities, and unlicensed sales representative activity. The Commissioner also sought a constructive trust or equitable lien against Schnorenberg’s mother (among others), who resides in Wyoming, as a “relief defendant,” based on allegations that she received some of the improperly invested funds. Reyes, Kahler, and Schnorenberg’s mother moved to dismiss all claims against them under C.R.C.P. 12(b)(2) for lack of jurisdiction. Reyes and Kahler also sought dismissal of the securities fraud claim on the ground that it failed to meet the C.R.C.P. 9(b) particularity requirements. (Neither Schnorenberg nor KJS is a party to this appeal.) The district court granted all of these motions without conducting an evidentiary hearing. In written orders, the court concluded that it lacked personal jurisdiction over each of the nonresident defendants, and that the Commissioner’s securities fraud claim failed to “link any particular factual allegations to actual false representations” made by Reyes or Kahler.

On appeal, the Commissioner contended that the district court erred in dismissing the claims against Reyes, Kahler, and Schnorenberg’s mother for lack of personal jurisdiction. Here, the Commissioner sufficiently alleged that Reyes and Kahler violated the Colorado Securities Act (CSA) because the transactions at issue pertained to securities that originated in Colorado. Taking the allegations together, the activities of Reyes and Kahler made it reasonably foreseeable that they could be haled into a Colorado court to answer the allegations. Further, the exercise of jurisdiction over them does not offend due process principles. Schnorenberg’s mother received funds from her son that had been transferred from Colorado accounts, and she knew or should have known that the money came from investors in her son’s “Colorado-based investment scheme.” The Commissioner’s action against Schnorenberg’s mother arises from her activities’ consequences in Colorado, and it is reasonable to exercise jurisdiction over her, despite the somewhat limited nature of her direct contacts with Colorado.

The Commissioner also argued that the district court erred in dismissing the claims against Reyes and Kahler under the CSA on the ground that the Commissioner failed to meet his pleading burden under Rule 9(b). The Commissioner’s complaint provided sufficient particularity to give Reyes and Kahler fair notice of the claim for securities fraud and the main facts or incidents upon which it is based.

The judgment was reversed and the case was remanded.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Attorney Must Assume Financial and Ethical Responsibility in Order to Share Fees

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Scott R. Larson, P.C. v. Grinnan on Thursday, June 15, 2017.

Attorney Fee Dispute—Referral Fees—Division of Fees.

Grinnan is a general practitioner with limited experience in personal injury cases. Grinnan’s friend Kelley asked Grinnan to represent him in a personal injury case. Grinnan obtained Kelley’s approval to involve Scott Larson., P.C. in the case, and Larson entered into a contingency fee agreement with the Kelley family. As relevant here, the agreement identified Grinnan as “associated counsel,” stated that Grinnan would be paid a percentage of Larson’s fee “not to exceed 100%,” and provided that Larson was responsible for paying case expenses. Grinnan was not a signatory to the agreement.

Larson brought claims against various entities and settled with one early in the case. From Larson’s $333,333 fee on this settlement, he sent Grinnan a check for $50,000. After three years of litigation, the case settled. Based on the settlements, the contingent fee agreement entitled Larson to a fee of $3,216,666.67. Larson had incurred about $300,000 in costs.

Larson and Grinnan couldn’t agree on how to divide the contingent fee. Grinnan entered his appearance, and the court granted his request that all attorney fees paid to Larson be placed in a restricted interest bearing account. Following a hearing, the trial court entered a detailed written order allocating the attorney fees. The trial court declined to divide the fees in proportion to services and found that Grinnan had assumed joint responsibility for the litigation. The court divided the fees by awarding Grinnan 20% of the $333,333.34 from the first settlement and 12.5% of the $2,883,333.33 fee from the other two settlements. The court also awarded Grinnan prejudgment interest at the rate of 8% from the date the settlement checks were issued until final judgment entered on the fees allocated to him. It also awarded Larson interest on the fees placed in the restricted account less the fees awarded to Grinnan (as a wrongful withholding). The court declined to award costs, finding that neither lawyer was the prevailing party.

On appeal, Larson asserted that Grinnan never assumed joint responsibility because he did not assume responsibility for the representation as a whole. The court of appeals found that Grinnan had assumed one of the two components of joint responsibility—financial responsibility for the case—because of Grinnan’s exposure to liability for any malpractice of Larson. A remand was necessary to determine whether he also assumed ethical responsibility, the second component, on which the court had made no findings.

As guidance to the trial court on remand, the court analyzed the ethical responsibility issue. It concluded that a referring lawyer must: actively monitor the progress of the case; make reasonable efforts to ensure that the firm of the lawyer to whom the case was referred has in effect measures giving reasonable assurance that all lawyers in the firm conform to the Rules of Professional Conduct; and remain available to the client to discuss the case and provide independent judgment as to any concerns the client may have that the lawyer to whom the case was referred is acting in conformity with the Rules of Professional Conduct.

On remand, if the court finds that Grinnan assumed ethical responsibility, the court’s fee award will stand, subject to appeal by Larson. If the court finds that Grinnan did not assume ethical responsibility, he is only entitled to fees in proportion to the services he performed, with the referral fees to be reallocated to Larson, subject to appeal by Grinnan.

The court concluded that Grinnan failed to preserve issues he raised on cross-appeal.

Grinnan also contended that the trial court erred in finding a wrongful withholding.  The court found no error in the trial court’s award of prejudgment interest to Larson based on Grinnan’s wrongful withholding.

The court also noted that on remand the trial court could reconsider its decision not to award costs based on its findings on ethical responsibility.

The attorney fee award was vacated, the cross-appealed rulings were affirmed, and the case was remanded.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Public Utilities Commission has Exclusive Jurisdiction Over Claims for Enforcement of Tariffs

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Development Recovery Co., LLC v. Public Service Co. of Colorado on Thursday, June 15, 2017.

Public Utility—Subject Matter Jurisdiction—Enforcement of Tariffs—Common Law Claims.

The Public Service Company of Colorado, d/b/a Xcel Energy Co. (Xcel), is a utility company regulated by the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC). Development Recovery Company, LLC (DRC) was the assignee of claims from real estate developers who entered into extension agreements (agreements) with Xcel for the construction of distribution facilities to provide gas or electric service for homes in new developments. The agreements specified that they were governed by the PUC’s rules and regulations and referred several times to Xcel’s extension policies. The extension policies on file with the PUC are referred to as tariffs and provide that extension contracts are based on the estimate of the cost to construct and install the necessary facilities to provide the requested service. The tariffs explain in detail how construction costs and payments are to be handled.

DRC filed a complaint against Xcel alleging various common law claims and violation of C.R.S. § 40-7-102, related to an unspecified number of agreements between developers and Xcel over the course of 18 years. Xcel moved to dismiss, arguing that this matter was within the exclusive jurisdiction of the PUC or, alternatively, if the PUC did not have exclusive jurisdiction, the court should nevertheless refer the matter to the PUC under the primary jurisdiction doctrine. The district court agreed with Xcel on both grounds and dismissed the complaint.

On appeal, DRC argued that the district court has exclusive subject matter jurisdiction over DRC’s common law claims, asserting that the trial court erred in concluding that the substance of its claims is merely the enforcement of tariffs. The court of appeals noted that the PUC has exclusive jurisdiction in its constituted field, including enforcement of tariffs. The court concluded that all of DRC’s claims substantively involved enforcement of the tariffs (essentially, how costs were to be calculated and paid). Further, even if DRC has a cause of action under C.R.S. § 40-7-102, exhaustion of administrative remedies before the PUC is required.

DRC also asserted that the district court must have jurisdiction because only it can award the relief sought. DRC cannot confer subject matter jurisdiction on the district court simply by requesting relief in the form of damages. Further, the PUC has authority to order reparations where excessive charges have been collected by a public utility for a product or service, which is a potential remedy in this case.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: District Court Correctly Characterized Water Storage Plan as Frustrated Plan in Condemnation Action

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Board of County Commissioners of County of Weld v. DPG Farms on Thursday, June 15, 2017.

Condemnation—Highest and Best Use—Lost Income—Costs.

The Board of County Commissioners of Weld County (the County) filed a petition in condemnation to extend a public road over 19 acres of DPG Farms, LLC’s 760-acre property (the property). When condemnation proceedings were initiated, the property was used primarily for agricultural and recreational purposes. The parties stipulated to the County’s immediate possession of the 19 acres and proceeded to a valuation trial. The dispute centered on the highest and best use of 280 acres that contained gravel deposits. DPG’s experts testified about the highest and best use of the property. The district court determined, as a matter of law, that the evidence was too speculative to support a finding that water storage was the highest and best use of the relevant area (Cell C); instead, it determined that the highest and best use of those acres was gravel mining, but not water storage as well. The jury awarded DPG $183,795 in damages for the condemned property and nothing for the residue. DPG then requested costs. The district court rejected a substantial portion of the costs on grounds that they were disproportionate to DPG’s success and that certain expert evidence had been excluded.

On appeal, DPG contended that the district court erred in rejecting water storage as the highest and best use of certain portions of the property. The Court of Appeals reviewed the evidence that the district court’s determination was based on and concluded that the district court did not err in determining, as a matter of law, that the evidence was too speculative to support a jury finding that water storage was the highest and best use of Cell C.

DPG also argued that the trial court erred in excluding evidence of lost income, arguing that it was admissible pursuant to an income capitalization approach to valuing the property. DPG’s evidence of a potential income stream was admissible not as the measure of its damages but rather as a factor that could inform the fair market value of the property. And both the appraiser and the mining expert testified that the potential income stream from mining informed their fair market valuations. Because the lost income evidence, on its own, did not reflect the proper measure of damages, the district court correctly excluded it.

Finally, because the income valuation evidence presented by DPG’s experts was properly excluded, the district court did not abuse its discretion in limiting DPG’s award of costs on this basis.

The judgment and cost order were affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.