July 25, 2016

Colorado Court of Appeals: Notice-Prejudice Rule Applies Where Claim Filed with Insurance Company After Contractual Period

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in MarkWest Energy Partners, L.P. v. Zurich American Insurance Co. on Thursday, July 14, 2016.

Insurance—Notice-Prejudice Rule—Occurrence Liability Policy.

MarkWest Energy Partners, L.P. (MarkWest), a natural gas company, procured from Zurich American Insurance Company (Zurich) a commercial general liability policy (the policy) with a limited pollution liability endorsement (the endorsement), covering “incidents” occurring between November 1, 2012, and November 1, 2013. On November 4, 2012, MarkWest was constructing a pipeline when a chemical used in the drilling process escaped the drilling area, thereby contaminating the surrounding area. MarkWest immediately reported the incident to local environmental officials, who approved a chemical cleanup protocol and confirmed that cleanup had been successfully completed in February 2013. On March 28, 2013, MarkWest notified Zurich of the contamination and filed an associated claim. Zurich denied the claim because MarkWest had failed to provide notice within 60 days of the incident, as required by the endorsement. MarkWest filed an action for damages, and the district court granted Zurich’s motion for summary judgment.

On appeal, MarkWest contended that the notice-prejudice rule applied and the district court erred in granting Zurich’s motion for summary judgment. Colorado’s notice-prejudice rule applies even where, as here, the notice requirement is a condition precedent to coverage under an occurrence liability policy. Therefore, unless Zurich can show that its ability to investigate the occurrence or defend against a claim was prejudiced by MarkWest’s late notice, the court cannot deny a claim based solely on a failure to strictly comply with the notice provision. Because the district court concluded otherwise, its decision was reversed and the case was remanded for further proceedings.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

New and Revised Ethics Opinions Address Unbundling, Missing Clients

The Colorado Bar Association’s Ethics Committee has released Formal Opinion 128, addressing missing clients, and has revised Formal Opinion 101, addressing unbundling of legal services. Formal Opinion 128, “Ethical Duties of Lawyer Who Cannot Contact Client,” addresses situations where a client disappears at some time during the representation, or situations where a lawyer is retained by an insurance company to represent an insured but cannot locate the client. The CBA Ethics Committee opines that the lawyer should continue to act on behalf of the client in order to preserve legal rights, as long as the actions do not conflict with other ethical rules. The Committee also notes that the lawyer should take reasonable steps to locate the missing client.

Formal Opinion 101, “Unbundled Legal Services,” was revised by the Ethics Committee and reenacted as a new opinion. Formal Opinion 101 addresses unbundled legal services, where a lawyer undertakes part of the representation for a client but does not provide full services, such as in situations where a client cannot afford the full range of legal services but retains a lawyer to “ghostwrite” pleadings. The Ethics Committee incorporated the changes to Colo. RPC 1.2(c), which rule specifically allows limited representation, and the amendments to C.R.C.P. 11(b) and 311(b), which allow “ghostwriting” of pleadings. The opinion discusses the rule changes and their significance to lawyers in limited representations.

These rules and more will be discussed at CBA-CLE on July 26, 2016, at a breakfast program: “Ethics Rules Changes – Effective April 6, 2016.” Speakers Marcy Glenn, David Stark, and Jamie Sudler will discuss the new and revised rules and their implications for practitioners. Click the links below to register, or call (303) 860-0608.

 

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CLE Program: Ethics Rules Changes — Effective April 6, 2016

This CLE presentation will occur on July 26, 2016, at the CBA-CLE offices (1900 Grant Street, Third Floor), from 8:30 a.m. to 9:50 a.m. Register for the live program here or register for the webcast here. You may also call (303) 860-0608 to register.

Can’t make the live program? Order the homestudy here: MP3Video OnDemand.

Tenth Circuit: Fair Debatability Does Not Preclude Claim for Insurance Bad Faith

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Home Loan Investment Co. v. St. Paul Mercury Insurance Co. on Tuesday, July 5, 2016.

Ms. Rosemarie Glas owned a property in Grand Junction called White Hall with a mortgage through Home Loan Investment Co. When she stopped making payments on the loan, Home Loan accepted a deed in lieu of foreclosure from Ms. Glas in order to allow her to sell White Hall. Ms. Glas also informed Home Loan that she was unable to pay certain utilities and the insurance on the property. Home Loan contacted St. Paul to obtain insurance for the property, and completed a form from St. Paul by checking the option that it was the mortgagee in possession of the property. Later, there was a fire, and White Hall was almost completely destroyed. Home Loan submitted a claim to St. Paul for the value of the property, but St. Paul denied the claim, determining that Home Loan did not qualify as a mortgagee in possession and there was no foreclosure proceeding underway so there was no coverage.

Home Loan filed suit in Colorado state court, alleging claims for common law breach of contract and statutory bad faith pursuant to C.R.S. §§ 10-3-1115 and -1116. St. Paul removed the action to federal court, citing diversity jurisdiction. Prior to trial, St. Paul moved for summary judgment, but the district court denied the motion. At trial, St. Paul argued that Home Loan had never had “possession” or “care, custody, or control” sufficient to trigger coverage under the policy. St. Paul also argued that because its position was “fairly debatable,” it could not have acted unreasonably for purposes of the bad faith statutes. St. Paul renewed its motion for summary judgment and moved for judgment as a matter of law (JMOL) after Home Loan rested. The district court denied the motions. The jury returned a verdict for Home Loan on the common law breach of contract and statutory bad faith claims. St. Paul again moved for JMOL under F.R.C.P. 50(b), or, alternatively, a new trial under F.R.C.P. 59(a). The district court denied both motions, and St. Paul appealed to the Tenth Circuit on the statutory bad faith claim.

St. Paul raised three issues on appeal: (1) the district court erred in denying its motion for JMOL because its denial was reasonable as a matter of law, and the district court erroneously instructed the jury on assessing the standard for reasonableness; (2) C.R.S. §§ 10-3-1115 and -1116 only provide remedies for unreasonable claims handling activities, not underwriting practices; and (3) the district court erred in calculating the amount of damages under C.R.S. § 10-3-1116 because it awarded the covered benefit plus twice that amount as damages, for a total of three times the covered benefit. The Tenth Circuit examined and rejected each contention in turn.

The Tenth Circuit first addressed St. Paul’s argument that because its denial was “fairly debatable,” it was not unreasonable as a matter of law. Home Loan responded that fair debatability is only one factor in the overall reasonableness analysis. The Tenth Circuit noted that the question had not been addressed by the Colorado Supreme Court, but different panels of the Colorado Court of Appeals had answered the question differently. The Tenth Circuit remarked, though, that the Colorado Court of Appeals had expressly rejected the position advanced by St. Paul. The Tenth Circuit held that the district court did not err in denying St. Paul’s motion for JMOL on those grounds.

St. Paul next argued that C.R.S. §§ 10-3-1115 and -1116 only provide a remedy for claims-handling activities, not underwriting activities. The Tenth Circuit evaluated the statutes and found nothing to support St. Paul’s position. The Tenth Circuit instead held that the Colorado legislature intended to capture all aspects of the insurance relationship and provide a remedy for bad faith, regardless of whether the bad faith arose out of claims handling or underwriting.

Finally, St. Paul argue the district court erred in awarding three times the covered benefit. The Tenth Circuit again disagreed, reading the statute to provide for an award of the covered benefit plus two times that amount as a penalty.

The Tenth Circuit next addressed the argument raised by the dissent. The dissent would have granted JMOL because the evidence at trial did not support a finding that St. Paul acted unreasonably in denying Home Loan’s claim. The majority panel concluded that St. Paul neither forwarded a sufficiency of the evidence challenge before the district court nor argued sufficiency before the Tenth Circuit on appeal, and therefore the argument was waived. Although St. Paul advanced a Rule 50(a) argument at the close of Home Loan’s evidence, it argued a different issue on the hearing for its motion. Following the trial, St. Paul moved for JMOL under Rule 50(b), but the Tenth Circuit majority panel again found that the focus of St. Paul’s motion was not sufficiency of the evidence but rather the scope of the bad faith claim. Therefore, St. Paul’s sufficiency of the evidence challenge was not properly preserved.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court. Judge Bacharach dissented.

Colorado Supreme Court: Disclosed Costs Can Be Actionable Under CCPA if Costs Are Not Actual, Necessary, and Reasonable

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in State v. The Castle Law Group, LLC on Monday, July 5, 2016.

In this C.A.R. 21 original proceeding, the State appealed from the trial court’s order barring testimony of market rate prices. The State brought CCPA claims against Castle and several affiliated vendors, alleging that the vendors conspired with Castle to charge above market rate prices for various foreclosure-related services, and the inflated charges were eventually carried by mortgage servicers and the public because they relied on Castle’s representation that the costs were “actual, necessary, and reasonable.”

The trial court limited the State’s ability to provide market rate comparisons because it ruled that charging high prices is not illegal, and as long as Castle disclosed everything it charged, there was no deception. The Colorado Supreme Court disagreed with the trial court’s characterization of the CCPA claims. The court ruled that the trial court misperceived the alleged deception: that the prices charged were not “actual, necessary, and reasonable.” Because market rate comparison evidence directly impacts the determination of whether the charges were “actual, necessary, and reasonable,” the supreme court made its Order to Show Cause absolute and remanded to the trial court for further proceedings.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Property Owners Lacked Standing to Assert Claims for Relief

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Wibby v. Boulder County Board of County Commissioners on Thursday, June 30, 2016.

Lack of Standing.

Plaintiffs are property owners in unincorporated Boulder County (the Owners) who sued to try to force the Boulder County Board of County Commissioners (the County) to maintain their subdivision roads. The roads were part of the county road system and, by statute, are assigned to the County for maintenance. They were maintained by the County until the mid-1990s, but since that time the County has reduced its road funding and the Owners claimed this has resulted in “severe deterioration” of the roads. The Owners brought claims for breach of contract, declaratory relief, and mandamus. After various amendments to the complaint and motions, the district court granted the County’s motion to dismiss for lack of standing. The Owners appealed.

The Court of Appeals analyzed whether the Owners had standing. To establish standing, a plaintiff must demonstrate that (1) plaintiff suffered an injury in fact and (2) the injury was to a legally protected interest. The Owners claimed standing by alleging that a contract was created through the statutory subdivision approval process that they could enforce. However, there is a presumption that statutory enactments alone do not create contractual relationships. The Owners alleged no facts to overcome this presumption and therefore lacked standing to sue the County for breach of contract.

The Owners requests for declaratory relief and mandamus alleged that the County violated its “statutory duty” to maintain subdivision roads under the county highway statutes. Because the statutory county road provisions do not in indicate an intent that they can be enforced by private citizens, the Owners lacked standing. Moreover, the statute clearly entrusts the County with the discretion to allocate funds for developing and overseeing its county road policies.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Jurisdiction for Appeal of Final Administrative Action Lies in Court of Appeals, Not District Court

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in West Colorado Motors, LLC v. General Motors, LLC on Thursday, June 30, 2016.

Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction—Motion to Dismiss—Final Agency Action.

Park Meadows is a franchised Buick and GMC automobile dealership located in Lone Tree. Alpine is also a franchised Buick and GMC automobile dealership located in Denver. General Motors, LLC (GM) is a manufacturer and distributor of automobiles. C.R.S. § 12-6-120.3(1) required GM to provide at least 60-days notice to certain of its franchised dealers if it intended to relocate an existing motor vehicle dealer to a location that was within another motor vehicle dealer’s “relevant market area.” GM provided statutory notice to Park Meadows that it intended to approve the relocation of the Alpine dealership to Littleton. Park Meadows then sent a letter to the Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Revenue protesting the relocation and requesting an investigation, hearing, or cease and desist order. The Executive Director responded, stating that there was no basis to proceed with an investigation. Park Meadows sent another letter to the Executive Director, alleging violations of C.R.S. § 12-6-120.3. The Executive Director responded, again stating there was no basis upon which to proceed with an investigation. Park Meadows then filed a complaint in Denver District Court alleging that GM unreasonably approved Alpine’s relocation in violation of C.R.S. § 12-6-120.3(1.5) and, in the alternative, against the Executive Director to order her to undertake an investigation or other action. The Executive Director filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that her second letter was “final agency action” that was subject to review only in the court of appeals. The district court agreed and dismissed the action as to the Executive Director. It denied a motion by Park Meadows for reconsideration. Alpine filed a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, which the district court granted, finding that jurisdiction for any relief lies in the court of appeals.

Park Meadows appealed all three orders, arguing that the Executive Director’s second letter did not constitute “final agency action.” The court disagreed. It found that the letter was clearly final action finding that Park Meadows had no basis on which to proceed. The court then found no abuse of discretion in the district court’s denial of Park Meadows’ motion for reconsideration. The court also affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the claim against Alpine because the court had sole jurisdiction to review the Executive Director’s decision.

The orders were affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

The Ethical Danger of the Microsoft/LinkedIn Merger

Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared on Stuart Teicher’s blog, “Keeping Lawyers Out of Trouble,” on June 16, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Headshot-Stuart-TeicherBy Stuart Teicher

This week it was announced that Microsoft is buying LinkedIn. There are some hidden attorney ethics implications about which we all need to be aware.

A review of the recent news articles announcing the acquisition reveals that a key motivating factor in Microsoft’s purchase of LinkedIn was access to LinkedIn’s data.  Of course, sharing data is nothing new. But when companies improve their ability to share our data across various platforms, my ears perk up. Not just because it’s creepy or because of obvious privacy implications. The type of data sharing they’re contemplating in the Microsoft/LinkedIn combination makes me worry about confidentiality (and other) issues.

Why they are merging:

According to the Wall Street Journal, Microsoft sees a critical synergy with LinkedIn:

“LinkedIn’s users are, arguably, Microsoft’s core demographic. They also offer Microsoft something it has long sought but never had—a network with which users identify. Microsoft needs to persuade LinkedIn users to adopt that identity, and use it across as many Microsoft products as possible.

Access to those users, as well as the enormous amounts of data they throw off, could yield insights and products within Microsoft that allow it to monetize its investment in LinkedIn in ways that the professional networking site might not be able to. [Microsoft CEO] Mr. Nadella already has mentioned a few of these, including going into a sales meeting armed with the bios of participants, and getting a feed of potential experts from LinkedIn whenever Office notices you’re working on a relevant task.“

In other words, Microsoft wants to have your Outlook and other Microsoft software products speak to your LinkedIn profile. The intersection of that data is valuable—various sellers of products and services would be willing to pay for it.

It appears that Microsoft wants to be able to read through the work we do on their products like Word, review our upcoming appointments in our Outlook calendar, search for keywords in our emails, and then find connections with people with our LinkedIn connections. That’s what they are searching for—connections they could monetize.

For instance, let’s say accountant X has an Outlook Calendar appointment which sets a meeting with “Charles McKenna of Account-Soft Corp.” Microsoft could then search LinkedIn and it would learn that McKenna works for a company that sells workflow management software. Well, now Microsoft knows the accountant is in the market for workflow management software… and they could sell that knowledge to other software companies who would then direct solicitations in the accountant’s direction. That’s an annoyance for an accountant, but a potential ethics disaster if he/she were a lawyer.

Basic issue, Confidentiality:

If Microsoft scours our Word documents and emails, then there could be Rule 1.6 confidentiality issues.  That’s so obvious that we don’t need to spend time talking about it now. I think the more unusual issues come from the Calendar function…

If they leverage the data in our Calendar, it could reveal our client relationships:

The substance of what we learn from the client is confidential, but so is the very existence of the lawyer-client relationship. Will the integration of these platforms make it easier for people to figure out who we represent?

Think about how much information Microsoft could piece together from our Calendar. They might see a potential client introduction (which lists Pete Smith as present), a court appearance (which lists Pete Smith as present), and a meeting for settlement purposes (which lists Pete Smith as present). It’s not going to be too tough for the Microsoft bots to figure out that Pete Smith is your client.

If they leverage data in our Calendar, it could reveal key substantive information that could harm the client:

If Microsoft looks at our Calendar they can see that we’re heading to a particular locale. They might then cross reference our LinkedIn connections and send a message to one of them that says something like, “Your connection Bruce Kramer is going to Chicago next week. Why don’t you look him up?”

That heads-up might give someone the incentive to look into our movements a bit more… and who knows what they could find. What if that info was given to a real estate agent that we know in Chicago… and maybe we are representing a successful land owner… and we’re clandestinely scouting a real estate purchase because we don’t want people to figure out that we’re there on behalf of our deep-pocketed client… because if they know, the purchaser will run up the price. That LinkedIn message tipped off the real estate agent and it could cost the client a lot of money.

If they leverage data in our Calendar, it could end up revealing a misrepresentation:

Imagine that Client A asks you to accompany them to a meeting in Los Angeles. You tell her that you can’t go because you’ll be on vacation on the East Coast. That’s not true, however. The truth is that you’ve already scheduled a meeting with a potentially new client in Los Angeles. You didn’t want Client A to know that you’d be in town because you didn’t want to have to shuffle between clients—it would just be too much work. You could have told Client A that you’d be in town but you didn’t have time to meet her, but you thought she’d be insulted. It was just easier to say you’re far away and be done with it.

Later, Client A gets a LinkedIn message that says, “Your Connection Mary Smith is going to be in Los Angeles next weekend… send her a message and try to link up!” Do you know what you are now? Busted. And not only do you have egg on your face, but you may also have committed an ethical violation.

Is the white lie that you told your client going to be considered a misrepresentation or deception per Rule 8.4(c)? That rule states: “It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to (c) engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation…”

I know what you’re thinking… it was a half-truth. No harm no foul. Well, I searched the ethics code, and I didn’t find the term “white lie” or “half-truth” anywhere in the code. You should also note that Rule 8.4(c) does not require that the misrepresentation be “material.” It doesn’t allow you to lie about inconsequential things and there’s no modifying language- it just says that you can’t lie or deceive.

These are just a few issues. Some of these are clear ethics concerns, others are more akin to PR nightmares. Are they so terrible that we all need to get off LinkedIn right away? That might be a bit premature. After all, they only just announced the merging of the platforms- they haven’t actually done anything yet. I don’t know what dangers will actually be realized, or whether any dangers will be realized at all. What I do know is that part of being a responsible attorney in this technological age is to be diligent in thinking about these issues. As lawyers practicing in an ever-changing technological environment, we need to be aware of the potential problems. Keep your eye on the news and stay abreast about the details regarding the integration of these two platforms. Then, if you determine that you need to act, do so.  That way we are “keep[ing] abreast of changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology.” Comment [8], Rule 1.1.

Save the Date!

Stuart Teicher will be at the CLE offices on Thursday, September 8, 2016, to present two ethics programs. Registration is not yet open, but mark your calendars and don’t miss these important programs.

 

Stuart I. Teicher, Esq. is a professional legal educator who focuses on ethics law and writing instruction. A practicing attorney for over two decades, Stuart’s career is now dedicated to helping fellow attorneys survive the practice of law and thrive in the profession. Stuart teaches seminars and provides in-house training to law firms/legal departments.

Stuart helps attorneys get better at what they do (and enjoy the process) through his entertaining and educational CLE Performances. His expertise is in “Technethics,” a term Stuart coined that refers to the ethical issues in social networking and other technology. He also speaks about “Practical Ethics”– those lessons hidden in the ethics rules that enhance a lawyer’s practice. Stuart writes the blog “Keeping Lawyers Out of Trouble.”

Mr. Teicher is a Supreme Court appointee to the New Jersey District Ethics Committee where he investigates and prosecutes grievances filed against attorneys, an adjunct Professor of Law at Rutgers Law School in Camden, New Jersey where he teaches Professional Responsibility and an adjunct Professor at Rutgers University in New Brunswick where he teaches undergraduate writing courses. He is a member of the bar in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. In 2014, he authored the book Navigating the Legal Ethics of Social Media and Technology (Thomson Reuters).

Colorado Supreme Court: “Plausible on its Face” Standard Applies to Motions to Dismiss

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Warne v. Hall on Monday, June 27, 2016.

Civil Procedure—Pleading.

Warne petitioned for review of the Colorado Court of Appeals’ judgment reversing the dismissal of Hall’s complaint, which asserted a claim of intentional interference with contract. Although invited to apply the standard for dismissal articulated in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), the district court dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted without addressing either Twombly or Iqbal in its written order. By contrast, the court of appeals expressly declined to apply the more recent U.S. Supreme Court jurisprudence governing F.R.C.P. 12(b)(6), finding itself instead bound by the Colorado Supreme Court’s existing precedent, which had heavily relied on the U.S. Supreme Court’s earlier opinion in Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41 (1957), and particularly its language to the effect that a complaint should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove “no set of facts” in support of his claim. Declining, therefore, to be influenced by the U.S. Supreme Court’s more recent admonition to the federal courts that “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face,’” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570), the court of appeals found the complaint sufficient to state a claim.

The supreme court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals. Because the court’s case law interpreting the Colorado Rules of Civil Procedure in general, and C.R.C.P. 8 and 12(b)(5) in particular, reflected first and foremost a preference to maintain uniformity in the interpretation of the federal and state rules of civil procedure and a willingness to be guided by the U.S. Supreme Court’s interpretation of corresponding federal rules whenever possible, rather than an intent to adhere to a particular federal interpretation prevalent at some fixed point in the past, the Colorado Supreme Court found that its precedent was interpreted too narrowly by the court of appeals. Because it also found that plaintiff’s complaint, when evaluated in light of the more recent and nuanced analysis of Twombly and Iqbal, failed to state a plausible claim for relief, the court found the complaint insufficient under the Colorado Rules of Civil Procedure.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Economic Loss Rule Does Not Bar Tort Claims Arising Before Execution of Contract

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Van Rees v. Unleaded Software, Inc. on Monday, June 27, 2016.

Economic Loss Doctrine—Conversion and Civil Theft—Public Impact or Interest—Private or Internal Transactions.

After Unleaded Software, Inc. failed to deliver contracted-for websites and services, Van Rees brought suit, alleging various tort theories, civil theft, three breach of contract claims, and a violation of the Colorado Consumer Protection Act (CCPA). The trial court dismissed all but the contract claims, and the court of appeals affirmed, holding that the economic loss rule barred the tort and civil theft claims and that Van Rees failed to allege a significant public impact under the CCPA.

The supreme court affirmed in part and reversed in part. The economic loss rule applies only if there is no independent tort duty. Here, where Van Rees alleged Unleaded induced him into entering a contractual relationship when it knew it would not be able to perform the promised services, there is an independent tort duty, and the court therefore reversed as to Van Rees’s tort claims. The court did not reach the question of the economic loss rule as it relates to civil theft and instead affirmed the dismissal of that claim because Van Rees failed to adequately allege the knowing deprivation of a thing of value. Finally, the court affirmed the dismissal of the CCPA claim for failure to allege a significant public impact.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Economic Loss Rule Bars Tort Claims Against Mortgage Lender

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Miller v. Bank of New York Mellon on Thursday, June 16, 2016.

Dual Tracking—Failure to State a Claim for Relief—Economic Loss Rule—Implied Duty of Good Faith and Fair Dealing—Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress—Fraud—Negligence.

The Millers obtained a note and deed of trust in 2004 to purchase a house, and the loan was transferred several times. They began missing payments in 2007 and filed for bankruptcy and received discharges in 2009. Bank of America, N.A. (BANA) then told the Millers to vacate their house, but they stayed and eventually entered into negotiations with BANA regarding a loan modification. In February 2012, Bank of New York Mellon (BNY Mellon) moved for an order authorizing the public trustee to proceed with a foreclosure sale, pursuant to C.R.C.P. 120. While this Rule 120 action was pending, the Millers filed a complaint against five financial institutions (collectively, the Banks) to quiet title to the house in their favor. The Millers alleged that the Banks improperly subjected them to dual tracking (a process under which banks pursue foreclosure on a home while negotiating a loan modification) in violation of the consent judgment that resulted from the National Mortgage Settlement, which generally prohibits dual tracking. The district court dismissed for failure to state a claim for relief. The court in the Rule 120 action authorized the sale in July 2012, but the Millers kept negotiating a loan modification with BANA. In 2013, BANA and the Millers agreed to a loan modification, the Millers began making payments, and BNY Mellon dismissed the Rule 120 action. In October 2014, the Millers amended their complaint, asserting claims for breach of the implied duty of good faith and fair dealing, intentional infliction of emotional distress, fraud, and negligence. The Banks moved to dismiss, and the court granted the motion.

On appeal, the Millers argued that the court erred in determining that the economic loss rule barred their tort claims. The economic loss rule provides that “a party suffering only economic loss from the breach of an express or implied contractual duty may not assert a tort claim for such a breach absent an independent duty of care under tort law.” Here, the consent judgment in a federal case challenging dual tracking did not create a private cause of action for third parties and there was no special relationship between the parties that established an independent duty.

The Millers also argued that the court erred in dismissing their contract claim, because they had a reasonable expectation that the Banks would not engage in dual tracking and would modify their loan. Although there is an implied duty of good faith and fair dealing in every contract, there was no reasonable expectation on the part of the Millers that their loan would be modified or that the Banks would refrain from dual tracking. Neither allegation has any basis in their contractual agreement.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Trial Court Within Discretion to Deny Mistrial Based on Defense Counsel’s Inappropriate Remarks

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Acierno v. Garyfallou, MD on Thursday, June 16, 2016.

Medical Malpractice—Mistrial—Prosecutorial Misconduct—Ex Parte—Witness—Physician–Patient Privilege—Costs—CRS § 13-16-105.

Acierno filed a medical malpractice suit against Dr. Garyfallou and other defendants. The other defendants settled, and the jury returned a verdict in favor of Dr. Garyfallou. Plaintiff appealed and defendant cross-appealed the trial court’s order denying his motion for costs.

On appeal, Acierno asserted that defense counsel’s (1) misstatement of the trial court’s jury instruction on the applicable standard of care and (2) improper comments related to “runaway juries, runaway verdicts, and adverse media” warranted a mistrial. Here, the jury had a written copy of the correct instructions, the judge carefully considered Acierno’s request for a mistrial, and the court took remedial actions by admonishing defense counsel in front of the jury and advising the jury to disregard defense counsel’s statements. Therefore, the court sufficiently addressed any prejudice to Acierno and a mistrial was not warranted. In addition, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying the motion for new trial (1) based on changed testimony by prosecutorial witnesses, because this argument was not preserved by a contemporaneous objection; and (2) based on Acierno’s contention that a defense witness violated the court’s sequestration order, because the trial court found there was no violation and Acierno did not point to anything in the record establishing that the court’s finding was clearly erroneous.

Acierno also contended that the trial court erred when it allowed defense counsel to meet ex parte with the radiologist who interpreted Acierno’s MRI and MRA results. The trial court did not abuse its discretion because it confined defendant’s informal questioning to matters not subject to physician–patient privilege and Acierno did not assert that residually privileged information was divulged.

Acierno also contended that the trial court erred in denying his motion for directed verdict on Dr. Garyfallou’s defense of pro rata liability. Because the jury concluded that the doctor did not breach the applicable standard of care, this error was harmless.

Dr. Garyfallou contended, and the Court of Appeals agreed, that the trial court erred in denying his motion for costs against Acierno. Such an award is mandatory under CRS § 13-16-105.

The judgment was affirmed, the order denying costs was reversed, and the case was remanded.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Property Titled in Name of Revocable Trust Also Can Be Debtor’s Property

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Pandy v. Independent Bank on Monday, June 20, 2016.

Revocable Trust—Settlor—Judgment Lien.

This case principally concerns whether property titled in the name of a judgment debtor’s co-settled revocable trust is subject to a judgment lien against the debtor. The petitioners are co-settlors and co-trustees of a revocable trust that holds title to certain real property in Colorado. Respondent obtained two judgments against one of the petitioners in another state. After domesticating those judgments and recording transcripts of the Colorado judgments, respondent filed an action to quiet title and for a decree of foreclosure. The petitioner moved for judgment on the pleadings, arguing that respondent’s complaint was barred by what the petitioner argued was the applicable statute of limitations set forth in C.R.S. § 13-80-101(1)(k). The district court denied the motion, a division of the Court of Appeals granted leave to file an interlocutory appeal and affirmed that ruling, and the Supreme Court granted certiorari.

The Court concluded that as a settlor of a revocable trust, the petitioner held an ownership interest in the trust’s assets. Accordingly, respondent could properly seek to enforce its judgment against the petitioner in this case, and its action was not barred by the statute of limitations set forth in C.R.S. § 13-80-101(1)(k).

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.