October 17, 2017

Colorado Supreme Court: Hospital Has No Private Right of Action Against Police Department for Cost of Treatment

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in City of Arvada ex rel. Arvada Police Department v. Denver Health & Hospital Authority on Monday, October 9, 2017.

Prisons—Costs of Incarceration.

Arvada police arrested a severely injured man and sent him to Denver Health Medical Center. Denver Health and Hospital Authority (Denver Health) sued Arvada for the cost of care, claiming that C.R.S. § 16-3-401, which says that persons in custody “shall be . . . provided . . . medical treatment,” required Arvada to pay the hospital for the detainee’s care. Here, the Colorado Supreme Court clarified that (1) whether a statute provides a private right of action is a question of standing, and (2) the same test for a private right of action under Allstate Insurance Co. v. Parfrey, 830 P.2d 905 (Colo. 1992), applies for claims against both governmental and non-governmental defendants. Applying Parfrey to Denver Health’s statutory claim, the court held that C.R.S. § 16-3-401 does not provide hospitals a private right of action to sue police departments for the cost of providing healthcare to persons in custody. Accordingly, it concluded that the trial court erred by granting summary judgment to Denver Health on the statutory claim. The court remanded the case for consideration of Denver Health’s unjust enrichment claim based on Arvada’s statutory duty to provide care for persons in custody.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Good Advice, Better Advice: Rethink How You Use Authority

Briefs are too long. Some cases warrant lengthy briefing. Most do not. Shorter briefs are more than judicial preference.[1] Brevity strengthens your writing, clarifies your points, and pleases your audience.[2]

A rarely addressed problem is citing too much authority. When proofreading, many attorneys check a citation’s format and confirm it supports a proposition. But few assess whether to cut the citation or replace it with a better one.

Citations are about judgment. Consider these points.

String Citations Are Not a Problem; They Are a Symptom of a Problem

Nearly every legal writing CLE has a PowerPoint slide dedicated to the irredeemable brutality of string citations. Usually the presenter provides an exaggerated illustration like this:

Parties cannot waive the defense of lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Arbaugh v. Y&H Corp., 546 U.S. 500, 514 (2006); Wisconsin Dep’t of Corrections v. Schacht, 524 U.S. 381, 382 (1998); Lightfoot v. U.S., 564 F.3d 625, 627 (3d Cir. 2009); American Fiber & Finishing, Inc. v. Tyco Healthcare Group, LP, 362 F.3d 136, 138 (1st Cir. 2004); Gardner v. U.S., 211 F.3d 1305, 1310 (D.C. Cir. 2000); Douglas v. E.G. Baldwin & Associates, Inc., 150 F.3d 604, 608 (6th Cir. 1998); Harris v. U.S., 149 F.3d 1304, 1308 (11th Cir. 1998); Chernin v. U.S., 149 F.3d 805, 812-13 (8th Cir. 1998).

Then the presenter condemns string citations for two to three minutes, with a verbal footnote that they are acceptable in rare circumstances like to survey multiple jurisdictions or to show a trend (or consistency) over time.

This advice is not wrong, but it can lead to wrong conclusions.

Astute attorneys hear the advice, return to the office, and dutifully apply it. They scan briefs for precisely what the presenter mentioned: a paragraph with a single sentence followed by a horde of citations spanning multiple lines. If they find a string citation, they cut it down or determine an exception applies. If they find no string citation, hurray! Either way, in the end the attorneys feel confident the number of citations used to support all the propositions is fine because there are no unhelpful string citations. That conclusion is a problem.

Worse, that conclusion misunderstands the problem. The CLE advice frames the problem as string citations. But the absence of unhelpful string citations only means there are no unhelpful string citations. It does not mean the number of citations is acceptable.

The problem is attorneys cite too much authority. Whether that authority appears in a string citation is irrelevant. After all, when does a series of citations become a string citation? After two? Three? Four? Do you restart the count after a new signal word? I do not know and I do not care because it does not matter. You must justify every citation, whether solitary or in a series.

Cutting one string citation from a brief fixes one spot and shortens your brief by a handful of lines. But editing all of your citations improves dozens of sections and can shed pages.

Less is More: Choose the Appropriate Type and Number of Authority

Shed your collegiate habits. Briefs are not a way to show how much research you did, or how smart you are. I understand the hours you spent researching the intricacies of replevin were tiring and frustrating. I understand how few people have the command of replevin you now possess. And I understand that this hard won mastery of replevin should go towards something. Fine, but not your brief.[3]

Your brief has one goal: persuade your audience.[4] If a citation does not help this goal, cut it. Have a reason for every citation you include.[5] Tie that reason to how the citation persuades your audience.

Not using every citation is counterintuitive. If you have the space you want to use every arrow in your quiver.  But too much authority weakens a brief.[6] Citations add length which means more time for your audience to lose focus and patience. You may lose credibility as your audience wonders why the brief is citing unnecessary authority. Too much authority also drowns substance in waves of citations.[7]

Consider a few examples.

Example 1:

A party must file an action for negligence within two years after the cause of action accrues. Section 13-80-102(1)(a), C.R.S. 2017; Colburn v. Kopit, 59 P.3d 295, 296 (Colo. App. 2002).

One proposition, two citations. Why cite two sources? Both are direct citations, meaning there is no signal (e.g. “see also”). The absence of a signal tells the reader the citations directly support the entire proposition. If they both support the entire proposition, you do not need two sources.

Choose one. If the General Assembly chooses a statute of limitations, it codifies this selection in statutes. These statutes bind courts. Here, the statute is clear. When Colburn states the statute of limitations, it is paraphrasing but not interpreting the statute. So the case adds nothing you do not get from the statute. The statute is the strongest authority. It is clear. Cut the case cite.

Example 2:

Courts dismiss negligence claims raised after the two year statute of limitations expires. Section 13-80-102(1)(a), C.R.S. 2017; Colburn v. Kopit, 59 P.3d 295, 296 (Colo. App. 2002).

Again one proposition, two citations. But the proposition is different. It speaks about the remedy courts apply to a tardy claim. The statute does not discuss (although perhaps it implies) the remedy. The case cites the statute, states the statute of limitations, and shows the remedy. It covers all the propositions you need.

Whether to also cite the statute is a judgment call. Although the case is probably sufficient, the statutory citation may help if a court wants to check for amendments or ensure Colburn correctly interprets the statute. This is a strategic decision and may depend on what your opponent contests.

Example 3:

A plaintiff may only succeed on a claim of denial of procedural due process if a state government injured or revoked a constitutionally protected property interest without proper procedural protections. U.S. Const. amend. XIV, §1; Schanzenbach v. Town of La Barge, 706 F.3d 1277, 1283-84 (10th Cir. 2013).

Only the case citation is necessary. The constitutional citation adds nothing. Case law, not the Constitution, establishes the contours of procedural due process. Unless your argument hinges on a textual analysis of the Due Process Clause (unlikely), there is no need to cite the clause.

Example 4:

The Due Process Clause prohibits state governments from depriving any person of life, liberty, or property without due process. U.S. Const. amend. XIV, §1. See also Schanzenbach v. Town of La Barge, 706 F.3d 1277, 1283-84 (10th Cir. 2013).

The citation to the Fourteenth Amendment without any signal tells the reader the Amendment directly states the proposition. The use of “see also” tells the reader the case supports the proposition, but does not directly state it. But a reader cannot tell why the case citation exists. It might add something; it might not. If you have a direct citation followed by a signal word with more authority, you will usually need to state why you included that new authority. Here, either add a parenthetical or cut the case citation.

Example 5:

A complaint must state with particularity the circumstances of a fraud.  F.R.C.P. 9(b).  Courts dismiss claims that fail to meet this heightened pleading standard. See, e.g., Rodriguez v. Bar-S Food Co., 539 F. Supp. 710, 720 (D. Colo. 1982). This requirement protects defendants’ reputations and puts them on notice so they can form a defense. Tatten v. Bank of Am. Corp., 912 F. Supp. 2d 1032, 1041 (D. Colo. 2012). Conclusory allegations are insufficient; the complaint must allege the time, place, and contents of the false representation. Conrad v. The Educ. Res. Inst., 652 F. Supp. 2d 1172, 1182-83 (D. Colo. 2009). The failure to identify the party who made the false statements requires dismissal. Id.

Five citations from four sources. This paragraph explains the general law on pleading fraud. A trial court is probably already familiar with these propositions and does not need a full backstory. Even so, surely one case supports all of these propositions. Do not cite five different sources when one suffices.[8]

Showing several courts have dismissed complaints that plead fraud adds little. After all, what if the other side could cite more cases where courts did not dismiss such complaints? This is a fact-specific analysis. What matters is how the law applies to the complaint in your case. If the complaint’s allegations are close to a case you found, great. If not, more cases will not make a difference.

The ideal authority is one case that supports all these propositions and dismisses a complaint with the most analogous allegations to your case. Next best is one case that supports all these propositions and dismisses a complaint for the reason you advocate (e.g. not identifying who made the false statements) even though the allegations are very different.

Meaningfully Choose Your Authority

If the answer to “Why is this citation here?” is “Because it supports the proposition” then you have not thought it through. This answer explains why you have a citation (as opposed to no citation). But it does not answer why you included this citation. Consider the same question rephrased: of the universe of all authority that supports the proposition, why have you chosen this one?

Step 1: Choose the Appropriate Type of Authority. Often multiple authorities lend support: constitutions, statutes, regulations, case law, legislative history, treatises, dictionaries, articles, etc. Have a reason why you chose one type of authority over another. Why cite a statute and not a case? Why a case and not a treatise?

Step 2: Choose the Appropriate Source. Once you decide on the type of authority, choose a particular source. For example, after you decide to cite case law you must decide which case to cite. Why cite this case instead of that case when both support the proposition? Potential answers include:

  • It is the most recent high court decision which makes it the most authoritative case law on point.
  • It is the seminal case that all the other cases cite.
  • We rely heavily on this case later in the brief so it will make the court’s life easier by having fewer cases to examine.

No one answer is better than the other and this list is not exhaustive. Attorneys may differ. Bottom line: have a reason for everything you do.


[1] “With the docket the way it is—and growing (federal court appellate filings went up again last year)—we judges can only read briefs once. We cannot go back and re-read them, linger over phrases, chew on meanings. Your main points have to stick with us on first contact—the shorter and punchier the brief the better.” Patricia Wald, 19 Tips from 19 Years on the Appellate Bench, 1 J. App. Prac. & Process 7, 10 (1999). See also Judge William Eich, Writing The Persuasive Brief, Wisconsin Lawyer (Feb. 2003), available at http://www.wisbar.org/newspublications/wisconsinlawyer/pages/article.aspx?Volume=76&Issue=2&ArticleID=614 (estimating judges may only spend thirty minutes on the first reading of a brief).

[2] “Repetition, extraneous facts, over-long arguments (by the 20th page, we are muttering to ourselves, ‘I get it, I get it. No more for God’s sake’) still occur more often than capable counsel should tolerate. In our court counsel get extra points for briefs they bring in under the 50-page limit. Many judges look first to see how long a document is before reading a word. If it is long, they automatically read fast; if short, they read slower. Figure out yourself which is better for your case.” Wald, 1 J. App. Prac. & Process at 9-10.

[3] “You do not write for publication. You do not write to show your colleagues how smart you are, how well you know the subject matter, or how stupid you believe the judges to be. All this may well be true. But the name of the game is ‘persuade the judge.’ You don’t score points for anything else.” Ruggero J. Aldisert, Winning on Appeal: Better Briefs and Oral Argument, 24 (National Institute of Trial Advocacy, 2d ed. 2003). “You’re not writing a treatise, a law-review article, or a comprehensive Corpus Juris annotation. You are trying to persuade one court in one jurisdiction. And what you’re trying to persuade it of is not your (or your junior associate’s) skill and tenacity at legal research. You will win no points, therefore, for digging out and including in your brief every relevant case. On the contrary, the glut of authority will only be distracting. What counts is not how many authorities you cite, but how well you use them.” Antonin Scalia & Bryan A. Garner, Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges 125-26 (2008).

[4] Antonin Scalia & Bryan A. Garner, Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges 59 (2008) (“The overarching objective of a brief is to make the court’s job easier. Every other consideration is subordinate.”)

[5] “Conciseness doesn’t mean fewer words; it is the omission of needless words.” Eich, supra n. 1.

[6] “A brief that is readable and to-the-point will make it much easier for the judges to understand and quickly grasp your points, and they will be encouraged to spend more time with your arguments. Unnecessary length, on the other hand, will often result in your strongest points getting lost in the shuffle.” Eich, supra n. 1.

[7] See Alex Kozinski, The Wrong Stuff, 1992 BYU L. Review 325, 326 (1992) (“Keep in mind that simple arguments are winning arguments; convoluted arguments are sleeping pills on paper.”); Patricia Wald, 19 Tips from 19 Years on the Appellate Bench, 1 J. App. Prac. & Process 7, 9 (1999) (“The more paper you throw at us, the meaner we get, the more irritated and hostile we feel about verbosity, peripheral arguments and long footnotes.”)

[8] “As for governing authority, if the point you are making is relevant to your reasoning but is neither controversial nor likely to be controverted, a single citation (the more recent the better) will suffice. Anything more is just showing off to an unappreciative audience.” Antonin Scalia & Bryan A. Garner, Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges 126 (2008).

 

Michael Blasie graduated from the New York University School of Law. He began his career as a commercial litigator and criminal defense attorney in the New York City office of Cooley LLP where he practiced in state and federal trial and appellate courts. After five years he moved to Denver where he currently works as a law clerk to the Honorable David J. Richman of the Colorado Court of Appeals. Michael also serves as a volunteer firefighter for the City of Golden.

Colorado Supreme Court: Amendment to Rule 26 Does Not Mandate Exclusion of Non-disclosed Expert Testimony

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Catholic Health Initiatives Colorado v. Earl Swensson Associates, Inc. on Monday, October 2, 2017.

Expert Testimony—Discovery Sanctions.

In this case, the Colorado Supreme Court considered whether an amendment to Colorado Rule of Civil Procedure 26(a)(2)(B) providing that expert testimony “shall be limited to matters disclosed in detail in the [expert] report” mandates the exclusion of expert testimony as a sanction when the underlying report fails to meet the requirements of Rule 26. The court concluded this amendment did not create mandatory exclusion of expert testimony and that instead, the harm and proportionality analysis under Rule 37(c) remains the proper framework for determining sanctions for discovery violations. Accordingly, the court made its rule to show cause absolute and remanded the case for further proceedings.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

 

Colorado Supreme Court: Engagement Agreement Authorized Award of Post-Settlement Collection Costs

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Laleh v. Johnson on Monday, October 2, 2017.

Contracts—Fees and Costs.

The supreme court reviewed the court of appeals’ opinion affirming a trial court’s order requiring a pair of litigants to pay a court-appointed accounting expert’s post-settlement collection costs. The trial court appointed the expert to help resolve the litigants’ complex accounting claims, and the litigants signed an engagement agreement with the expert setting forth the scope of his services and payment. After the expert commenced work, the litigants settled the case and the trial court dismissed the suit. The expert then informed the trial court that the litigants refused to pay both his outstanding fees and his costs incurred post-settlement in attempting to collect the outstanding fees. Relying on a provision in the engagement agreement stating that the litigants were responsible for payment of “all fees and expenses” to the expert, the trial court held that the expert was entitled to the post-settlement costs he incurred while trying to collect his outstanding fees. The court of appeals disagreed with the trial court’s interpretation of the engagement agreement, holding that the agreement was silent as to the expert’s post-settlement collection costs, but it nevertheless affirmed the trial court’s award of the expert’s post-settlement collection costs on the ground that the trial court had inherent authority to require the litigants to pay such costs. The court held that a separate provision of the engagement agreement not previously considered by the trial court or the court of appeals authorized the trial court’s award of the disputed post-settlement collection costs. The court therefore affirmed the award of these costs to the expert, albeit on different grounds.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Prospective Juror’s Silence Properly Construed as Rehabilitation

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in People v. Clemens on Monday, September 11, 2017.

Juror Rehabilitation—Voir Dire—Silence.

In this case, the Colorado Supreme Court considered whether a prospective juror’s silence in response to rehabilitative questioning constitutes evidence sufficient to support a trial court’s conclusion that the juror has been rehabilitated. The court concluded that it does when, in light of the totality of the circumstances, the context of that silence indicates that the juror will render an impartial verdict according to the law and the evidence submitted to the jury at the trial. The court further concluded that, applying this test, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying defense counsel’s challenges for cause. Accordingly, the judgment of the court of appeals was reversed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Damages Clause Not Void Where Non-offending Party Offered Choice of Actual or Liquidated Damages

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Ravenstar, LLC v. One Ski Hill Place, LLC on Monday, September 11, 2017.

Freedom of Contract—Liquidated Damages Clauses—Contractual Damages.

In this case, the Colorado Supreme Court considered whether a liquidated damages clause in a contract is invalid because the contract gives the non-breaching party the option to choose between liquidated damages and actual damages. The court concluded that such an option does not invalidate the clause. Instead, parties are free to contract for a damages provision that allows a non-breaching party to elect between liquidated damages and actual damages. However, such an option must be exclusive, meaning a party who elects to pursue one of the available remedies may not pursue the alternative remedy set forth in the contract. Therefore, under the facts of this case, the liquidated damages clause in the contracts at issue is enforceable. Accordingly, the supreme court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Restitution Statute Does Not Require Prosecution’s Requested Specificity for Setoff

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Stanley on Thursday, September 7, 2017.

Traffic Accident—Unapportioned Settlement—Crime Victim Compensation Program—Restitution—Setoff—Burden of Proof.

Stanley’s automobile insurer, Geico Indemnity Co. (Geico), entered into a “Release in Full of All Claims” (release) with the victim and her husband. Under the settlement, Geico paid the victim $25,000 for all claims related to and stemming from the accident in exchange for a full and final release of all claims against Stanley and Geico. Thereafter, Stanley pleaded guilty to felony vehicular assault, driving under the influence, and careless driving. The prosecution filed a motion to impose restitution and attached a report from the Crime Victim Compensation Program (CVCP). It showed that the CVCP had paid the victim $30,000, the maximum amount allowable by statute, for pecuniary losses proximately caused by Stanley’s criminal conduct. The Court awarded Stanley a $25,000 setoff against restitution for the amount paid by Geico, and ordered him to pay the $5,000 net amount.

On appeal, the prosecution argued that Stanley should not receive a setoff for the settlement funds because the release was an unapportioned settlement that did not “earmark” the proceeds for the same expenses compensated by the CVCP, leaving open the possibility that the victim used the proceeds for losses not compensated by the CVCP. When a victim receives compensation from a civil settlement against a defendant, the defendant may request a setoff against restitution “to the extent of any money actually paid to the victim for the same damages.” For purposes of a setoff, however, the court cannot allocate proceeds from an unapportioned civil settlement agreement without “specific evidence that the settlement included particular categories of loss,” because in civil cases victims may recover both pecuniary losses covered by the restitution statute and other damages specifically excluded under the restitution statute. Because the information needed to determine whether a victim has been fully compensated or has received a double recovery is known only by the victim, once a defendant has shown that a civil settlement includes the same categories of losses or expenses as compensated by the CVCP and awarded as restitution, the defendant has met his burden of going forward, and the prosecution may then rebut the inference that a double recovery has occurred. Here, Stanley met his burden of proving a setoff, but the victim may have used some or all of the settlement proceeds for losses not compensated by the CVCP.

The order was affirmed, and the case was remanded to permit the prosecution to show that the victim did not receive a double recovery from the settlement proceeds and the CVCP payment.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

The Lawless Landscape of Legal Writing

Editor’s Note: CBA-CLE Legal Connection is pleased to present a new series of legal writing columns authored by Michael Blasie. Michael Blasie began his career as a commercial litigator for Cooley LLP in New York City. He recently moved to Denver, where he is a Law Clerk to Hon. David Richman of the Colorado Court of Appeals. Welcome, Michael!

Think. That’s the key. Good legal writing is not about following rules. Good legal writing is good judgment.[1] Test and improve your judgment with these two guidelines.

Have A Good Reason For Everything You Write

Many attorneys stop thinking about legal writing after a few years of practice. They form habits. They think they know what certain briefs should look like. They stop choosing and begin defaulting.[2] This is a problem.

Although you might not “always” or “never” write a brief a certain way, you should always have a good reason why you wrote a brief a certain way. Why did you write it this way instead of that way?

The reason may be responsive; e.g., at a recent CLE the judges of this court said they find it helpful when briefs do [x]. Or it may be pragmatic; e.g., the court’s rules require [y]. Or perhaps the reason comes from judgment; e.g., this citation warrants a fuller multi-sentence explanation rather than a parenthetical because [z]. All fine. Just have a reason, and make it a good one.

“Because that is how it is done” or “Because that is how [name of other attorney/institution] does it” are not good reasons. Here’s why.

Consider this standard introduction to a brief:

Defendants Profitable, Corp. (“Profitable”) and Not Me, Inc. (“Not Me”), (collectively “Defendants”), respectfully submit this brief in opposition to the motion filed by plaintiffs Harmed Corp. (“Harmed”) and XYZ, Inc. (“XYZ”) (collectively “Plaintiffs”), pursuant to C.R.C.P. 59(e), to amend the judgment filed herein on January 1, 2017 (“Judgment”).

I see this introduction in almost every brief. Why does it exist? You might say it identifies who wrote the document, what the document is, and what relief the authors’ seek. But I don’t think that is why people include it. That reasoning is engineered after-the-fact. Instead people probably write this paragraph because they always have. They saw it in every template they received as a young attorney and they have seen it in most briefs since. So we all do it, for no reason.

Reexamine this introduction in its full context:

 

County Court, Denver County, Colorado
1437 Bannock Street, Room 100
Denver, Colorado 80202, 720-865-7840
____________________________________________________________
Plaintiffs: HARMED CORP. and XYZ, INC.,

v.

Defendants: PROFITABLE, CORP. and NOT ME, INC.
____________________________________________________________

Charisma Genius, Esq.
All We Do Is Win, LLP
123 Main Street
Denver, CO 80204
____________________________________________________________

DEFENDANTS’ BRIEF IN OPPOSITION TO PLAINTIFFS’ C.R.C.P. 59(e) MOTION TO AMEND THE JUDGMENT

____________________________________________________________

Defendants Profitable, Corp. (“Profitable”) and Not Me, Inc. (“Not Me”), (collectively “Defendants”), respectfully submit this brief in opposition to the motion filed by plaintiffs Harmed Corp. (“Harmed”) and XYZ, Inc. (“XYZ”) (collectively “Plaintiffs”), pursuant to C.R.C.P. 59(e), to amend the judgment filed herein on January 1, 2017 (“Judgment”).

 

Recall the purported purposes of the paragraph: to identify who wrote the document, what the document is, and what relief the authors’ seek. I’ll accept it does that. Now explain why we have captions.

The same reasons.

This introduction is wholly redundant with the caption. I know who the authors are, what the document is, and the relief sought because it is in giant capital letters one inch above the introduction.[3]

Approach this introduction from a different angle. If you cut this paragraph what would happen? For starters, most readers would not notice because they reflexively glance over the paragraph anyway. It certainly would not confuse your readers. After all, you have never read an opinion that started with “This is an opinion by Chief Justice Roberts in the case of Smith v. Jones.” Level of confusion: zero. But cutting the paragraph would reduce your word count and provide a chance to hook your audience.

Although this introduction does not hurt your brief, it fails to strengthen it. It blows the opening. Liken it to comedians who open with “How is everyone doing tonight?” Wasted words, wasted time, wasted opportunity. You could have hooked your audience and you didn’t.

True, this introduction could be helpful in some cases. For example, if you represent a third party intervener, this opening could introduce the party and explain its relationship to the case. Or perhaps you use it to avoid confusion when several motions have been filed with similar titles. Use this introduction when you have a good reason.[4]

Lastly, a few stylistic points. Many attorneys compulsively define terms with quoted phrases inside parentheticals. Stop. Unless you have a good reason. Here, there is no need to define all the defendants in the case as “collectively ‘Defendants.’” Obviously the term “Defendants” refers to all the defendants in the case. Such a definition might be useful if you are referring to some, but not all, of the defendants (e.g. “the Colorado Defendants”). Similarly, you can shorten party names (“Not Me” and “XYZ”) throughout the brief without “defining” them and without any risk of confusion. Likewise, if there is only one judgment, then “Judgment” refers to it. This habit is one we think helps readers, but often causes more harm than good. [5] It is a tool that works sometimes. Use it when you have a good reason. Don’t when you don’t. Good writing is good judgment.[6]

Tie Your Reason to How You Will Persuade Your Audience

A good reason is not enough because not all good reasons persuade. You must tie that reason to how it persuades your audience.

For example, legal writing guru Bryan Garner advocates putting citations in footnotes. Garner cites benefits like increasing readability, exposing poor writing, and enhancing the main text discussion of authority.[7] These are good reasons.

But do not neglect your audience. Few judges sanction this practice. Most judges despise footnotes, or at least view them skeptically. Reading a brief with dozens of footnotes will certainly breach expectations and could cause intense frustration.

Suppose you are appealing a criminal conviction. In a lengthy but carefully compelling narrative you weave together the defendant’s unique circumstances, understandable actions, and unfair treatment during the case. Then you a raise a single issue about whether the trial court erred by denying a challenge to a juror who had difficulty understanding voir dire questions and difficulty communicating. Your compelling narrative may elicit sympathy and reflect a mastery of storytelling, but your reader will likely see it as wholly divorced from the legal issue. And a judge may view it as an appeal to emotion without arguing the applicable law.

Finally, most legal writing advice assumes a single audience—the court. But practitioners often have multiple audiences, like senior attorneys and clients. Consider all of these audiences when choosing a writing strategy.

 


[1] See Antonin Scalia & Bryan A. Garner, Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges 59 (2008) (“But whenever you are convinced that departing from any of our recommendations, or from any convention, will make the court’s job easier, depart.”)

[2] See Robert M. Russel, Rhetoric for Appellateers 19 (Handout, March 2015).

[3] See id. at 92 (“Whatever you do, don’t allow this section [the introduction] to duplicate what is written elsewhere. Repetition bores, and boredom invites skimming.”)

[4] For ideas on other ways to start a brief, see Stephen Armstrong & Timothy Terrell, Thinking Like a Writer: A Lawyer’s Guide to Effective Writing and Editing 149-73 (Practicing Law Institute 3d ed. 2008); Ross Guberman, Point Made: How to Write like the Nation’s Top Advocates 3-11 (2d ed. 2014); Ross Guberman, Point Taken: How to Write Like the World’s Best Judges 3-39 (2015) (discussing introductions to opinions).

[5]“There also are lawyers who are singularly devoted to what I call double-identification. They love unnecessary parentheses; and the more unnecessary the better – even if the only sure result is the reader’s total loss of interest in what’s being said.” Judge William Eich, Writing The Persuasive Brief, Wisconsin Lawyer (Feb. 2003), available at www.wisbar.org/newspublications/wisconsinlawyer/pages/article.aspx?Volume=76&Issue=2&ArticleID=614.

[6] For advice about how to reference parties and when to define terms, see Bryan A. Garner, Legal Writing In Plain English 57-62 (2d ed. 2013); Alex Kozinski, The Wrong Stuff, 1992 BYU L. Review 325, 328 (1992); Guberman, Point Made, supra n. 4 at 288-89; Scalia & Garner, supra n. 1 at 120-22.

[7] Scalia &. Garner, supra n. 1 at 132-33.

 

Michael Blasie graduated from the New York University School of Law. He began his career as a commercial litigator and criminal defense attorney in the New York City office of Cooley LLP where he practiced in state and federal trial and appellate courts. After five years he moved to Denver where he currently works as a law clerk to the Honorable David J. Richman of the Colorado Court of Appeals. Michael also serves as a volunteer firefighter for the City of Golden.

JDF Forms in All Categories Amended by State Judicial

The Colorado State Judicial Branch has been amending its JDF forms in August. To date, there are 246 forms with an August revision date, including forms in every major category.

The JDF forms are being revised to include the following language:

□ By checking this box, I am acknowledging I am filling in the blanks and not changing anything else on the form.
□ By checking this box, I am acknowledging that I have made a change to the original content of this form.
(Checking this box requires you to remove JDF number and copyright at the bottom of the form.)

For a complete list of the Colorado State Judicial Branch’s JDF forms, including those with August 2017 revision dates, click here.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Counties Not Liable for Attorney Fees to Defend Disciplinary Action Against District Attorney

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Ruybalid v. Board of County Commissioners of Las Animas County on Thursday, August 24, 2017.

Ruybalid was the District Attorney for the Third Judicial District, and he admitted to serial violations of the Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct during his tenure as District Attorney. Ruybalid believed the counties should have defended him against his disciplinary actions, but the counties refused to pay for his attorney fees and costs. Ruybalid hired an attorney and entered into a settlement, admitting a pattern of discovery violations that led to the dismissal of criminal charges in several cases and stipulating that he did not diligently represent the people and engaged in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice.

After resolving the disciplinary action, Ruybalid filed a complaint for declaratory relief against the counties, seeking reimbursement of his attorney fees and costs incurred in defending the disciplinary action. The counties moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim, arguing Ruybalid had no right to fees and costs. Ruybalid countered that he had a statutory right to fees and costs, and also an equitable claim. The district court concluded that Ruybalid had failed to state a claim and had no right to fees and costs, and dismissed the complaint. Ruybalid appealed.

The court of appeals noted that the American Rule generally requires parties to pay their own fees and costs. Ruybalid argued that C.R.S. § 20-1-303 required the counties to pay his attorney fees, but the court of appeals disagreed, finding nothing in the rule to require the counties to pay attorney fees or costs. The court refused to infer an exception to the American Rule not explicitly authorized by statute. The court declined to consider the attorney fees and costs incurred in defending Ruybalid’s disciplinary action as “expenses necessarily incurred” in discharging a district attorney’s official duties. The court also noted that Ruybalid failed to allege any facts that tended to support that the expenses incurred were for the benefit of the counties.

The court of appeals affirmed the trial court’s motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Class Did Not Cease to Exist When Settlement Entered

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in EnCana Oil & Gas (USA), Inc. v. Miller on Thursday, August 10, 2017.

Class Action Settlement—Arbitration Provision—C.R.C.P. 23—Survival of the Class.

A certified class of Colorado oil and gas royalty owners (the Class) and EnCana Oil & Gas (USA), Inc. (EnCana) litigated, beginning in 2005, EnCana’s alleged underpayment of royalties on natural gas it produced. In 2008, EnCana and the Class entered into a settlement agreement that detailed payment of funds to settle past claims, established the methodology EnCana would use for future royalty payments, and included an arbitration clause. The district court’s final judgment approved and incorporated the settlement agreement, dismissed the 2005 case with prejudice, and reserved jurisdiction to enforce the agreement. In 2016, oil and gas royalty owners (Owners), purporting to act on behalf of the Class, filed a demand for arbitration alleging EnCana had underpaid royalties owed to Class members in violation of the settlement agreement. EnCana filed a new case in district court asserting that (1) the class ceased to exist when the 2005 case was dismissed with prejudice in 2008, and (2) the 2008 settlement agreement did not authorize arbitration on a class-wide basis. The district court found that the class had not ceased to exist and the claims should be resolved in class-wide arbitration, and entered summary judgment against EnCana.

On appeal, EnCana contended that the district court erred in finding that the Class continued after the case was dismissed. The court of appeals determined that the Class survived the 2008 dismissal because (1) compliance with the settlement agreement became part of the dismissal order, so the district court retains jurisdiction to give effect to the agreement; and (2) the agreement continues for the lives of the leases or royalty agreements covered by the settlement agreement and expressly burdens and benefits successors and assigns of the parties.

EnCana also claimed that the district court failed to satisfy C.R.C.P. 23. The district court did not err in declining to engage in further Rule 23 analysis after the 2008 dismissal and judgment approving the settlement agreement.

The court next rejected EnCana’s contention that Class counsel failed to provide sufficient notice of the arbitration demand.

EnCana then argued it was error to determine that the settlement agreement contained a contractual basis to conclude that EnCana and the Class agreed to class arbitration. EnCana asserted that because the arbitration clause is silent on class arbitration, the district court should have presumed that the parties agreed to bilateral arbitration only. The settlement agreement explicitly names all members of a certified class as a party to the agreement, frames the disputes in class- or subclass-wide terms, and provides relief on a class- or subclass-wide basis. The arbitration clause’s context thus demonstrates an agreement to class rather than bilateral arbitration. Further, to conclude that the settlement agreement evidenced that the parties contemplated engaging in approximately 5,850 individual arbitrations to resolve future disputes rather than a single class arbitration would be absurd.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: “Legal Disability” Means Inability to Bring Lawsuit Due to Some Policy of Law

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in T.D. v. Wiseman on Thursday, August 10, 2017.

“Legal Disability” for Tolling Statute of Limitations—C.R.S. § 13-80-103.7(3.5)(a).

T.D.’s complaint alleged she had endured 10 years of sexual and physical abuse from defendant, her former stepfather. She alleged that she was 7 years old when the abuse began and that it continued until about 1990, when she was in high school. She alleged that the abuse caused her to become dependent on drugs and alcohol, and she suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, psychological disorders, self-mutilation, eating disorders, depression, and a cycle of abusive relationships.

In August 2005, T.D. disclosed defendant’s alleged abuse to the doctors who had been treating her. She attempted suicide in 2012. Thereafter she was able to maintain sobriety. T.D. filed a lawsuit in 2015 asserting assault, battery, sexual assault and battery, extreme and outrageous conduct, and false imprisonment. Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, asserting that T.D.’s claims had accrued in 2005 when she disclosed the alleged abuse to her doctors. Consequently, her claims were time-barred by the six-year statute of limitations in C.R.S. § 13-80-103.7(1). T.D. argued that the record contained genuine issues of material fact concerning whether she had been a “person under disability” until 2012 because of her addictions and psychiatric disorder, so the statute would have been tolled until her disability was lifted. The trial court granted the motion for summary judgment, finding no genuine issues of material fact in the record about when her claims accrued or whether the statute of limitations barred those claims.

The court of appeals determined that the issue of when the claim accrued was not properly before it, and assumed it accrued at the latest in 2005. The court then considered whether there was a factual dispute about whether the applicable statute of limitations was tolled because T.D. was a “person under disability.” Under C.R.S. 13-80-103.75(3.5)(a), a “person under disability” is a person who is (1) a minor under 18 (2) “declared mentally incompetent”; (3) “under other legal disability and who does not have a legal guardian”; or (4) “in a special relationship with the perpetrator of the assault” and “psychologically or emotionally unable to acknowledge the assault or offense and the resulting harm.” T.D. was 43 when the trial court granted the summary judgment motion, so she was not a minor from 2005 to 2011, when the statute of limitations was running. The record did not contain disputed facts about whether she was mentally incompetent during the years during which the statute of limitations ran. The court concluded that “legal disability” denotes an inability to bring a lawsuit based on a “policy of the law.” No facts in the record indicated that T.D. lacked the power to timely bring her suit. Lastly, while a familial relationship can constitute a “special relationship,” T.D. did not demonstrate that she was “psychologically or emotionally unable to acknowledge the assault or offense and the resulting harm.”

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.