December 10, 2017

Colorado Court of Appeals: Jury Award of Zero Noneconomic Damages Appropriate Where Injuries were De Minimis

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Miller v. Hancock on Thursday, November 16, 2017.

Non-economic Damages—Jury Award—De Minimis—Pre-Offer Costs—Pretrial Offer of Settlement.

Plaintiff Miller was involved in an automobile accident with defendants, Aragon and Hancock. Miller sued Aragon and Hancock to recover economic and noneconomic damages that he suffered as a result of that accident. Before trial, both Aragon and Hancock made statutory offers of settlement to Miller pursuant to C.R.S. § 13-17-202. The jury awarded Miller only economic damages. Miller filed a motion for new trial on damages, which the trial court denied. Each of the parties also moved to recover their costs, Miller as the prevailing party, and Aragon and Hancock pursuant to C.R.S. § 13-17-202, arguing that the final judgment Miller recovered did not exceed their respective pretrial settlement offers. The court did not award Miller costs against Hancock, but awarded Hancock the entire amount of her claimed costs that accrued after her first offer. The court awarded costs in favor of Miller and against Aragon and denied Aragon’s request for costs.

On appeal, Miller contended that the trial court erred by denying his motion for new trial on damages. He argued that a jury’s failure to award noneconomic damages is impermissible as a matter of law when the jury returns a verdict awarding economic damages. Miller contended that it was undisputed that his injuries were more than de minimis; however, his characterizations of the relevant facts and evidence lack record support. The jury could have reasonably concluded that Miller’s injuries from the accident were de minimis. Thus, the record here was sufficient to support the jury’s award of zero noneconomic damages.

Miller also argued that the trial court should have included his pre-offer costs when determining whether Hancock’s pretrial offers of settlement exceeded the amount Miller recovered from Hancock at trial. Whether a statutory offer includes pre-offer costs depends on the language of the offer. Hancock’s offers unambiguously included costs, so Miller was entitled to have his pre-offer costs included in his final judgment for the purpose of determining whether either of Hancock’s offers entitled her to recover her post-offer costs pursuant to C.R.S. § 13-17-202. Thus, the trial court erred by interpreting Hancock’s offers to exclude costs.

Miller next argued that the trial court erroneously reduced the costs he was entitled to recover, yet awarded Hancock the entire amount of her claimed costs without subjecting her costs to similar scrutiny. Here, the trial court abused its discretion when it reduced the amount of Miller’s recoverable costs without making adequate findings as to whether those costs were reasonable and necessary.

The order denying Miller’s motion for a new trial on damages was affirmed. The awards of costs to Hancock and Miller were reversed and the case was remanded for further proceedings to determine Miller’s costs and whether, after determining Miller’s costs, Hancock made a settlement offer pursuant to C.R.S. § 13-17-202 that exceeds the amount of Miller’s final judgment, inclusive of pre-offer costs and interest.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Plaintiff Established Sufficient Contacts Under Stream of Commerce Doctrine to Withstand Motion to Dismiss

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Align Corp. Ltd. v. Boustred on Monday, November 13, 2017.

Stream of Commerce Doctrine—Personal Jurisdiction

In this case, the supreme court considers the stream of commerce doctrine to determine the prerequisites for a state to exercise specific personal jurisdiction over a non-resident defendant. The court concludes that World-Wide Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson, 444 U.S. 286 (1980), sets out the controlling stream of commerce doctrine. That doctrine establishes that a forum state may assert jurisdiction where a plaintiff shows that a defendant placed goods into the stream of commerce with the expectation that the goods will be purchased in the forum state. Applying that doctrine to this case, the court then concludes that the plaintiff made a sufficient showing under that doctrine to withstand a motion to dismiss. Accordingly, the supreme court affirms the judgment of the court of appeals.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Show Me The Way: Using Headers More Effectively

Headers are helpful. Use them.[1]

Use Headers in a Statement of Facts

Think of all the good reasons you use headers in your argument section. Those same reasons apply to the Statement of Facts section. So use headers there too.[2]

When you do come across the rare Statement of Facts that uses headers, it often contains ones like these:

  1.  The December 22, 2010 Common Interest Agreement.
  2.  Defendant’s Negligence.

These are useless. The date and title of the document are probably irrelevant.[3] The header does not engage the reader because none of us want to read about common interest agreements. Neither header provides a fact essential to a court’s ruling. In fact, the second header is a legal conclusion (not a factual one). They are neither memorable nor relevant. In short, they say nothing about your case.

But it does not have to be this way. Ross Guberman provides a helpful example.[4] Watch how the government used headers in a Statement of Facts section to defend convictions in the Martha Stewart case.

  1.  The Government’s Case
    1.  “Get Martha on the Phone”
    2.  “Peter Bacanovic thinks ImClone is Going to Start Trading Downward”
    3.  Stewart Sells Her ImClone Stock
    4.  “Something is Going On With ImClone And Martha Stewart Wants To Know What”
    5.  Stewart’s Conversation With Mariana Pasternak
    6.  The Investigations Begin
    7.  The Tax Loss Selling Cover Story
    8.  January 3, 2002: Faneuil Lies to Investigators
    9.  Bacanovic Changes The Cover Story
    10.  January 7, 2002: Bacanovic Lies to Investigators
    11.  Stewart Alters Bacanovic’s Telephone Message
    12.  February 4, 2002: Stewart Lies to Investigators
    13.  February 13, 2002: Bacanovic Lies in Sworn Testimony
    14.  March 7, 2002: Faneuil Lies to Investigators Again
    15.  April 10, 2002: Stewart Lies to Investigators Again
    16.  Stewart’s False Public Statements
    17.  Faneuil Reveals The Truth[5]

When you read these headers, a story emerges. Not just any story, a story helpful to the prosecution.[6]

Let’s consider a simpler example. When you glance at a Table of Contents you see the following:

  1.  Farm Inc. Agreed to Deliver One Hundred Eggs to Pie Corp. Every Sunday.
  2.  One Sunday, Without Notice, Farm Inc. Delivered No Eggs.
  3.  Without Eggs Pie Corp. Could Not Bake or Sell Any Pies That Week.
  4.  That Week Pie Corp. Lost $1,000.

From these headers you can predict this lawsuit probably contains a breach of contract claim. The headers track the elements without using any legal terms, like “breach” or “causation.” More importantly, these four headers match the four factual findings needed to succeed on the claim.  If the court remembers nothing else except these four factual conclusions, the plaintiff’s statement of facts has done its job.

Phrase Argument Section Headers Persuasively

Frequently headers state a legal conclusion without any reasoning. For example,

  1.  The Complaint Fails to State a Claim Upon Which Relief Can be Granted.
  2.  The Existence of a Disputed Material Fact Precludes Summary Judgment.
  3.  Defendant’s Negligence Caused Damages.

These headers could appear in any brief for any case involving these types of motions or claims. They are weak and add little. Remember, when your reader gets to these headers, the reader already knows what you want. The caption page and opening said what you want and why. So the reader knows you think the complaint does not state a claim when the reader gets to the header saying the complaint does not state a claim. Add something new and helpful.

Make your headers stronger by stating why you win:[7]

  1.  Because the Complaint Does Not Allege the Third and Fourth Elements of Negligence, It Fails to State A Claim for Negligence.
  2.  Conflicting Expert Testimony About Whether The Landfill Continues to Cause or Threaten Environmental Damage Creates a Disputed Material Fact.
  3.  When the Driver Became Distracted While Texting on Her Phone, She Crashed Into the Car.

The Integrated Header: Visual Cues For The Reader

Usually we think of headers as an indented sentence prefaced with an outline-symbol like a roman numeral. So headers are abrupt and obvious. Not quite.

Some briefs integrate headers into the main text. They use portions of headers to start paragraphs. These integrated headers are not in the Table of Contents. Weaker but also less disruptive than traditional headers, they function as helpful visual cues and transitions.[8] These headers are neither better nor worse than traditional headers. They are an option. Use them when you deem appropriate.

Former United States Solicitor General Seth Waxman has a knack for these. Take a look.

Example 1:

Summary of Argument

I.  Implied dedication requires two elements: (1) the property owner’s unequivocal intent to dedicate land for a particular public use; and (2) and acceptance of that land for that use by the public. Only the first element, the landowner’s intent, is at issue here. . . .

[several paragraphs]

II. Appellants have not come close to establishing that the City intended—much less unequivocally intended—to irrevocably dedicate the four parcels at issue as parkland. . . .[9]

The roman numerals are not part of a traditional header. They introduce full main text paragraphs. In doing so, they visually break up points for the reader. They function as transitions without a transition word or phrase.

Example 2:

3. Appellants’ rule is singularly inappropriate in this case where the
landowner is the City and the property at issue is a street.

Finally, Appellants’ bid to jettison owner intent in favor of public use as the north star of the implied dedication analysis . . .

a. By elevating long continued public use to the ‘main determinant’ of dedication, Appellants’ rule would eviscerate the distinction between prescriptive rights—those acquired through . . .

[another paragraph]

b. Appellants acknowledge that their vision of implied dedication rests not on the City’s actual intent regarding the status of the DOT Strips, but instead on . . . [10]

Here Waxman uses letters to achieve the same function as the roman numerals above. Rather than including a full sub-header, he uses each letter to start a new point and a new series of paragraphs.

Example 3:

8. Social Science Does Not Support Any Of The Putative Rationales For Proposition 8.

Proponents of laws like Proposition 8 have advanced certain social-science arguments that they contend support the exclusion of same-sex couples from civil marriage. The proponents’ main arguments are (1) deinstitutionalization: that allowing same-sex couples to marry will harm the institution of marriage by severing it from child-rearing; (2) biology: that marriage is necessary only for opposite-sex couples because they can procreate accidentally; and (3) child welfare: that children are better off when raised by two parents of the opposite sex. Each of these arguments reflects a speculative assumption rather than a fact, is unsupported in the trial record in this case, and has in fact been refuted by evidence.

Deinstitutionalization. No credible evidence supports the deinstitutionalization theory on which petitioners heavily rely. . . .

[multiple paragraphs]

Biology. There is also no biological justification for denying civil marriage to same-sex couples. . . .

[multiple paragraphs]

Child Welfare. If there were persuasive evidence that same sex marriage was detrimental to children, amici would give that evidence great weight. But there is none. . . .[11]

The introduction establishes three counterarguments in a numbered list. The brief assigns each counterargument a title using an italicized word. Those italicized titles later serve as visual transitions.


[1] For more information on using headers effectively see Stephen Armstrong & Timothy Terrell, Thinking Like a Writer: A Lawyer’s Guide to Effective Writing and Editing 121-25 (Practicing Law Institute 3d ed. 2008); Bryan A. Garner, Legal Writing In Plain English 20-22 (2d ed. 2013); Ross Guberman, Point Made, How to Write Like the Nation’s Top Advocates 73-80 (2d ed. 2014); Ross Guberman, Point Taken: How to Write Like the World’s Best Judges 108-11 (2015) (discussing use of headers and sub-headers in opinions).

[2] See Ross Guberman, Point Made, supra n. 1 at 73-76 (discussing use of headers in Statement of Facts section).

[3] “Lawyers love narrative – and they adore dates and places. . . . And when, pages later, [the date] turns out to be wholly irrelevant, the judge will feel duped – a feeling that often leads to irritability and impatience. I would consider that a less-than-desirable start for one’s case.” 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; Ross Guberman, Point Made, supra n. 1 at 69-71 (discussing alternatives to dates in a Statement of Facts).; Ross Guberman, Point Taken: How to Write Like the World’s Best Judges 44-56 (2015) (discussing cutting irrelevant facts from court opinions).

[4] Ross Guberman, Free Martha? Not with these Headings!, Legal Writing Pro, https://www.legalwritingpro.com/articles/free-martha-not-headings/ (last visited August 3, 2017).

[5] Brief For the United States of America at 6-17, United States v. Martha Stewart and Peter Bacanovic, 433 F.3d 273 (2d Cir. 2006).

[6] Query whether the dates in these headers are needed. They might suggest several significant events in a short period.

[7] “The old test is still the best. Could a judge skim your headings and subheadings and know why you win?” Ross Guberman, Point Made, supra n. 1 at 93. For more advice on using headers in your argument section see id. at 93-106. See also Antonin Scalia & Bryan A. Garner, Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges 89 (2008) (describing Table of Contents as “primarily a finding tool” but also noting “many judges look at it first to get a quick overview of the argument. That’s one reason you should make your section headings and subheadings full, informative sentence.”)

[8] Ross Guberman, Point Made, supra n. 1 at 73 (giving examples of integrated headers in Statement of Facts).

[9] Brief for Necessary Third-Party Appellant-Respondent New York University at 38-40, Deborah Glick, et al. v. Harvey, et al., 25 N.Y.3d 1175 (N.Y. 2015).

[10] Id. at 59-60.

[11] Brief of Amici Curiae Kenneth B. Mehlman et al. Supporting Respondents at 10-12, Hollingsworth v. Perry, 133 S. Ct. 2652 (2013).

 

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: Risk-Benefit Test is Proper Test in Products Liability Action

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Walker v. Ford Motor Co. on Monday, November 13, 2017.

In this case, the supreme court considered whether a trial court erred when it gave a jury instruction that allowed the jury to apply either the consumer expectation test or the risk-benefit test to determine whether a driver’s car seat was unreasonably dangerous due to a design defect. The court concluded that the risk-benefit test is the appropriate test to assess whether a product was unreasonably dangerous due to a design defect when, as here, the dangerousness of the design is “defined primarily by technical, scientific information.” Ortho Pharm. Corp. v. Heath, 722 P.2d 410, 414 (Colo. 1986), overruled on other grounds by Armentrout v. FMC Corp., 842 P.2d 175, 183 (Colo. 1992). The court further concluded that the jury’s separate finding of negligence did not render the instructional error harmless in this case.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: C.R.C.P. 106 Time Limit for Filing is Constitutional As Applied

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Adams v. Sagee on Thursday, October 19, 2017.

Citizen Right of Initiative—Filing Deadline.

Plaintiffs petitioned to present a ballot initiative to the residents of Sheridan. Sheridan’s City Clerk, Sagee, rejected some of the signatures plaintiffs had collected, leaving them short of the number required for the initiative to be considered. Plaintiffs contested the decision, and the City Clerk upheld it after a protest hearing. Plaintiffs filed a complaint in district court 35 days later pursuant to C.R.S. § 31-11-110(3). The district court dismissed the case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction because plaintiffs failed to file within the C.R.C.P. 106 28-day time limit.

On appeal, plaintiffs conceded that the 28-day jurisdictional bar applied and they filed 35 days after the relevant final decision. They argued that strict application of the time limit to them as pro se parties deprived them of their constitutional right of initiative. The Colorado Court of Appeals construed plaintiffs’ argument to be an as-applied challenge to the constitutionality of the statutory time bar. The court found plaintiffs pro se status irrelevant; pro se parties must comply with procedural rules to the same extent as parties represented by attorneys. The court concluded that applying C.R.C.P. 106(b)’s jurisdictional deadline to plaintiffs’ Rule 106(a)(4) petition does not deprive them of or unduly burden their constitutional right of initiative.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Tenth Circuit: Complaint Not Moot when Injury Can Be Redressed By Favorable Judicial Decision

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in EEOC v. CollegeAmerica Denver, Inc. on Tuesday, September 5, 2017.

This case arises out of a dispute between CollegeAmerica Denver., Inc. (Company) and a former employee, Ms. Potts. The Company and Potts resolved a dispute by entering into a settlement agreement, but the Company came to believe that Potts breached the settlement agreement, leading the Company to sue Potts in state court. The suit sparked the interest of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which believed that the Company’s interpretation and enforcement of the settlement agreement was unlawful and interfered with the statutory rights of Potts. Based on this belief, the EEOC sued the Company in federal court.

The district court dismissed the EEOC’s unlawful-interference claim as moot, however, the EEOC is appealing the dismissal in light of the Company’s new theory against Potts: that she breached the settlement agreement by reporting adverse information to the EEOC without notifying the Company. The EEOC believes that by presenting this new theory, the Company was continuing to interfere with Potts’s and the EEOC’s statutory rights. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals reviewed this appeal and holds that the claim is not moot.

In deciding if a case is moot, the Tenth Circuit assesses whether a favorable judicial decision would have some effect in the real world. In other words, if a plaintiff no longer suffers an actual injury that can be redressed by a favorable judicial decision, the claim is moot.

A special rule applies when the defendant voluntarily stops the challenged conduct. When the conduct stops, the claim will be deemed moot only if two conditions exist: (1) it is absolutely clear the allegedly wrongful behavior could not reasonably be expected to recur; and (2) interim relief or events have completely and irrevocably eradicated the effects of the alleged violation. The court held that the first condition was not met, as the Company continued to stand by its new theory of how Potts had breached the settlement agreement. Therefore, mootness due to voluntary cessation is not applicable here.

The Tenth Circuit further disagreed with the Company’s argument that the case was moot because the outcome would not affect anything in the real world. The court found that if the EEOC prevailed on the merits and obtained an injunction, the Company could not present its new theory in the state-court suit against Potts. The inability to present this theory would constitute an effect in the real world, preventing dismissal based on mootness.

The Tenth Circuit further rejected the Company’s newly raised argument that the EEOC sought overly-broad, unauthorized injunctive and declaratory relief, finding that a federal court should not dismiss a meritorious constitutional claim because the complaint seeks one remedy rather than another plainly appropriate one.

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals REVERSED and REMANDED for further proceedings.

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.