December 11, 2016

Colorado Supreme Court: Insurer Failed to Show Documents in Question Contained Trade Secrets

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in In re Rumnock v. Anschutz on Monday, December 5, 2016.

Pretrial Procedure—Protective Orders—Trade Secrets—Commercial Information.

The Colorado Supreme Court discharged its rule to show cause and affirmed the trial court’s partial denial of defendant American Family Mutual Insurance Company’s request for a protective order to restrict plaintiff’s use of alleged trade secrets. The court held that American Family failed to meet its burden to show that the documents were in fact trade secrets or other confidential commercial information.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

When Your Client’s Kid Needs Help: Juvenile Criminal Justice for Every Attorney

pow6qw4fks1i955Every lawyer has had the experience of their client asking questions about an area of law in which they don’t practice. A tax lawyer may field questions about her client’s DUI matter. An immigration attorney may receive a question from his client about preparing an estate plan. A domestic relations attorney may hear questions about her client’s business. Regardless of an attorney’s area of expertise, clients will ask legal questions and expect informed answers.

So what do you do when your client tells you his kid might be in trouble with the law? Because few matters are more important to a parent than the well-being of his or her child, knowing what to say and when to recommend that your client seek a juvenile defense attorney is vital.

From the legalization of marijuana in Colorado to the perils of social media, kids live in a different world than a generation ago. These days, it seems there are more and more ways for kids to find themselves in trouble with the law, not because of criminal intent, but because the children or their families do not understand what behavior the law criminalizes. The pitfalls kids face in the criminal system and school disciplinary settings can be extraordinary, and the consequences can be far-reaching—even lifelong.

In seeking to protect the client’s children from lifelong consequences, it is imperative and ethically required for an attorney to fully understand the laws applicable to the matter, or to find someone who specializes in juvenile law to provide guidance. The Criminal Code and Children’s Code are complex, and children are frequently treated differently than adults in regard to criminal matters.

On Monday, December 12, 2016, attorney Lara Marks Baker will deliver a one-hour breakfast presentation on guiding your client through juvenile criminal justice issues. This program is a great way to learn about what to do when your clients need help with their kids. Lara will highlight the federal and state laws which are frequently implicated in matters of juvenile justice, and when to signal a client that criminal or disciplinary matters may be forthcoming. Register by calling (303) 860-0608 or by clicking the links below.

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CLE Program: When Your Client’s Kid Needs Help

This CLE presentation will occur on December 12, 2016, at the CBA-CLE offices (1900 Grant Street, Third Floor), from 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 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.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies Required but Dismissal With Prejudice was in Error

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Grant Brothers Ranch, LLC v. Antero Resources Piceance Corp. on Thursday, December 1, 2016.

Subject Matter Jurisdiction—Summary Judgment—Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies—Dismissal Without Prejudice.

Antero Resources Piceance Corporation (Antero), an oil and gas exploration and production company, received approval from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (the Commission) to establish a drilling and spacing unit to produce oil and gas. Antero wanted to produce oil and gas underlying Grant Brothers Ranch, LLC’s (Grant Brothers) property, which was within the unit, but Grant Brothers refused Antero’s offer to lease the minerals or participate in their production. Antero then requested that the Commission pool all nonconsenting interests in the unit and allow Antero to produce and sell the oil and gas of the nonconsenting owners. Following a hearing, the Commission granted the request. A year and a half later, to produce from a deeper formation, Antero sought to establish a new unit within the same lands. Again, Antero asked Grant Brothers to participate in their production, and Grant Brothers refused. Following objection by Grant Brothers and a hearing, the Commission granted this request and issued an order pooling all nonconsenting interests in the second unit. Pursuant to these pooling orders, Grant Brothers was entitled to receive its interest in the proceeds from the production and sale of oil and gas from wells in the units after the wells reached “payout.” Antero was required to furnish Grant Brothers monthly statements concerning its costs and proceeds.

Three years after the second order, Grant Brothers asked Antero for permission to audit its books and records regarding the wells. Antero refused, stating it had been sending Grant Brothers the required monthly statements.

Two years later, Grant Brothers sued Antero and Ursa Operating Company, LLC (which assumed operation of the wells in 2012) (Operators), requesting an equitable accounting and alleging the wells had reached payout, but Operators had not paid Grant Brothers. Operators filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that Grant Brothers had not exhausted its administrative remedies under the Oil and Gas Conservation Act (the Act) and therefore the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction. The court agreed and dismissed the action with prejudice.

On appeal, Grant Brothers argued that the district court improperly granted summary judgment because Grant Brothers was not required under the Act to exhaust its administrative remedies. The Colorado Court of Appeals noted that because the district court had not resolved a number of factual disputes and resolved Antero’s motion solely on the basis that the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction, the summary judgment motion was more properly characterized as a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under C.R.C.P. 12(b)(1) and it therefore treated it as such.

The Act gives the Commission a broad grant of jurisdiction over operations for the production of oil and gas, including payment disputes, unless such dispute is one over interpretation of a payment contract, which would be resolved by a district court. In determining whether a court has subject matter jurisdiction where a party did not exhaust administrative remedies, courts examine whether (1) the claim was filed pursuant to the relevant statute, (2) the statute provides a remedy for the claim asserted, and (3) the legislature intended the statute to provide a “comprehensive scheme” addressing the issues underlying the claim.

First, Grant Brothers’ claim was one for payment of proceeds under C.R.S. §§ 34-60-116 and -118.5. Grant Brothers is entitled to receive payment only if and when payout occurs. Primary jurisdiction to make this determination rests with the Commission. Second, because there was no contract between the parties, Grant Brothers needed to first submit a written request for payment. If there is a payment dispute, Grant Brothers may request a hearing before the Commission, whose order would then be appealable to the courts. Third, the Act’s language and structure indicate that a proceeding before the Commission is the primary remedy for nonconsenting owners’ claims for the payment of proceeds when there is no contract between the parties. Grant Brothers was required to exhaust its administrative remedies and because it did not do so prior to filing suit in the district court, the court properly dismissed the action.

Grant Brothers also contended that the district court erred in dismissing its claim with prejudice solely on the basis that the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction. A dismissal under C.R.C.P. 12(b)(1) does not adjudicate the merits, but results from the court lacking the power to hear the claims asserted. Thus the dismissal is necessarily without prejudice.

The judgment was affirmed in part and reversed in part, and the case was remanded with directions.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Dram Shop Amendments Require Knowledge of Drinker’s Underage Status and Alcohol Consumption

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Przekurat v. Torres on Thursday, December 1, 2016.

Dram Shop Act—Intoxication—Knowledge—Evidence.

Sieck drove Przekurat home from a party in Przekurat’s car. Sieck, who was highly intoxicated at the time of the accident and was under 21 years old, drove at speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour before losing control of the car and colliding with an embankment. Przekurat sustained catastrophic injuries, including brain damage. Przekurat’s father sued the four hosts of the party, claiming they “knowingly provided [Sieck] a place to consume an alcoholic beverage” and thus were liable for his damages under the 2005 amendments to the Dram Shop Act. The trial court granted the hosts’ summary judgment motion.

On appeal, Przekurat argued that the district court erred when it held that C.R.S. § 12-47-801(4)(a)(I) of the Dram Shop Act requires actual knowledge of two separate elements: (1) that the defendant provided a place for the consumption of alcohol by a person under the age of 21, and (2) that the defendant knew that the person who consumed alcohol at that place was under age 21. The statutory requirement of “knowingly” applies to all of the elements of liability under the 2005 amendments. Therefore, the trial court correctly construed the 2005 amendments and also correctly determined that Przekurat failed to demonstrate a disputed issue of material fact regarding the hosts’ knowledge that Sieck was underage and was drinking at the party.

Przekurat next argued that the district court’s summary judgment must be reversed because he offered abundant evidence that the hosts knew that they were hosting an “open” party and providing a venue to underage guests, including Sieck, to drink indiscriminately. Although circumstantial evidence is admissible to prove knowledge under the statute, Przekurat did not offer any evidence, circumstantial or direct, that would permit a reasonable inference that any of the hosts knew Sieck, much less that they knew his age, or that Sieck appeared to be obviously underage.

Przekurat next argued that the district court erred in concluding that it did not have jurisdiction to rule on his motion for reconsideration of summary judgment in favor of the hosts. The Colorado Court of Appeals agreed that the district court erroneously denied the C.R.C.P. 59 motion for lack of jurisdiction, but the error does not require reversal or a remand.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Privileges and Confidentiality in the Attorney-Client Relationship

EthicsConfidentiality is one of the cornerstones of the attorney-client relationship. It allows clients to feel comfortable discussing sensitive issues with their attorney without fear of disclosure. Colorado Rule of Professional Conduct 1.6 provides, “A lawyer shall not reveal information relating to the representation of a client unless the client gives informed consent, the disclosure is impliedly authorized in order to carry out the representation, or the disclosure is permitted [in certain enumerated circumstances].” The counterpoint to this is the privilege that protects attorney-client communications. The attorney-client privilege in Colorado is governed by C.R.S. § 13-90-107(1)(b), which states, “An attorney shall not be examined without the consent of his client as to any communication made by the client to him or his advice given thereon in the course of professional employment.”

These seemingly straight-forward rules have many nuances, including the scope of confidentiality versus the attorney-client privilege, the lawyer’s responsibility to reveal information to prevent a client’s misconduct, the lawyer as witness, the lawyer’s duty to prevent the disclosure of client information, and the extension of the attorney-client privilege to others in the attorney’s office.

The Colorado Bar Association Ethics Committee has tackled some of these issues in Formal Opinion 108, “Inadvertent Disclosure of Privileged or Confidential Documents,” and Formal Opinion 90, “Preservation of Client Confidences in View of Modern Communications.” As this guidance suggests, attorneys must always be aware of when issues of privileges and confidentiality may arise in their practices.

At 8:30 am on Wednesday, December 14, 2016, attorney John Palmeri will discuss the intricacies of privileges and confidentiality in one-hour CLE program co-sponsored by the CBA Lawyers Professional Liability Committee. Attendees will also receive a copy of Mr. Palmeri’s chapter inLawyers’ Professional Liability in Colorado with further discussion of the topic. Register here or by clicking the links below.

 

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CLE Program: Privileges and Confidentiality

This CLE presentation will occur on December 14, 2016, at the CBA-CLE offices (1900 Grant Street, Third Floor), from 8:30 to 9:30 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.

Candor to the Tribunal and the Duty of Confidentiality: How to Broach This Ethical Pitfall

qtq80-uSztbKRule 3.3 of the Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct provides that a lawyer shall not “make a false statement of material fact or law to a tribunal or fail to correct a false statement of material fact or law previously made to the tribunal by the lawyer” or “fail to disclose to the tribunal legal authority in the controlling jurisdiction known to the lawyer to be directly adverse to the position of the client and not disclosed by opposing counsel.” But what exactly does this mean in the everyday practice of attorneys in Colorado?

Suppose the lawyer faces a client who intends to give false testimony or who refuses to correct a misstatement. What is material? May or must the lawyer withdraw from representation? Must the lawyer take further remedial measures? What must the lawyer do in an ex parte situation? In sum, how must the lawyer balance his or her duties to the client (particularly the attorney-client privilege) and the tribunal?

The Colorado Bar Association Ethics Committee addressed these questions in Formal Opinion 123, “Candor to the Tribunal and Remedial Issues in Civil Proceedings.” Opinion 123 requires the attorney to first remonstrate with the client. If that is unsuccessful, the attorney may be required to withdraw from representation. As a final measure, the attorney may make disclosure to the tribunal under certain circumstances. However, “the disclosure to remedy such a false statement must be limited to the extent reasonably necessary to achieve such ends and must be made in the manner that is the least harmful to the client while satisfying the commands of Colo. RPC 3.3.”

At noon on Tuesday, December 6, 2016, attorney Paul Gordon will delve into the intricacies involved with Colo. RPC 3.3 in a timely one-hour CLE. Mr. Gordon will bring his expertise in representing plaintiffs in malpractice claims against lawyers throughout the United States. Attendees will also receive a copy of Mr. Gordon’s chapter in Lawyers’ Professional Liability in Colorado with further discussion of the topic. Register here or by clicking the links below.

 

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CLE Program: Lawyers’ Duty of Candor to the Tribunal and Remedial Measures in Civil Actions and Proceedings

This CLE presentation will occur on December 6, 2016, at the CBA-CLE offices (1900 Grant Street, Third Floor), from noon to 1 p.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.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Identity of Interest Does Not Apply to Parents of Adult Child

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Maldonado v. Pratt on Thursday, November 17, 2016.

The Pratts and Dennis Pratt II (Pratt Jr.) own adjacent properties near Pueblo, Colorado. Pratt Jr. stored used car parts on his property. He began to suspect that someone was stealing the parts, and on October 16, 2012, he drove to his storage area, and, when he saw three flashlight beams approaching, shot and killed Jacob Maldonado. Pratt Jr. was convicted of negligent homicide and sentenced to six years’ imprisonment.

Maldonado’s estate filed a wrongful death action against Pratt Jr. on September 16, 2014, alleging a single act of negligence in his killing of Maldonado. On April 1, 2015, the Estate moved to amend its complaint to add Premises Liability Act claims against the Pratts, since it had discovered that Maldonado was actually on the Pratts’ property when he was shot. The Pratts filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings and/or summary judgment, arguing the two-year statute of limitations barred the complaint. The Estate countered that the amended complaint related back to the original complaint. The district court disagreed and found that the Pratts did not have actual notice of the lawsuit and would not have expected to be named as defendants in the wrongful death action. The district court granted judgment in the Pratts’ favor.

On appeal, the Estate conceded that the statute of limitations for a PLA claim had run when it filed its amended complaint. However, the Estate contended the new claims related back to the original complaint. The court of appeals disagreed. The court of appeals analyzed the relation-back doctrine, noting that a new claim relates back to the date of the original pleading so long as the new claim or defense arises out of the same conduct, transaction, or occurrence. However, when adding a new party, two additional duties arise: the new party must have received actual notice of the complaint within the time period provided by C.R.C.P. 4(m), and the new party must have known or reasonably should have known that, but for a mistake concerning the identity of the proper party, the action would have been brought against him or her.

The court found that the Estate could not prove the Pratts had actual notice of the complaint against Pratt Jr. The Estate argued that notice could be imputed to the Pratts through the “identity of interest” doctrine. The court found the doctrine inapplicable. The court noted that, generally, the identity of interest doctrine is used for corporate entities. The Estate argued that the Pratts had an identity of interest to Pratt Jr., but the court of appeals disagreed. The identity of interest doctrine generally only applies to families if the children are minor and they share an attorney or insurance policy. Here, Pratt Jr. was an adult who lived separately from his parents. Although they spoke daily before the shooting, Pratt Jr. was taken into custody the day of the shooting and was in the DOC when served with the original complaint. The court of appeals declined to extend actual notice from an assumption that Pratt Jr. would have told his parents about the lawsuit.

The court of appeals affirmed the district court.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Death of Insurance Beneficiary Does Not Extinguish Action Where Judgment Entered

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Estate of Casper v. Guarantee Trust Life Insurance Co. on Thursday, November 17, 2016.

Cancer Insurance Policy—Jury Verdict—Punitive Damages—Noneconomic Damages—Judgment—C.R.S. § 14-20-101—Attorney Fees—Actual Damages—C.R.S. § 10-3-1116—Jury Instruction.

Casper bought a cancer insurance policy from defendant, Guarantee Trust Life Insurance Company (GTL). Casper was diagnosed with cancer seven months later, and GTL refused to pay his claims. Casper sued GTL for breach of contract, bad faith breach of an insurance contract, and statutory unreasonable denial of benefits. A jury awarded him punitive and other noneconomic damages. The trial court immediately entered an oral order making the verdict a judgment, but Casper died nine days later, before the court had reduced its oral order entering judgment to a written judgment as required by C.R.C.P. 58. Subsequently, Casper’s estate (Estate) was substituted as plaintiff. The court later entered a judgment for the estate nunc pro tunc to the date of the verdict. The court awarded attorney fees and costs as part of the Estate’s actual damages.

On appeal, GTL argued that as a matter of law, under C.R.S. § 13-20-11 (Colorado’s survival statute), the delay in entering the written judgment meant the Estate was entitled only to the $50,000 awarded as economic damages for the breach of contract claim. Under Colorado law, the death of a plaintiff in a personal injury action extinguishes his entitlement to recover noneconomic and punitive damages. Here, because the verdict resolved the merits of the case, and judgment would necessarily follow, the survival statute did not extinguish Casper’s right to damages.

GTL also asserted that attorney fees and costs awarded by the trial court under C.R.S. § 10-3-1116 do not constitute actual damages upon which the court may base its determination of punitive damages under C.R.S. § 13-21-102(1)(a). Under the plain meaning of C.R.S. § 10-3-1116, which is remedial in nature, reasonable attorney fees and court costs in this case are actual damages and do not constitute penalties or other types of damages.

GTL next asserted that the district court erred by not reducing by two-thirds the supplemental request for attorney fees. Even if apportionment was required, the district court did not abuse its discretion in awarding supplemental fees.

Finally, GTL argued that the trial court erred by instructing the jury on Regulation 4-2-3, which regulates advertising by the insurance industry. The trial court found that the instruction related to Casper’s theory that GTL’s marketing and sale of the insurance policy, through Platinum, was evidence of GTL’s bad faith. The standard of care related to the sale and marketing of the policy was relevant to Casper’s claims, and it is undisputed that the instruction was a correct statement of the law. Therefore, the court did not abuse its discretion in instructing the jury on this regulation.

The judgment was affirmed and the case was remanded to determine the Estate’s appellate fees and costs.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Objection to Prejudicial Evidence Preserved Despite Direct Examination Testimony

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in McGill v. DIA Airport Parking, LLC on Thursday, November 17, 2016.

Trina McGill filed a negligence claim against DIA Airport Parking after the side mirror on one of its shuttle buses hit her in the head. Before trial, McGill moved to exclude evidence of a 20-year-old conviction for check kiting, a type of check fraud. The trial court denied her motion under CRE 608(b) but did not address CRE 403. At trial, McGill introduced the check fraud evidence on direct examination. The jury returned a verdict in favor of DIA, and McGill appealed, arguing the trial court erred in admitting the evidence under CRE 608(b) and 403. DIA argued McGill could not challenge the admission because she introduced it first on direct examination.

The Colorado Court of Appeals found that invited error did not apply because McGill did not expressly acquiesce in the trial court’s ruling. Instead, the trial court ruled over her objection that the evidence was admissible, and she strategically introduced it at trial in an attempt to mitigate the damage. The court of appeals also declined to rule that she waived her right to challenge the evidence. McGill’s attempt to counter the effect of the impeachment evidence was not an intentional abandonment of her objection.

The court of appeals evaluated the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Ohler v. United States, 529 U.S. 753, 755 (2000), and found the dissent by Justice Souter persuasive. Because Ohler‘s ruling did not address constitutional issues, it is not binding on state courts. Justice Souter’s dissent asserted that the majority opinion fostered unfairness at trial. The court of appeals agreed, and ruled that when a party has objected to the admission of impeachment evidence, it is unnecessary and unfair to force her to choose between preserving that objection for appeal and pursuing the most advantageous trial strategy. The court therefore concluded that McGill could challenge the trial court’s ruling on appeal.

The court next addressed McGill’s argument that the trial court erred by admitting the underlying facts of her check fraud conviction under CRE 608(b) because the fact that she passed bad checks many years ago was not probative of her character for truthfulness. The court of appeals disagreed, finding that the small amount of the crime and the length of time intervening went to the weight of the evidence, not the admissibility. The court found no error.

The court turned to McGill’s argument that the trial court erred in not evaluating the evidence under CRE 403. The court found that although the trial court did not make express findings, there was nothing to suggest that it had not conducted a CRE 403 analysis. The court noted that because McGill did not argue on appeal that the evidence was inadmissible under the rule, it would not address that argument.

The trial court’s judgment was affirmed.

Tenth Circuit: Delay in Tendering Insurance Benefits Found Unreasonable

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Peden v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. on Tuesday, November 15, 2016.

Wendy Peden was among a group of friends drinking and celebrating the birthday of Terrell Graf’s fiancee. Mr. Graf gathered the friends into the van he had purchased for his fiancee, drove away, and crashed. Ms. Peden suffered serious injuries. She obtained $240,000 in insurance benefits, but claimed more in underinsured motorist benefits. State Farm initially denied the claim, but ultimately paid her $350,000, the maximum amount available. Ms. Peden sued State Farm for bad faith under Colorado common law and statutory law.

Ms. Peden argued in her claim for uninsured/underinsured motorist benefits that she had seven forms of injury totaling from $647,484.76 to $1,115,504.76. Ms. Peden sought benefits from a State Farm policy carried by Mr. Graf’s fiancee and also from her own State Farm policy. State Farm denied the claim, stating that the $240,000 she had received had fairly compensated her. When Ms. Peden brought suit against State Farm, it investigated further and ultimately paid her the maximum amount allowable under the policies. Ms. Peden continued to claim that State Farm had unreasonably delayed payment of benefits. State Farm moved for summary judgment, arguing that the handling of the claim was reasonable as a matter of law. Ms. Peden moved for partial summary judgment on her statutory bad faith claim. The district court granted State Farm’s motion, and Ms. Peden appealed.

The Tenth Circuit found that under Colorado law, all insurance contracts contain an implied duty of good faith and fair dealing, and that there is both a common law and statutory duty to handle claims in good faith. For an uninsured motorist claim involving a breach of the common law duty, the insured must prove that the insurer acted unreasonably under the circumstances and knowingly or recklessly disregarded the validity of the insured’s claim. A statutory claim includes a requirement that the insurer cannot “unreasonably delay or deny payment of a claim.” The Tenth Circuit examined industry standards and determined that State Farm had a duty to investigate the claim as diligently to prove its merit as it would to deny benefits, and had a duty to find all facts to try to understand the claimant’s medical condition. The Tenth Circuit found that in this case, State Farm had discredited Ms. Peden’s claim because she went for a ride with a drunk driver. Ms. Peden argued that she did not know Mr. Graf was drunk and she did not think he was going to drive the vehicle—she believed they were only getting in the van to take a group picture. State Farm did not interview Ms. Peden or otherwise investigate her story. The Tenth Circuit found that by failing to interview Ms. Peden, State Farm breached its duty.

The Tenth Circuit also found that State Farm unreasonably failed to investigate the total amount of damages before denying Ms. Peden’s claim. State Farm did not include any payment for future noneconomic damages, prejudgment interest, or wage loss in its initial valuation of the claim, and its tender of damages was between 24 and 42 percent of the amounts claimed by Ms. Peden. The Tenth Circuit found that a reasonable fact-finder could infer that State Farm failed to adequately investigate the damages that would have been available to Ms. Peden if she had sued Mr. Graf. The Tenth Circuit noted that State Farm could have consulted with a physician, asked Ms. Peden to submit to a physical examination, or interviewed her, and it did none of these things. The Tenth Circuit held that a fact-finder could question the reasonableness of this investigation.

The Tenth Circuit reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to State Farm. The Tenth Circuit vacated the district court’s denial of Ms. Peden’s partial summary judgment motion as moot, since it was no longer moot. The Tenth Circuit remanded to the district court for further findings.

Inadvertent Disclosure — Damage Control, Recipient Requirements, and More

EthicsInadvertent disclosure of privileged or confidential information is not a new problem for attorneys. However, email and the electronic age have widened the scope of inadvertent disclosure. What happens when you use your email’s auto-fill feature and accidentally fill opposing counsel’s name instead of your client’s? How about when you hit “Reply All” instead of only replying to one party, or when you reply instead of forwarding? These problems are the stuff of nightmares.

To address the problems created by inadvertent disclosure of privileged or confidential information, the Colorado Bar Association Ethics Committee created Formal Opinion 108, adopted on May 20, 2000. Formal Opinion 108 contemplates that a lawyer who receives documents (“receiving lawyer”) from an adverse party or an adverse party’s lawyer (“sending lawyer”) has an ethical duty to disclose the receipt of the privileged or confidential documents to the sending lawyer. If the receiving lawyer realizes the inadvertence of the disclosure before examining the documents, the receiving lawyer has a duty to not examine the documents and follow the sending lawyer’s directions regarding disposal or return of the documents.

In 2008, the Colorado Supreme Court repealed and reenacted the Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct. Rule 4.4(b) provides that “A lawyer who receives a document relating to the representation of the lawyer’s client and knows or reasonably should know that the document was inadvertently sent shall promptly notify the sender.” Rule 4.4(b) applies to situations in which the sending lawyer accidentally provides privileged or confidential information to the receiving lawyer, such as when someone hits “Reply All” instead of forwarding to the client.

Rule 4.4(c) addresses a far less common scenario, when the sending lawyer realizes the disclosure prior to receipt by the receiving lawyer and contacts the receiving lawyer before the privileged or confidential information is viewed. Rule 4.4(c) requires the receiving lawyer to “abide by the sender’s instructions as to its disposition.” Comments [2] and [3] to Rule 4.4 expand on the receiving lawyer’s duties, including providing that as a matter of professional courtesy the receiving lawyer may inform the sending lawyer of the inadvertent disclosure.

Colorado Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(5)(B) also addresses inadvertent disclosure. C.R.C.P. 26(b)(5)(B) imposes on the receiving lawyer a mandatory prohibition on review, use, or disclosure of the information until the privilege claim is resolved, if the sending lawyer informs the receiving lawyer of the inadvertent disclosure. C.R.C.P. 26(b)(5)(B) differs slightly from Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(5)(B); lawyers who practice in both federal and state courts should familiarize themselves with the different rules.

On Monday, November 28, 2016, attorney Cecil E. Morris, Jr., will deliver a lunchtime presentation on inadvertent disclosure, which is available for one general CLE credit and one ethics credit. This program is a great way to learn about what to do in case you inadvertently disclose confidential or privileged information, and also what to do if you receive information inadvertently disclosed. Cecil will discuss the differences between the federal and state rules, and will also address the substantive areas of law most affected by inadvertent disclosure. Register here or by clicking the links below.

 

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CLE Program: Inadvertent Disclosure – Professional Liability Series

This CLE presentation will occur on November 28, 2016, at the CBA-CLE offices (1900 Grant Street, Third Floor), from 12 p.m. to 1 p.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.

Colorado Supreme Court: Plain Language of Statute Prohibits Offsets for Medical Payment Benefits

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Calderon v. American Family Mutual Insurance Co. on Monday, November 7, 2016.

Statutory Construction—Automobile Insurance Coverage—Automobile Insurance Setoffs— Uninsured or Underinsured Motorist Policy Coverage.

Calderon sustained injuries caused by an uninsured driver. Calderon was insured under policies issued by American Family Mutual Insurance Co., which paid the $5,000 policy limit of Calderon’s medical payments (MedPay) coverage but disputed the amount due under the uninsured/underinsured motorist (UM/UIM) coverage. Calderon filed suit, and the jury returned a verdict of $68,338.97 in his favor. The trial court reduced the award, pursuant to a provision of the policy agreement, by the $5,000 that had already been paid under MedPay coverage. The Colorado Court of Appeals affirmed, interpreting the language of C.R.S. § 10-4-609(1)(c), which prohibits setoffs from “[t]he amount of the [UM/UIM] coverage available pursuant to this section,” as barring only those setoffs that would reduce the coverage limit, or $300,000. The Colorado Supreme Court reversed and held that “[t]he amount of the [UM/UIM] coverage available pursuant to this section” refers to the amount of UM/UIM coverage available on a particular claim (here, $68,338.97), rather than the amount available in the abstract (here, $300,000). Therefore, C.R.S. § 10-4-609(1) barred the setoff of MedPay payments from Calderon’s UM/UIM claim.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.