October 31, 2014

Colorado Court of Appeals: Department of Revenue’s Challenge to Conservation Easement Tax Credits Barred by Statute of Limitations

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Markus v. Brohl, Exec. Dir. of Colorado Department of Revenue on Thursday, October 23, 2014.

Conservation Easement Tax Credits—Review Period by Department of Revenue—Summary Judgment.

In 2004, three pairs of landowners created conservation easements (CEs) on their lands, had them appraised, and sold them to the Otero County Land Trust for a portion of their appraised value. They applied part of the CE tax credits to their 2004 income tax liability. The landowners (CE donors) carried forward the remainder of the CE credits, some for personal use and some for the use of third parties.

On September 28, 2009, the Colorado Department of Revenue (Department) disallowed the entire CE tax credit of one pair of landowners because of a purported deficiency in the appraisal. For the same reason, in April 2010, the Department disallowed the claims of CE tax credits of the each of the second pair of landowners. The disallowances, under a four-year limitations period, affected only the donors’ use of claimed CE credits in the 2005–08 tax years.

On cross-motions for summary judgment, the CE donors argued that the four-year limitations period had expired before the Department acted to disallow their tax credits. The Department argued that the limitations period commenced each time a CE donor or transferee applied a CE tax credit to his or her tax liability and that it could evaluate the original claims for purposes of disallowing the use of credits for the 2005–08 tax years. The district court entered summary judgment in favor of the CE donors.

On appeal, the Department argued that the district court erred in its limitations determination, and that there was a genuine issue of material fact precluding summary judgment as to whether the CE donors had filed false or fraudulent tax returns. The Court of Appeals found that the applicable general statute of limitations was four years, and the time period commenced at the filing of a tax return. Under this system, the Court was inclined to side with the Department.

However, CRS § 39-22-522 specifically addresses the tax consequences of a CE. Under that statute, claimed CE tax credits may be transferred to third parties, who are then bound by “the same statute of limitations” as the CE donor. The Court supported an interpretation where a purchaser–transferee would have a low risk of disallowance of the CE credits by the Department. Here, because the Department did not challenge the validity and value of the CE tax credits prior to April 15, 2009, it was barred from disallowing them.

The Department also argued that there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the CE donors filed false or fraudulent tax returns that precluded summary judgment. After reviewing the record, the Court found no genuine dispute of any material fact. The judgment was affirmed.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Statutory Employer Has Standing to Contest Lapse in Insurance Coverage

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Hoff v. Industrial Claim Appeals Office on Thursday, October 9, 2014.

Workers’ Compensation—Standing—Notice of Cancellation Provision—Estoppel.

Hoff owns a house that she uses as a rental property. After the house sustained hail damage to the roof, Hoff and her husband engaged Alliance Construction (Alliance) to negotiate with their insurance company to resolve their damage claim. A successful resolution was reached, and Hoff contracted with Alliance to repair the roof. Without Hoff’s knowledge, Alliance verbally subcontracted the roofing job to MDR Roofing, Inc. (MDR). Claimant was employed by MDR as a roofer.

While working on the roof in March 2011, claimant fell twenty-five feet to the ground and sustained serious injuries. Claimant sought medical and temporary total disability (TTD) benefits for his work-related injuries. Pinnacol, MDR’s insurer, denied the claim because MDR’s policy had lapsed for failure to pay premiums. Neither Alliance nor Hoff carried workers’ compensation insurance.

In October 2010, before starting the roofing job, Alliance obtained a certificate of insurance (certificate) from Pinnacol’s agent, Bradley Insurance Agency (Bradley), that verified that MDR had workers’ compensation insurance through Pinnacol.

On February 10, 2011, Pinnacol sent a certified letter to MDR advising the policy would be cancelled if payment of a past due premium was not received. The policy was canceled effective March 3, 2011 and letters to that effect were sent to MDR and Bradley.

Claimant was injured on March 10, 2011. On March 11, MDR’s owner went to Bradley’s office seeking to reinstate the policy. He was informed it could be reinstated if he paid the past due premium, paid a reinstatement fee, and signed a no-loss letter. The owner knew claimant had been injured, but he submitted the no-loss letter and did not inform Bradley of the accident.

Pinnacol reinstated the policy on March 11. MDR’s owner returned to Bradley’s office to report claimant’s injuries. Pinnacol contested the claim and cancelled the policy.

The administrative law judge (ALJ) determined that the owner’s failure to disclose claimant’s injuries when he signed the no-loss letter was a material misrepresentation, thus voiding the policy. The ALJ held MDR, Alliance, and Hoff jointly liable for claimant’s medical and TTD benefits. The Industrial Claim Appeals Office (Panel) agreed and affirmed.

Hoff appealed, arguing that Pinnacol was stopped from denying benefits to claimant. Pinnacol argued Hoff had no standing to challenge the cancellation of MDR’s policy.

The Court of Appeals held that Hoff had standing and agreed in part with her argument. Standing is established by Hoff demonstrating (1) she has sustained an injury in fact, and (2) the injury is to a legally protected interest. The first prong was clearly met. The liability imposed on Hoff by the ALJ and the Panel exceeded $300,000. The second prong was met because Hoff argued she was a beneficiary of specific promises that there was a workers’ compensation policy issued to MDR that was in force on the dates stated in the certificate. Her claim is independent of the Pinnacol policy and the Workers’ Compensation Act; it is one for promissory estoppel.

The Court found there were factual findings that need to be addressed by the ALJ regarding the estoppel argument. The case was remanded for a hearing, specifically to determine whether (1) Alliance or Hoff relied on the promises contained in the certificate, and (2) whether circumstances exist such that injustice can be avoided only by enforcement of the promises contained in the certificate.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Although Unusual, Forced Sale Appropriate Remedy to Continuing Trespass

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Graham v. Jules Investment, Inc. on Thursday, October 9, 2014.

Forced Sale in Encroachment Case.

Serenity Springs Wildlife Center is a ten-acre wildlife refuge in El Paso County that houses approximately 140 tigers, lions, and other exotic, threatened, or endangered animals. The refuge was once part of a 320-acre parcel of land. In 1997, a perimeter fence was erected enclosing the refuge and a deed was recorded severing it from the original parcel. In 1998, another deed severed a 36.5-acre parcel directly south from the refuge. A home was built on the severed parcel approximately 1,000 feet from the refuge.

Beginning in 2000, the property went through cycles of foreclosure and reacquisition. It was eventually sold to plaintiffs in 2010. In 2012, plaintiffs hired a surveyor, who told them that 1.7 acres (surrounded by a fence) was on plaintiffs’ parcel. The fence enclosed pens and lion and tiger dens. The footings were 16″-wide concrete slabs buried 2′ to 4′ in the ground and about nineteen lions and tigers lived on the 1.7 acres.

Plaintiffs sued defendants for trespass. The trial court held that the structures alone were not a trespass, but that the use and presence of the structures “deprive[d] . . . plaintiffs of the use of” 1.7 acres of their 36.5-acre parcel and “facilitated a regular, if not continuing trespass” of the refuge’s staff. The court held a hearing on the appropriate remedy. Defendants asked the court to allow them to purchase the 1.7 acres from plaintiffs, because removing the structures and rebuilding them would create a severe hardship. Plaintiffs asked for everything to be removed and the property restored to its “natural state.” The trial court held that under the “unique and unusual facts” of this case, it would order a forced sale of the 1.7 acres to defendants. It ordered conveyance in exchange for $5,870, which was the value of the 1.7 acres according to plaintiffs. The court also ordered payment of $1,737, which was the amount of the application fee for obtaining a waiver from the 35-acre requirement from El Paso County.

On appeal, plaintiffs argued it was error not to find that the structures themselves were a trespass and encroachment. The Court of Appeals did not decide this issue because the trial court had already determined there had been a trespass and had crafted a remedy. Regarding the remedy, the Court found that, though extraordinary, it is not unheard of to order a forced sale when the hardships weigh heavily on the defendant’s side. Therefore, it was not an abuse of discretion to order a sale under these unique circumstances. The judgment was affirmed.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Treasurer Did Not Undertake Diligent Inquiry as to Actual Residence for Notice

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Cordell v. Klingsheim on Thursday, October 9, 2014.

Tax Lien—Deed—Treasurer—Diligent Inquiry—Notice—Jurisdictional.

Plaintiffs Carl and Wanda Cordell were record owners of a tract of land in La Plata County (Tract 1). Carl Cordell was also the record owner of an adjoining tract (Tract 2). The Cordells failed to pay the taxes owed on the properties, and Brenda Heller purchased the tax liens on the properties. Heller assigned the tax liens to Klingsheim, who later requested and received deeds from the La Plata County Treasurer to the two properties after the Treasurer sent notice to the Cordells. Upon learning of the Treasurer’s deeds, the Cordells filed the present action seeking, as relevant here, a declaratory judgment that the Treasurer’s deeds are void, which the trial court granted.

On appeal, Klingsheim contended that the trial court erred in concluding that the Treasurer had failed to undertake diligent inquiry in attempting to determine Carl’s and Wanda’s residences. The Treasurer sent the notices, by certified mail, to 705 N. Vine, Farmington, New Mexico, which was the address listed for them in the county tax rolls. The return receipts from the mailings, however, indicated that the notices were not delivered to plaintiffs, nor were they delivered to 705 N. Vine. Rather, the receipts indicated that the notices were delivered to Cleo Cordell at 703 N. Vine, and the box for “agent” on the return receipts had not been checked. Despite this discrepancy, the Treasurer conducted no further inquiry to determine whether 705 N. Vine was indeed plaintiffs’ residence.

Such inaction after learning that the notices were not delivered either to plaintiffs or to a person claiming to be their agent does not constitute “diligent inquiry” in attempting to determine their residences. Because a treasurer’s “full compliance” with the requirements of CRS §39-11-128 is jurisdictional, the trial court properly set aside the deeds as void.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Dismissal Prior to Completion of Bankruptcy Case Re-Vests Claims in Debtors

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Mackall v. JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A. on Thursday, September 11, 2014.

Bankruptcy—Dismissal—Standing—Issue Preclusion—Failure to State a Claim.

Plaintiffs purchased a home and subsequently refinanced it. After the court issued a written order authorizing JPMorgan Chase Bank (Chase), the assigned lender, to sell the house, plaintiffs filed a Chapter 13 petition for bankruptcy. The bankruptcy court dismissed the bankruptcy proceeding before confirmation of a plan or discharge. Plaintiffs thereafter filed a civil complaint against Chase, alleging that Chase’s note was fraudulent and that Chase was not the proper party to enforce it. The district court granted Chase’s motion to dismiss some of plaintiffs’ claims.

On appeal, Chase contended that plaintiffs lacked standing to assert any claims against it because (1) all of the claims were actionable when plaintiffs filed for bankruptcy, and (2) plaintiffs failed to disclose the claims to the bankruptcy court. When a bankruptcy case is dismissed, the debtor is granted standing to assert any claim that it possessed before it filed for bankruptcy, regardless of whether it disclosed the claim to the bankruptcy court during the bankruptcy proceedings. Here, the dismissal of the bankruptcy petition re-vested the claims in plaintiffs, and they had standing to bring those claims against Chase after the dismissal.

Plaintiffs argued that the district court erred in dismissing some of their claims based on issue preclusion. The district court held that both the CRCP 120 order authorizing sale and the bankruptcy court order allowing Chase’s proof of claim precluded some of plaintiffs’ claims. Because the bankruptcy court ruling had preclusive effect on these issues, plaintiffs were barred from re-litigating the issues that were dismissed based on issue preclusion.

Plaintiffs also argued that the district court erred by dismissing several of their claims for failure to state a claim. Because the complaint failed to allege that Chase filed the CRCP 120 actions for any purpose other than to obtain an order authorizing sale, the district court properly dismissed plaintiffs’ abuse of process claim. Plaintiffs’ complaint failed to allege that their property was on the market for sale and, therefore, the district court properly dismissed plaintiffs’ slander of title claim. Additionally, plaintiffs claims for breach of contract, implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and promissory estoppel were properly dismissed because the statute of frauds barred any unwritten modification of the loan agreement. Finally, because Chase had the right to seek enforcement of the promissory note against plaintiffs, plaintiffs’ claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress failed. The judgment was affirmed.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Entire Lease Void Where District Exceeded Leasing Authority

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Rocky Mountain Natural Gas, LLC v. The Colorado Mountain Junior College District on Thursday, September 11, 2014.

Lease—Municipality—Void—Reformation—Equitable Estoppel—Compensation.

Rocky Mountain Natural Gas, LLC (RMNG) and Colorado Mountain Junior College District(CMC) entered into a lease allowing RMNG to construct and operate a natural gas compressor station on CMC property. Despite the statutory three-year term limit on CMC’s authority to lease district property, the lease included an initial term of twenty years, with an option for RMNG to extend the lease for an additional twenty-year term. RMNG spent approximately $2.5 million in reliance on the lease, and CMC thereafter took action to set aside the lease as unenforceable, because the term of the lease exceeded CMC’s statutory authority. The court granted summary judgment in favor of CMC.

On appeal, RMNG contended that the district court erred by determining that the lease was entirely void and unenforceable. Because the evidence did not clearly show that CMC desired to lease the property for less than the twenty-year term stated in the agreement with RMNG, it was within the discretion of the district court to reject reformation of the contract as an appropriate equitable remedy. Further, because the entire contract was void, the court could not use the “savings clause” to reform the contract to the maximum three years. Accordingly, the district court did not err in determining that the term of years could not be reformed and that the entire lease was void and unenforceable.

RMNG also contended that the district court erred by refusing to apply equitable estoppel against CMC to prevent manifest injustice. Where a contract is void because it is not within a municipality’s power to make, the municipality cannot be estopped to deny the validity of the contract. Here, because CMC had no power to lease district property for any term exceeding three years, principles of estoppel do not apply against CMC. Accordingly, the district court did not err when it allowed CMC to deny the validity of the lease.

RMNG further argued that the district court erred because it refused to hold a hearing or make factual findings that would permit it to craft a remedy that fully compensated RMNG for CMC’s breach. CMC refunded the lease payments it received from RMNG. Accordingly, RMNG was fully compensated for the benefit it conferred on CMC and the district did not err when it denied further relief and granted summary judgment in favor of CMC. The judgment was affirmed.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Notice of Mechanics’ Lien Sufficient when Amended Lien Filed Same Day as Original Lien

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Sure-Shock Electric, Inc. v. Diamond Lofts Venture, LLC on Thursday, August 28, 2014.

Property—Mechanics’ Lien—Contract—Foreclosure—Notice—Equitable Apportionment—Prevailing Party—Costs.

Diamond Lofts Venture, LLC (DLV) was the developer and owner of a building project at 2210 Blake Street in Denver (Blake Street property). Sure-Shock Electric, Inc. (Sure-Shock), as the primary electrical contractor on the project, installed the electrical work throughout the building. Thereafter, Sure-Shock filed a mechanics’ lien for the unpaid contract price. Pursuant to their contract, DLV and Sure-Shock participated in arbitration. The arbitrator determined that Sure-Shock had proved its claims, and awarded it the principal amount claimed in the amended lien statement. The trial court affirmed the arbitrator’s award and entered a decree of foreclosure authorizing the sale of the DLV units to satisfy Sure-Shock’s lien.

On appeal, DLV contended that the trial court erred in allowing Sure-Shock to foreclose on its lien because Sure-Shock failed to comply with the statutory requirements necessary to perfect the lien. The Court of Appeals disagreed. Sure-Shock provided DLV proper notice more than ten days before filing the original lien statement. Sure-Shock was not required to provide an additional notice before it filed its amended lien statement the same day as the original lien to correct the amount claimed. Additionally, although DLV only owned seven of the twenty-nine units in the Blake Street property at that time, Sure-Shock’s lien statement sufficiently identified the property by listing the entire Blake Street property and naming only DLV as the property owner. Finally, Sure-Shock was not required to apportion the unpaid contract price according to the amount due for work on the DLV units, rather than claiming the full amount due.

In its cross-appeal, Sure-Shock contended that the trial court abused its discretion in apportioning the lien. A court may equitably apportion a blanket lien. Here, the trial court determined that an equitable apportionment should be based on the actual benefit enjoyed by each unit. Therefore, Sure-Shock was awarded 33.1% of the lien amount, which corresponded to the total square footage of the DLV units relative to the square footage of the entire Blake Street property. Because Sure-Shock’s electrical work benefited the entire Blake Street property, and Sure-Shock chose to encumber only the DLV units, Sure-Shock may not recover the entire unpaid amount of the contract. Therefore, the trial court’s apportionment was not an abuse of its discretion.

In addition, because Sure-Shock’s lien was determined to be valid, Sure-Shock succeeded on a “significant issue in the litigation.” Therefore, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that Sure-Shock was the prevailing party and awarding it costs. The judgment was affirmed.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Tenth Circuit: Subsurface Mineral Rights Lessee May Cross Surface Owner’s Property to Access Leasehold

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Entek GRB, LLC v. Stull Ranches, LLC on Thursday, August 14, 2014.

Stull Ranches is the surface owner of a tract of property in rural Colorado. Entek GRB leases subsurface mineral rights, and, in order to access those subsurface rights, sought to access them by installing oil wells on the surface of Stull’s property. Entek’s subsurface oil leasehold rights extend onto neighboring property owned by the Bureau of Land Management, and Entek sought to traverse Stull’s property in order to reach the subsurface minerals on BLM’s property, since the only way to access the BLM property was on the existing road crossing Stull’s property. Stull objected, arguing that Entek’s drilling would disrupt Stull’s grouse hunting business. The district court granted summary judgment to Entek regarding access to its wells on Stull’s property, but denied Entek’s request to cross Stull’s property in order to access the BLM land. Entek appealed to the Tenth Circuit.

The Tenth Circuit explored the history of the government’s land grants, specifically as to separate grants of surface ownership and rights to subsurface minerals and water. Stull is the successor in interest of land acquired under the Stock-Raising Homestead Act of 1916, which expressly reserved to the government all mineral rights, along with the right to enter and use as much of the surface as is “reasonably incident” to the exploration and removal of mineral deposits, and the right to enact future laws and regulations regarding “disposal” of the mineral estate. The subsequently-enacted Mineral Leasing Act granted the Secretary of the Interior the right to amend mineral leases, which it did for the lease encompassing the subsurface mineral rights on Stull’s property and the adjacent BLM property in the Focus Ranch Unit Agreement. This agreement deems all drilling and producing operations on one part of a leasehold interest will be accepted and performed on all leasehold interests. Because Entek is allowed to drill through Stull’s surface estate to access its subsurface mineral lease, it is deemed access to all leasehold interests, including the leasehold interest on BLM’s surface property. Entek has the right to use the existing road that traverses Stull’s property in order to achieve efficient access to its subsurface leasehold.

Stull also argued that, in a case involving the prior holder of Entek’s current rights, the district court ruled that the lessee of the mineral rights was not permitted to access a different property in order to reach a well on an adjacent tract. However, that case was not appealed because the prior lessee entered into an agreement with Stull allowing it to traverse Stull’s property. The Tenth Circuit ruled that preclusion was precluded by this prior agreement.

The district court’s grant of summary judgment to Stull was vacated and the case was remanded for further proceedings consistent with the Tenth Circuit opinion.

Probate, Domestic, Foreclosure, and Transcript Request Forms Revised

In June and July 2014, the Colorado State Judicial Branch issued several revised JDF forms. The Transcript Request Form, JDF 4, was revised in July and crosses many categories, including appeals, criminal, and miscellaneous. Other categories with revised forms include domestic relations, probate, and foreclosure. The revised forms are available here in PDF format, and are available for download as Word documents from the State Judicial forms pages.

DOMESTIC

  • JDF 1700 – “Instructions to File for Grandparent or Great-Grandparent Visitation” (revised 6/14)
  • JDF 1701 – “Verified Pleading Affidavit for Grandparent/Great-Grandparent Visitation” (revised 6/14)
  • JDF 1702 – “Order re: Pleading Affidavit for Grandparent/Great-Grandparent Visitation” (revised 6/14)
  • JDF 1704 – “Motion to Intervene” (revised 6/14)
  • JDF 1705 – “Order to Intervene” (revised 6/14)

EVICTIONS AND FORECLOSURES

  • JDF 618 – “Notice of Hearing for Expedited Residential Foreclosure Sale” (revised 6/14)

PROBATE

  • JDF 800 – “Acknowledgment of Responsibilities Conservator and/or Guardian” (revised 7/14)
  • JDF 841 – “Petition for Appointment of Guardian for Adult” (revised 6/14)
  • JDF 850 – “Guardian’s Report – Adult” (revised 6/14)

For all of State Judicial’s JDF forms, click here.

Tenth Circuit: Insurance Exclusion for Intentional Acts Must Include Intent to Harm

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Mid-Continent Casualty Co. v. Circle S Feed Store, LLC on Tuesday, June 17, 2014.

I&W, Inc. owned a solution mining operation in Carlsbad, NM, and was insured by Mid-Continent Casualty Co, who provided CGL and umbrella policies to I&W. Solution mining is a process where fresh water is injected into underground salt formations, which creates brine water. The brine water is then extracted and sold for use in the oil and gas industries, creating an underground cavern. I&W’s mining operations created a cavern so dangerously large that they infringed upon the subsurface property of neighboring Circle S Feed Store and caused damage to the surface property. Circle S filed suit against I&W in state court, where it prevailed and was awarded $703,000 in compensatory damages and $300,000 in punitive damages. I&W subsequently declared bankruptcy.

During the pendency of the state court action, Mid-Continent sought a declaratory judgment in federal court that it owed I&W no duty of indemnification under the insurance policies. Both Mid-Continent and Circle S filed motions for summary judgment. The district court determined that (1) the damages were caused by an “occurrence” within the meaning of the policy; (2) the policy’s “intentional injury” exclusion did not apply; (3) the state court did not award judgment for diminution in value; and (4) nonetheless, indemnification was precluded by an exclusion in one of the umbrella policies for subsurface mining operations. The district court granted summary judgment for Mid-Continent based on the fourth point.

Circle S filed a motion to alter or amend the final judgment, arguing that the district court erred in holding the exclusion applied to the primary insurance policies and seeking clarification. The district court declined to revise its opinion but declared that it would have found coverage but for the exclusion. Circle S then appealed to the Tenth Circuit.

The Tenth Circuit examined the language of the policies and exclusions and determined that the district court had erroneously broadened the scope of the exclusion. The exclusion unambiguously applied to the umbrella policies but it was error to also apply it to the primary policies, since umbrella policies are separate and distinct from primary policies and serve different purposes. The Tenth Circuit then turned its focus to the district court’s resolution of the remaining issues. The district court had stated that but for the exclusion it would have found coverage based on three criteria: “(1) the subsidence I&W caused was an ‘occurrence’ within the
meaning of the policies; (2) the policies’ ‘intentional injury’ exclusion did not apply to exclude coverage; and (3) the damages awarded to Circle S were for a ‘physical injury to tangible property,’ which is covered, rather than for pure diminution in value, which is not.” The Tenth Circuit examined each prong.

Although Mid-Continent argued that the subsurface mining operations were not an “occurrence” under the policy language because I&W knew that its mining operations would create a cavern, the Tenth Circuit disagreed, noting that I&W did not know that the underground cavern had grown dangerously large or was infringing on the neighboring property. This also disposed of the “intentional injury” question, as I&W did not intend to create a dangerous cavern. Finally, the Tenth Circuit assessed whether the awarded damages were for physical injury to tangible property or pure diminution in value, and determined that the diminution in value suffered by Circle S was caused by the tangible injury of the subsurface cavern.

The district court’s judgment was affirmed regarding the application of the exclusion to the umbrella policies, but reversed as to the primary policies and remanded for further proceedings consistent with the Tenth Circuit’s holding.

Colorado Court of Appeals: No Authority Permits Counterclaims or Cross-Claims in Spurious Lien Action

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Fiscus v. Liberty Mortgage Corp. on Thursday, June 19, 2014.

Spurious Lien—Deed of Trust—Forgery—Statute of Limitations—Counterclaims—Cross-Claims—Ownership Interest.

Raymond L. Fiscus (owner) sued Liberty Mortgage Corporation, BB&T Corporation, and Branch Banking and Trust Company (collectively, the banks) under the spurious lien statute, seeking to have a deed of trust recorded by Branch Banking and Trust in 2009 declared spurious after owner’s wife executed the deed of trust on owner’s behalf based on a forged power of attorney. The banks counterclaimed against owner, asking to judicially foreclose on the property, alleging unjust enrichment and seeking an equitable lien against the property. The banks also filed a third-party complaint against wife, alleging theft. The trial court declared the deed of trust spurious and ordered its release, and dismissed the bank’s counterclaims and third-party claims.

On appeal, the banks contended that the trial court erred when it held that owner’s spurious lien petition was not barred by the statute of limitations. Spurious lien actions must be brought within two years of accrual. A cause of action accrues on the date “both the injury and its cause are known or should have been known by the exercise of reasonable diligence.” Here, the trial court concluded that, had owner exercised reasonable diligence, April 2010 was the earliest date he could or should have discovered the existence of the deed of trust. Therefore, owner timely filed the spurious lien petition on March 29, 2012.

The banks contend that the trial court erred when it granted owner’s motion to strike their counterclaims for judicial foreclosure, unjust enrichment, and an equitable lien, as well as their third-party claim against wife. However, there is no authority permitting counterclaims or cross-claims to be brought in a spurious lien action. Therefore, the trial court did not err when it dismissed these claims without prejudice. Because these claims were dismissed without prejudice and the banks were not prohibited from bringing a separate action regarding their claims, the banks were not deprived of any due process rights to pursue them.

The banks also argued that the trial court erred when it concluded wife did not have an ownership interest in the property sufficient to allow her to encumber the property. However, wife was not the record owner of the property. Therefore, she had an inchoate interest only and did not have the authority to encumber the property.

Summary and full case available here.

Bills Regarding Great-Grandparent Visitation, Workers’ Comp Treating Physicians, Marijuana Revenue, Segregation of Mentally Ill Inmates, and More Signed

The 2014 Legislative Session has now ended, and Governor Hickenlooper signed many bills into law this session. Over the past week, he signed 79 bills, allowed one to become law without a signature, and vetoed two bills. In total, the governor signed 396 bills, allowed one to become law without a signature, and vetoed four bills.

On Wednesday, June 4, 2014, the governor signed two bills. They are summarized here. The governor also vetoed one bill, SB 14-023 – Concerning an Authorization of the Voluntary Transfer of Water Efficiency Savings to the Colorado Water Conservation Board for Instream Use Purposes in Water Divisions that Include Lands West of the Continental Divide. The governor’s statement regarding SB 14-023 is available here.

  • SB 14-041 – Concerning the Creation of a USS Colorado License Plate for Motor Vehicles and, in Connection Therewith, Making an Appropriation, by Sen. Bernie Herpin and Reps. Bob Gardner & Spencer Swalm. The bill creates a special license plate to commemorate the USS Colorado.
  • SB 14-214 – Concerning the Studies Requested in the Department of Personnel’s Response to the Request for Information in the Fiscal Year 2013-14 Annual General Appropriation Act, and, in Connection Therewith, Making an Appropriation, by Sens. Kent Lambert & Pat Steadman and Reps. Cheri Gerou & Jenise May. The bill requires the state personnel director and the state auditor to conduct a compensation study to compare with similar workforce structures. The bill also requires PERA to provide member information and data to any third-party compensation consulting firm.

On Thursday, June 5, 2014, the governor signed 24 bills into law. Some of these are summarized here.

  • SB 14-125Concerning the Regulation of Transportation Network Companies, and, in Connection Therewith, Requiring Transportation Network Companies to Carry Liability Insurance, Conduct Background Checks on Transportation Network Company Drivers, Inspect Transportation Network Company Vehicles, and Obtain a Permit from the Public Utilities Commission; and Making an Appropriation, by Sens. Cheri Jahn & Ted Harvey and Reps. Dan Pabon & Libby Szabo. The bill creates a limited structure for transportation network companies, which use digital networks to connect riders to drivers who provide transportation in their area.
  • SB 14-172 – Concerning Employer-Paid Benefits to a Firefighter for Cardiac Illnesses Resulting from a Strenuous Work Event, and, in Connection Therewith, Making an Appropriation, by Sens. Lois Tochtrop & Linda Newell and Rep. Tracy Kraft-Tharp. The bill requires any municipality, special district, fire authority, or county improvement district employing firefighters to provide benefits for heart and circulatory malfunctions.
  • SB 14-213 – Concerning Increasing the Statutes of Limitations for Commencing Procedures Against a Person who, After Committing a Vehicular Homicide, Leaves the Scene of the Accident, and, in Connection Therewith, Requiring a Post-Enactment Review of the Implementation of this Act. The bill increases the statute of limitations for persons who leave the scene of a vehicular homicide from five years to ten years.
  • HB 14-1214 – Concerning an Increase in the Penalties for Certain Offenses Committed Against an Emergency Medical Services Provider, and, in Connection Therewith, Making an Appropriation, by Rep. Cheri Gerou and Sen. David Balmer. The bill adds working emergency medical service providers to the list of victims that trigger enhanced sentencing for first degree murder, first degree assault, and second degree assault.
  • HB 14-1228 – Concerning the Repeal of Certain Requirements for Defensive Driving Schools Attended in Accordance with a Court Order Resulting from a Violation of a Law Regulating the Operation of a Motor Vehicle and, in Connection Therewith, Reducing an Appropriation, by Reps. Cherylin Peniston & Libby Szabo and Sens. Lois Tochtrop & Steve King. The bill removes the requirement that the Department of Revenue monitor, evaluate, and report on the effectiveness of court-ordered driving programs, and eliminates the penalty surcharge on people who attend the courses.
  • HB 14-1260 – Concerning the Creation of Three Mandatory Minimum Presumptive Ranges for Defendants Convicted of a Felony Sex Offense Involving Intrusion Against a Child who is Under Twelve Years of Age when the Adult Defendant is At Least Ten Years Older that has One of the Ranges Starting at Ten Years as the Minimum in the Range, and, in Connection Therewith, Creating an Indeterminate Lifetime Sentence with a Mandatory Minimum Presumptive Range of Ten to Sixteen Years for a Class 4 Felony; a Mandatory Minimum Presumptive Range of Eighteen to Thirty-Two Years for a Class 3 Felony; and a Mandatory Minimum Presumptive Range of Twenty-Four to Forty-Eight Years for a Class 2 Felony, by Rep. Mike Foote  and Sen. Mike Johnston. The bill changes the sentencing parameters for adults who commit felony sex offenses on children under age 12.
  • HB 14-1279 – Concerning the Creation of a State Income Tax Credit to Reimburse a Business for Personal Property Taxes Paid in the State, by Reps. Dianne Primavera & Dave Young and Sens. Rollie Heath & Mark Scheffel. The bill creates a state income property tax credit to reimburse businesses for the amount of business personal property tax paid in Colorado.
  • HB 14-1383 – Concerning the Required Number of Physicians that Must Be Provided to an Injured Employee for Selection of a Treating Physician in Workers’ Compensation Cases, by Rep. Angela Williams and Sens. Lois Tochtrop & Jessie Ulibarri. The bill requires employers to provide injured workers a choice of at least four physicians at two or more distinct locations, with exceptions for rural areas.

On Friday, June 6, 2014, the governor signed 53 bills, allowed one to become law without a signature, and vetoed one bill. The bill he allowed to become law without a signature was HB 14-1371 Concerning Property Taxation of Oil and Gas Leaseholds and Lands and, in Connection Therewith, Specifying that the Wellhead is the Point of Valuation and Taxation for Such Leaseholds and Lands, which changed the point of taxation for oil and gas wells from the production point to the wellhead. The governor issued a statement about the bill (available here).

The bill the governor vetoed Friday was HB 14-1375 – Concerning Modifications to Statutory Provisions Governing Urban Redevelopment to Promote the Equitable Financial Contribution Among Affected Public Bodies in Connection with the Tax Increment Financing of Urban Redevelopment Projects. The governor’s statement regarding this bill is available here.

Summaries of some of the bills the governor signed on Friday are available here.

  • HB 14-1269 – Concerning the Circumstances Under Which a Person who Sells Items Subject to Sales Tax Must Collect Such Sales Tax on Behalf of the State, by Reps. Lois Court & Angela Williams and Sen. Mike Johnston. The bill expands the definition of “nexus” for sales tax purposes, broadening the types of business activity that create taxable sales.
  • HB 14-1280 – Concerning Limits on Liability for Agritourism, by Rep. Timothy Dore and Sen. Gail Schwartz. The bill renames “agricultural recreation activities” as “agritourism” and excludes marijuana-related activities from its definition.
  • HB 14-1321 – Concerning the Membership of the Colorado Task Force on Drunk and Impaired Driving, by Rep. Dave Young and Sen. Steve King. The bill changes the name of the Interagency Task Force on Drunk Driving to the Colorado Task Force on Drunk and Impaired Driving and makes several changes to membership requirements.
  • HB 14-1333 – Concerning the Funding of Colorado Water Conservation Board Projects and, in Connection Therewith, Making an Appropriation, by Reps. Randy Fischer & Don Coram and Sens. Gail Schwartz & Ted Harvey. The bill appropriates funds from the Colorado Water Conservation Board Construction Fund for specific projects and authorizes certain other transactions.
  • HB 14-1343 – Concerning Workers’ Compensation Coverage for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder for Peace Officers, by Reps. Jonathan Singer & Jared Wright and Sen. Lois Tochtrop. The bill allows firefighters and peace officers to file workers’ compensation claims for post-traumatic stress disorder and specifies parameters for filing such claims.
  • HB 14-1356 – Concerning an Increase in the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission’s Penalty Authority and, in Connection Therewith, Making an Appropriation, by Rep. Mike Foote and Sen. Matt Jones. The bill increases the penalties for violations of the Oil and Gas Conservation Act.
  • HB 14-1362 – Concerning Great-Grandparent Visitation with Great-Grandchildren, by Rep. Dominick Moreno and Sen. Jessie Ulibarri. The bill allows great-grandparents to seek visitation rights with their great-grandchildren under the same circumstances as grandparent visitation rights are allowed.
  • HB 14-1387 – Concerning Revisions of Capital Related Statutes in the Colorado Revised Statutes and, in Connection Therewith, Amending or Repealing Obsolete, Inconsistent, and Conflicting Provisions of Law and Clarifying the Language to Reflect Legislative Intent and Current Application of the Law, by Reps. Libby Szabo & Randy Fischer and Sen. Gail Schwartz. The bill updates statutes related to capital construction projects and makes additional changes.
  • HB 14-1390 – Concerning the Legal Standing of a Member of the Public in Challenging a Violation of the Open Meeting Requirements, by Reps. Crisanta Duran & Bob Gardner and Sens. Greg Brophy & Rachel Zenzinger. The bill clarifies that anyone denied rights provided by the Open Meetings Law has standing to challenge the denial.
  • HB 14-1398 – Concerning the Provision of Financial Services to Licensed Marijuana Businesses, and, in Connection Therewith, Making an Appropriation, by Rep. Jonathan Singer and Sens. Pat Steadman & David Balmer. The bill allows for the creation and regulation of marijuana financial services cooperatives referred to as “cannabis credit co-ops” or CCCs, a new type of financial services entity with membership restricted to licensed marijuana businesses.
  • SB 14-021 – Concerning the Treatment of Persons with Mental Illness who are Involved in the Criminal Justice Systems, and, in Connection Therewith, Making an Appropriation, by Sens. Lois Tochtrop & Steve King and Rep. Jared Wright. The bill extends the repeal date of the Legislative Oversight Committee for the Continuing Examination of the Treatment of Persons with Mental Illness who are Involved with the Criminal and Juvenile Justice Systems. The bill also specifies areas of examination for the committee.
  • SB 14-064 – Concerning Restricting the Use of Long-Term Isolated Confinement for Inmates with Serious Mental Illness, and, in Connection Therewith, Making an Appropriation, by Sen. Jessie Ulibarri and Rep. Joseph Salazar. The bill requires the DOC to review the mental health status of offenders in segregation every 90 days, and requires that prior to placing an inmate in segregation, a review of the inmate’s mental health status should occur to determine if such placement is allowed.
  • SB 14-117 – Concerning the Reauthorization of the Regulation of Real Estate Appraisers by the Board of Real Estate Appraisers through a Recreation and Reenactment of the Relevant Statutes Incorporating no Substantive Amendments other than those Approved During the First Regular Session of the 69th General Assembly, by Sen. Cheri Jahn and Rep. Randy Fischer. The bill corrects an oversight from Senate Bill 13-155 and extends the repeal date of the Board of Real Estate Appraisers (board) in the Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA) through September 1, 2022.
  • SB 14-129 – Concerning Changes to Criminal Provisions Related to Marijuana and, in Connection Therewith, Making an Appropriation, by Sen. Pat Steadman and Rep. Jenise May. The bill affects a number of criminal provisions related to marijuana, including adding penalties for underage consumption and possession.
  • SB 14-193 – Concerning Conforming Colorado Law on Location Information with the Fourth Amendment as Interpreted by the United States Supreme Court in United States v. Jones, by Sens. Morgan Carroll & Kevin Lundberg and Rep. Jonathan Singer. The bill prohibits a state agency from obtaining location information from an electronic device without first obtaining a search warrant, with some exceptions.
  • SB 14-215 – Concerning the Disposition of Moneys Collected by the State in Connection with the Legal Marijuana Industry, and, in Connection Therewith, Making an Appropriation, by Sen. Pat Steadman and Reps. Crisanta Duran & Cheri Gerou. The bill creates the Marijuana Cash Tax Fund for tax revenue collected by the legal marijuana industry, and identifies the purposes for which funds may be appropriated from the Marijuana Cash Tax Fund.

For a list of Governor Hickenlooper’s legislative decisions, click here.