September 3, 2015

Colorado Court of Appeals: Adverse Inference Instruction Allowable where Non-Party Invokes Fifth Amendment

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in McGillis Investment Company, LLP v. First Interstate Financial Utah, LLC on Thursday, August 13, 2015.

Fifth Amendment Privilege Invoked in Front of Jury by Nonparty—Adverse Inference Instruction.

This appeal, as stated by the Court, “follows a long and complicated history, ncluding prior litigation in Utah, an earlier appeal to this court, an eight-day trial, and a series of motions brought before, during, and after the trial and verdict. A voluminous record, spanning thousands of pages, contains an exhaustive rendition of the facts.”

McGillis Investment Company, LLP’s (MIC) principal, McGillis, and First Interstate Financial Utah, LLC’s and First Interstate Financial LLP’s (FIF) principal, Thurston, worked to finance a multitude of commercial real estate loans between 1995 and 2009. This dispute concerns a 2003 loan made by MIC and FIF to Kersey Commercial Park, LLC (Kersey Commercial) for $1.85 million (Kersey Loan) to purchase sixty-three acres of property to develop an industrial park (Kersey Property). When Thurston recommended that MIC finance the Kersey Loan, MIC did not know that the purchasers were involved in a series of transactions of questionable legitimacy surrounding the Kersey Property.

Kersey Commercial never made a payment on the Kersey Loan and was in default by May 2004. Thurston, on behalf of MIC and FIF, executed a Dry-Up Agreement on July 29, 2004, which sold certain Water Rights of the Kersey Property to Lower Latham Reservoir Company in return for a payment of $785,000 to one of the developers. In October 2004, MIC and FIF commenced foreclosure proceedings and on May 12, 2005 purchased the Kersey Property at foreclosure for $1.6 million. On June 6, 2006, FIF sued the appraisers. On November 8, 2006, Thurston had MIC execute an assignment of the Property (Assignment) from McGillis Investments to FIF (though the purpose of the Assignment is disputed). In 2012, FIF settled the appraiser litigation for $438,500 and remitted the proceeds to MIC.

In February 2009, FIF sued Sytech Development (one of the developers) over the Kersey Loan. After McGillis’s son took over MIC in 2008, he concluded that FIF had breached its fiduciary duty to MIC in a variety of transactions, and in April 2009, MIC filed suit in Utah against FIF. In October 2012, the jury returned a verdict in MIC’s favor for $1.25 million. Three days after the Utah verdict, FIF recorded the Assignment with the Weld County Clerk and Recorder. FIF settled the Sytech litigation on November 17, 2012 for $20,000.

On June 1, 2011, MIC filed this lawsuit against FIF, seeking to quiet title to the Kersey Property and damages for breach of fiduciary duty for FIF’s recording the Assignment and settling the Sytech litigation. On cross-motions for summary judgment, the trial court granted partial summary judgment based on claim preclusion in favor of FIF as concerned the validity of the Assignment and quieted title to the Kersey Property in FIF. MIC appealed, and a division of the Court of Appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part, vacating the decree quieting title and reversing the summary judgment on claim preclusion. Following trial on remand, the jury returned a verdict for MIC for $1,300,625 and found that MIC owned the Kersey Property.

In this appeal, FIF argued that the trial court did not follow the Court’s mandate on remand by failing to determine whether MIC knew or should have known of the Assignment’s validity when it filed the Utah action and that it was error to allow the Sysum brothers to invoke their Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination in front of the jury and in giving an adverse inference instruction. In civil cases, an adverse inference may be drawn against a party who invokes the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. The Court found no Colorado case addressing whether a nonparty witness’s invocation of the Fifth Amendment privilege constitutes admissible evidence. It adopted the analysis set forth in LiButti v. United States, 107 F.3d 110, 123 (2d Cir. 1997): the admissibility of a nonparty’s invocation of the Fifth Amendment privilege and concomitant drawing of adverse inferences should be considered on a case-by-case basis to ensure any inference is reliable, relevant, and fairly advanced. The overarching concern is whether the adverse inference is trustworthy and will advance the search for the truth.

Based on the record before it, the Court found no error in the trial court’s having decided that one of the brothers could answer a generic question, to which he invoked his Fifth Amendment right, and that there was enough evidence presented to give the adverse inference instruction as to him. The Court found it was error to allow the other brother to invoke his Fifth Amendment privilege because there wasn’t enough evidence to involve him in the alleged fraud. However, the trial court remedied this error when it did not give the adverse inference instruction as to this brother but told the jury to disregard his invocation of the privilege.

FIF also argued that it was error for the trial court not to have determined whether MIC knew or should have known there was a dispute concerning the Assignment’s validity when it filed the Utah action. The jury did consider this issue, but FIF argued it should have been the trial court that made the determination. The Court disagreed. The law of the case established in MIC I was to determine what MIC knew or should have known and there was an interrogatory to the jury that covered this issue. The jury’s answering of the interrogatory resolved the factual dispute dispositive of claim preclusion against FIF and that satisfied the law of the case.

The Court also rejected FIF’s arguments that MIC could not re-litigate anything concerning the Kersey Loan transaction other than the issue concerning the validity of the Assignment and the settlement of the Sytech litigation. The Court determined that this argument was based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the prior ruling in MIC I on the part of FIF. The judgment was affirmed.

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

Colorado Court of Appeals: Jury Improperly Instructed that “Any Note” is a Security; Reversal Required

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Mendenhall on Thursday, August 13, 2015.

Promissory Note—Securities Fraud—Colorado Securities Act—Jury Instructions—Testimony—Prosecutorial Misconduct.

Defendant was employed as a salesperson by an insurance company that specializes in low-risk insurance products for retirement-age persons. Defendant also was licensed to sell securities through an affiliated broker–dealer. Defendant obtained loans from clients or customers whom he had met through his employment to fund his personal real estate investments, giving each of them a promissory note. He was convicted by a jury of multiple counts of securities fraud and theft.

On appeal, defendant argued that the trial court erred in instructing the jury that any note is a security. One of the elements of securities fraud under the Colorado Securities Act (CSA) is that the defendant engaged in fraud in connection with a security. If there is no security, there cannot be securities fraud. The CSA defines “security” to include “any note.” Because sometimes notes are not securities, however, the court’s instruction constituted error. Because this instructional error was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt, defendant’s securities fraud convictions were reversed.

Defendant also argued that the trial court erred in admitting the testimony of the district attorney’s investigator regarding his process for investigating someone suspected of criminal activity; under what circumstances he recommended pursuing criminal charges; and the specific investigation of, and decision to pursue charges against, defendant. Because probable cause to charge defendant was not at issue here, the investigator’s statements regarding how many potential cases he received each year and in how many of those cases charges were brought constituted inadmissible evidence. However, because there was overwhelming evidence that defendant was guilty of theft and the investigator’s comments were minimal, any error was harmless.

Defendant further contended that the prosecutor committed misconduct in closing argument when he likened defendant to Bernie Madoff and referred to the victims as members of the “greatest generation.” The Court concluded that the prosecution’s mention of Madoff was referencing a victim’s testimony, and referring to the victims as the “greatest generation” did not rise to the level of plain error.

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

Appointments Announced to New Title Insurance Commission

Last legislative session, SB 15-210, “Concerning Creation of the Title Insurance Commission, and, in Connection Therewith, Making an Appropriation,” was enacted, requiring the development of a nine-member Title Insurance Commission to act as an advisory body to the Insurance Commissioner regarding matters of title insurance. The Title Insurance Commission will propose, advise, and recommend rules, bulletins, and other consumer protection materials for promulgation by the Insurance Commissioner.

On Thursday, August 13, 2015, Governor Hickenlooper appointed the first nine members of the Title Insurance Commission. Three of the appointees must be licensed employees of title insurance companies with not less than five years’ experience, three must be licensed employees of title insurance companies meeting certain qualifications regarding geographic diversity, and three must be members of the public at large and not be engaged in the business of title insurance. Governor Hickenlooper’s appointees are:

  • Phillip Michael Schreiber of Littleton, to serve as a licensed employee of a title insurance company with not less than five years of experience in the title insurance business; for a term expiring August 5, 2017;
  • Alexander Pankonin of Denver, to serve as a resident title insurance agent with not less than five years experience in the title insurance business, for a term expiring August 5, 2017;
  • Gary Glenn of Tabernash, to serve as an at-large public member who is not engaged in the business of title insurance and resides outside of a standard metropolitan area, for a term expiring August 5, 2017;
  • Charles Hallack Cowperthwaite of Littleton, to serve as an at-large public member who is not engaged in the business of title insurance, for a term expiring August 5, 2017;
  • Paul David Dickard of Aurora, to serve as a licensed employee of a title insurance company that has netted admitted assets of less than $500 million, with not less than five years of experience in the title insurance business, for a term expiring August 5, 2019;
  • Carl Phillip Laffin of Highlands Ranch, to serve as a licensed employee of a title insurance company that has netted admitted assets of more than $500 million, with not less than five years of experience in the title insurance business, for a term expiring August 5, 2019;
  • Jason Duncan of Alamosa, to serve as a resident title insurance agent with not less than five years experience in the title insurance business, for a term expiring August 5, 2019;
  • Patrick Alan Rice of Superior, to serve as a resident title insurance agent with not less than five years experience in the title insurance business, for a term expiring August 5, 2019;
  • Mary Renee Babkiewich of Denver, to serve as an at-large public member who is not engaged in the business of title insurance, for a term expiring August 5, 2019.

For more information about the role of the Title Insurance Commission, click here.

Tenth Circuit: Nothing in Prior Tenth Circuit Remand Prevented Entry of Judgment on State Law Claims

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Cook v. Rockwell International Corp. on Tuesday, June 23, 2015.

In 1989, FBI agents discovered plant workers at the Rocky Flats nuclear plant had been carelessly mishandling radioactive waste for many years. Landowners neighboring the former nuclear plant brought a federal civil suit against Rockwell and Dow Chemical Corp., seeking relief under both the Price-Anderson Act and state nuisance law. After fifteen years of pretrial discovery, a jury returned a verdict for plaintiffs, including $177 million in compensatory damages, $200 million in punitive damages, and $549 million in prejudgment interest. Defendants appealed, arguing the court failed to properly instruct the jury on the terms of the Price-Anderson Act. A panel of the Tenth Circuit agreed in Cook I, vacating the judgment and remanding for further proceedings in light of the Act’s correct construction. Plaintiffs then argued that even without the Price-Anderson Act claim, their state law nuisance verdict survived. Defendants countered that (1) the Price-Anderson Act prevents state law recovery where an Act claim, albeit unsuccessful, is advanced, and (2) the Tenth Circuit’s mandate in Cook I independently barred plaintiffs from relief on their state law nuisance claims. The district court ruled for defendants and plaintiffs appealed.

On appeal, the Tenth Circuit first addressed defendants’ argument that any state law claim was preempted by the unsuccessful Price-Anderson Act claim. The Tenth Circuit characterized this as a structure where unless a nuclear claim was large enough to fall within the Act’s regulation, there could be no recovery for damages. Noting that the defendants forfeited this argument in their first appeal, the Tenth Circuit reaffirmed the first panel’s holding that Dow and Rockwell forfeited any field preemption argument long ago. The Tenth Circuit found it implausible that Congress would have intended remedies to exist only for large-scale “nuclear incidents” while foreclosing remedies for smaller claims. The Tenth Circuit could find nowhere in the Act preempting or precluding remedies for state law claims if federal claims were not proved, and found it rather seemed to imply the opposite.

Turning to defendants’ second argument, that the court mandate in the first appeal required dismissal of plaintiffs’ state law claims, the Tenth Circuit again rejected defendants’ arguments. The Tenth Circuit evaluated Cook I and noted the prior panel expressly found the jury was properly instructed on the elements of a state law nuisance claim. The Tenth Circuit found that at the end of the first trial there was a properly instructed jury, legally sufficient evidence, and a favorable jury verdict as pertains to a state law nuisance claim. The Tenth Circuit similarly rejected defendants’ proposition that the prior Tenth Circuit panel had vacated the entire verdict, including the state law portion. This panel of the Tenth Circuit averred that the state law portion of the trial court’s verdict was untouched in Cook I and therefore was the law of the case, and nothing prevented the trial court from entering a new verdict on the state law claim alone.

The Tenth Circuit remanded the case with instructions for the district court to enter judgment on the nuisance verdict promptly. Judge Moritz concurred in the judgment of remand but disagreed that the court would be able to simply reinstate the nuisance judgment without a new trial.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Actual and Potential Rental Income Properly Used as Measure of Restitution

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Zeke Coffee, Inc. v. Pappas-Alstad Partnership on Thursday, July 30, 2015.

Commercial Lease—Eviction—Erroneous Judgment—Restitution—Discount Rate.

In March 2004, plaintiffs (collectively, Zeke) entered into afive-year lease agreement with Pappas-Alstad Partnership to operate a coffee shop. In September 2008, Zeke notified Pappas-Alstad of its intent to exercise an option to extend the lease for an additional five years. Pappas-Alstad said Zeke had breached a term of the lease and, after Zeke refused to cure the alleged breach, it notified Zeke that the lease had been terminated and converted into a month-to-month tenancy. In June 2009, Pappas-Alstad served a three-day demand for compliance or possession on Zeke. Zeke filed an action in district court seeking a declaratory judgment that the lease remained in effect and that Pappas-Alstad had breached it. Pappas-Alstad served Zeke a notice to quit and included in its amended answer a counterclaim seeking Zeke’s eviction. The district court issued a writ of eviction restoring possession of the property to Pappas-Alstad. A division of this Court of Appeals reversed, finding that Zeke had properly exercised the option to extend the lease and had been wrongfully evicted. In a written order, the district court determined that restitution was the appropriate remedy. Pappas-Alstad was required to restore everything it gained through the erroneous judgment.

On appeal, Pappas-Alstad contended that the district court erred in using its actual and potential rental income from the premises as a measure of the appropriate restitution. Zeke would have had to pay rent to Pappas-Alstad had the erroneous judgment never been entered. However, Zeke also would have been able to maintain its coffee business and the business income opportunities associated with it. Therefore, the district court did not abuse its discretion in not reducing Pappas-Alstad’s rental income by the rent it would have otherwise received from Zeke. The court also was not required to reduce from the award Pappas-Alstad’s expenses or losses in re-leasing the property.

Pappas-Alstad argued that the court erred in selecting the Treasury Bill rate as the discount rate to determine the present value of its future cash flow. The district court determined that the value of all future rent proceeds through the end of Zeke’s lease (from 2014 to 2019) should be calculated using a discount rate. The Treasury Bill rate has been recognized as a valid method for discounting future cash flows to present value. Therefore, the court’s decision to use the Treasury Bill rate was not an abuse of discretion. The order was affirmed and thecase was remanded to district court to award Zeke a reasonable amount of attorney fees incurred on appeal.

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

Business Use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (Drones) Expanding Exponentially

DroneDrones, also known as Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) or Unmanned Aircraft Vehicles (UAV), are not just for hobbyists anymore. Drones are devices that are used for flight in the air without an onboard pilot. Drones can be small and simple, such as remote-controlled aircraft popularized by hobbyists, or large and complex, like the surveillance aircraft used by the military in hostile areas. The military has been using drones for many years to conduct surveillance and deliver weapons in dangerous war zones. However, in the last several years, civilian and business use of drones has increased dramatically.

Non-military drone use is categorized into public aircraft operations and civil operations. Public aircraft operations are uses by public agencies or organizations of a particular aircraft for a particular purpose in a particular area. Public operation uses can include law enforcement, firefighting, border patrol, disaster relief, search and rescue, and military training. Civil operations are any operations that do not meet the statutory criteria for public aircraft operations, including business uses such as for agricultural purposes, construction, security, TV and movie industry uses, environmental monitoring, insurance, aerial photography, news media, and much more.

Because they utilize airspace for their operations, drones are regulated by the FAA. In 2013, the FAA issued a comprehensive plan for the safe integration of civil unmanned aircraft systems into the country’s airspace. In early 2015, the FAA issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for small UAS. The goal of the proposed rules is to provide a framework of regulations to allow routine use of certain small UAS while maintaining flexibility to accommodate future changes in technology. The public comment period for the proposed rules ended April 24, 2015.

Businesses wishing to utilize drones must obtain a Section 333 Exemption from the FAA. Petitions for Section 333 Exemption must be filed with and approved by the FAA before the drone may be used for business purposes. The FAA can also grant businesses the right to use airspace via Special Airworthiness Certificates. Special Airworthiness Certificates are available for research and development or experimental aircraft.

Attorney Thomas Dougherty, II, head of Lewis Roca Rothgerber’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Industry Team, will discuss drone law at CLE on July 28, 2015. Topics to be explored include potential drone uses, FAA regulations covering drones, required information for petitions for Section 333 Exemption, Certificates of Waiver or Authorization, the FAA’s enforcement authority, and legal issues arising out of state and local laws for the use of drones. Register now by clicking the links below or calling (303) 860-0608.

CLE Program: Drones for Lawyers: The Do’s and Don’ts for Clients

This CLE presentation will take place Tuesday, July 28, 2015 at the CLE offices. Click here to register for the live program or click here to register for the webcast.

Can’t make the live program? Order the homestudy here – Video OnDemand – MP3

 

Colorado Court of Appeals: Seller in Installment Land Contract Not Landowner Under Premises Liability Act

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Lucero v. Ulvestad on Thursday, July 16, 2015.

Installment Land Contract—Landowner—Colorado Premises Liability Act—Trespasser—Injuries—Negligence.

This case arose from 15-year-old Lucero’s unsupervised use of a steam room in a home purchased by Landers from Ulvestad. The installment land contract provided Landers immediate possession of the property, but record title would remain in Ulvestad’s name until Landers paid the entire purchase price. With permission from Landers, Lucero entered the steam room and suffered a seizure rendering her unconscious. Before she was found, Lucero suffered severe burns to her face, head, and arm. Lucero brought this lawsuit against both Landers and Ulvestad. The trial court found that Ulvestad owed Lucero no common law duty of care and dismissed her negligence claim. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Ulvestad on Lucero’s claim under the Colorado Premises Liability Act (Act).

Lucero appealed the trial court’s determination that she was a trespasser on the property at the time she was injured. Based on the plain language of the installment land contract, Ulvestad, on the date possession of the property was transferred to Landers, was no longer a person “in possession of real property” or “legally responsible for the condition of real property.” Therefore, because Ulvestad was not a landowner under the Act, the trial court should have granted Ulvestad’s motion for a directed verdict. Therefore, Lucero was not harmed by the trespasser determination, and the judgment against Lucero was affirmed.

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

Colorado Court of Appeals: Secured Creditor With Disallowed Claim Against Estate Can Enforce Underlying Security

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Oldham v. Pedrie on Thursday, July 16, 2015.

Real Property—Promissory Note—Deed of Trust—Probate—Notice of Claim—Disallowance—Foreclosure—Novation.

This appeal involves a parcel of land in Teller County first purchased by Lorna Oldham in 1976 from Donald Pedrie in exchange for a promissory note. In 2005, Lorna Oldham signed a second promissory note to replace the first promissory note. In 2007, she died, and Pedrie filed a notice of claim against the Estate of Lorna Oldham for the amount owing on the promissory note. The personal representative disallowed a portion of Pedrie’s claim, Pedrie threatened foreclosure of the property, and the trial court allowed him to proceed with his foreclosure proceedings.

On appeal, the Oldhams and the Estate contended that the 1976 Deed of Trust was extinguished when Pedrie declined to contest the disallowance in the Michigan court. Under the Colorado and Michigan probate codes, the requirement to file a notice of claim in an estate proceeding does not affect or prevent the right of a secured creditor to enforce a mortgage or other liens on estate property. Further, a secured creditor is not required to pursue an unconditional claim that is disallowed. Therefore, a secured creditor’s lien on real property is not extinguished when the creditor presents an unconditional claim against a decedent’s estate but does not pursue a disallowed claim within sixty-three days. The secured creditor may still pursue a foreclosure action to enforce the lien. Therefore, the district court did not err when it found that Pedrie held a valid deed of trust on the Teller County property.

The Oldhams also contended that Pedrie’s 1976 lien on the Teller County property was extinguished under CRS § 38-39-207, either because Pedrie accepted a new promissory note in 2005 that was not secured by a deed of trust or because there was a novation. The record contains unrebutted testimony that the principal plus interest due on the first note was greater than the amount due on the 2005 promissory note. Under these circumstances, the 2005 promissory note did not constitute a novation and did not extinguish the 1976 Deed of Trust.

Finally, the Oldhams contended that the district court erred by not making a finding on the total amount owed on the debt secured by the deed of trust. Pursuant to CRCP 120, the district court was not required to determine the amount remaining on secured debt. The Trial Management Order (TMO), however, required the court to determine the payoff amount. Therefore, the district court erred in not complying with the TMO in this regard. The judgment was affirmed in part and reversed in part, and the case was remanded to the district court to determine the amount owed by the Oldhams on the 1976 Deed of Trust.

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

Colorado Court of Appeals: Special District May Regulate Use of Property It Owns

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Aspen Springs Metropolitan District v. Keno on Thursday, July 16, 2015.

Metropolitan District—Real Property—Trespass—Willful—Fence Law—Contempt—Remedial Sanctions—Purge Clause.

Keno maintained a flock of sheep and grazed it on a parcel of land known as the “Greenbelt.” The Greenbelt was owned by Aspen Springs Metropolitan District (Aspen Springs). In 2011, the Aspen Springs Board passed a resolution prohibiting the grazing or tethering of livestock on the Greenbelt without the Board’s prior written permission. Keno continued to graze his sheep on the Greenbelt, and Aspen Springs sought an injunction preventing the grazing. Keno nonetheless continued to pasture his sheep on the Greenbelt and had twice been found in contempt by the time the court issued its final judgment permanently enjoining Keno from allowing his animals to graze on the Greenbelt.

On appeal, Keno contended that, as a special district and creature of statute, Aspen Springs lacks authority to regulate the use of property it owns. Among the express powers granted to special districts are the powers “[t]o acquire, dispose of, and encumber real and personal property including, without limitation, rights and interests in property, leases, and easements necessary to the functions or the operation of the special district.” The right to own property is necessary to these express powers. Property ownership generally includes the power to exclude others. Therefore, a special or metropolitan district may regulate the use of and access to property it owns. Accordingly, the district court did not err in holding that Aspen Springs has the power to prohibit and limit grazing activities on the Greenbelt.

Keno also contended that the district court erred in concluding that the Fence Law protects Aspen Springs from a willful trespass onto the Greenbelt, despite the fact the Greenbelt is unenclosed by a lawful fence. The Fence Law does not protect livestock owners who deliberately pasture their livestock on unenclosed lands of another, particularly when done against the owner’s will. Accordingly, the district court did not err in concluding that the Fence Law protects Aspen Springs from willful trespass onto its property.

Keno further asserted that the court erred in awarding attorney fees and costs as a remedial sanction after finding him in contempt a second time for violating the preliminary injunction. A remedial sanction must include a purge clause. Because the sheep grazing activities that resulted in Keno’s contempt citation were not ongoing at the time of the contempt hearing, Keno could not purge his contempt because he could not undo what he had done. Therefore, remedial sanctions, such as the assessment of costs and attorney fees, could not be imposed against Keno under these circumstances, and the trial court erred in awarding them. Instead, the court could impose only punitive sanctions. The judgment was affirmed in part and the order was vacated in part.

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

Colorado Court of Appeals: Common Open Space Part of Subdivision’s Community Property

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Hauer v. McMullin on Thursday, July 2, 2015.

Real Property—Common Open Space—Unincorporated Homeowners Association—Colorado Common Interest Ownership Act—Attorney Fees.

The McMullins owned Two Rivers Estates, which included seven lots and seventeen acres of Common Open Space (COS). The McMullins sold the seven lots to three owners: the Hauers bought lots one and three; the Conrados bought lot two; and Lincoln Trust FBO John Hauer (Lincoln Trust) bought lots four through seven. Thereafter, the Hauers and Lincoln Trust filed a complaint individually and on behalf of the unincorporated Two Rivers Homeowners Association (HOA) to quiet title to their respective lots. They also sought to quiet title to the COS in the HOA. The McMullins counterclaimed, asserting that they hold title to the COS because a common interest community was never formally created and because they never conveyed the COS property. The trial court found in favor of the Hauers and Lincoln Trust.

On appeal, the McMullins contended that the trial court erred when it quieted title to the COS in the unincorporated HOA. The Evergreen Highlands’s declarations expressly established the HOA, conveyed to it the development’s common property, charged it with maintaining the common property, and granted it authority to determine annual membership or use fees. The final recorded plat, the recorded subdivision agreement, the recorded deeds, and the land sale contract with Lincoln Trust constituted declarations necessary to form a common interest community under the Colorado Common Interest Ownership Act. Therefore, the COS was part of the subdivision’s common property and was appurtenant to each lot, and with each conveyance of a lot, an appurtenant one-seventh common interest in the COS was conveyed, as well. The trial court’s findings and order were affirmed.

The McMullins and their attorney contended that the trial court abused its discretion when it awarded the Hauers their attorney fees incurred as a result of the McMullins’ failure to disclose information relevant to the subdivision development, without making a finding of prejudice. The trial court did not abuse its discretion in awarding attorney fees as sanctions under CRCP 37, because this rule and the assessment of attorney fees do not require a finding of prejudice.

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

Colorado Court of Appeals: CORA Exception for Prosecuting Attorney Does Not Apply to Land Use Violation

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Shook v. Pitkin County Board of County Commissioners on Thursday, June 18, 2015.

Colorado Open Records Act—Investigatory Records Exception.

In August 2012, the Pitkin County Attorney’s Office received a citizen complaint regarding a potential code violation of plaintiff Shook’s property. The complaint was investigated and a violation notice for failure to obtain a necessary construction permit was issued. Shook cured the violation by obtaining a permit.

Several months later, Shook submitted a Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) request to the county attorney (custodian), seeking access to records related to the violation. The custodian provided certain documents but denied access to the original citizen complaint and the investigating officer’s handwritten notes.

Shook then filed this action, seeking a declaratory judgment that the custodian violated CORA by withholding the records, an order directing the custodian to disclose the records, and attorney fees and costs. The district court held that the custodian properly denied access to the records under CORA’s investigatory records exception, CRS § 24-72-204(2)(a)(I).

The investigatory records exception allows a custodian to withhold records if (1) the records relate to investigations conducted by a sheriff, prosecuting attorney, or police department, or are contained in investigatory files compiled for criminal law enforcement purposes; and (2) disclosure would be contrary to the public interest. Here, the record did not support the finding that the records related to an investigation by a prosecuting attorney. Such an attorney refers to one prosecuting a criminal matter, and this was not a criminal prosecution. The order was reversed for failure to meet the first prong.

CRS § 24-72-204(5) requires the court to award costs and reasonable attorney fees to any person who applies for and receives an order requiring a custodian to permit inspection of public records. The case was remanded with directions to order the custodian to allow Shook to inspect the records and, upon Shook’s application, assess and award reasonable court costs and attorney fees in her favor.

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

Colorado Court of Appeals: Use of Stock Certificate as Exhibit Does Not Qualify as a Filing or Recording

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Battle North, LLC v. Sensible Housing Co. on Thursday, June 18, 2015.

Spurious Documents—CRS §§ 38-35-201(3) and -204.

This case involves a dispute over ownership of real property in Eagle County (Pine Martin parcel). In 1998, Mortgage Investment Corporation (MIC) filed for judicial foreclosure on a deed of trust encumbering the Pine Martin parcel and the Piney Lumber parcel. Defendants included Pine Martin Mining Company (PMMC) and Piney Lumber Company (PLC). PMMC claimed ownership of the Pine Martin parcel and PLC claimed ownership of the Piney Lumber parcel. This essentially converted the foreclosure case to a quiet title action.

In 2000, PMMC and PLC moved for partial summary judgment and MIC filed a cross-motion for partial summary judgment. In 2004, the motions still pending, MIC assigned its interest in the matter to Ginn Battle Lender, LLC (Ginn). PMMC and PLC purported to transfer their interests in the parcels to respondent Sensible Housing Company (Sensible) by quitclaim deeds that Sensible recorded in the Eagle County Clerk and Recorder’s Office. Two of the deeds, one recorded in 2006 and one in 2008, were from PMMC to Sensible and concerned the Pine Martin parcel. These deeds are at issue in this case.

Pursuant to an approved stipulation for how to proceed to resolve the quiet title case, Sensible filed as an exhibit a purported 1915 Stock Certificate certifying that 1,251,000 shares of the capital stock of PMMC had been issued to Bouvier. Sensible’s principal, Tucker, claimed he had obtained those shares from Bouvier’s heir in 1996. On that authority, Tucker created and recorded the 2006 and 2008 quitclaim deeds.

In 2009, the district court granted Ginn’s cross-motion for summary judgment and denied Sensible’s motion. It found the 1915 Stock Certificate and related documents were incredible as a matter of law and therefore Sensible had no interest in either parcel. Sensible appealed, and a division of the Court affirmed summary judgment as to the Piney Lumber parcel but reversed as to the Pine Martin parcel, finding the 1915 Stock Certificate not “so incredible that no reasonable jury could believe it.”

In April 2012, Battle North, LLC (Battle North) filed a petition for an order to show cause pursuant to CRS § 38-35-204 and CRCP 105.1, alleging the 1915 Stock Certificate was a spurious document and requesting an order directing Sensible to show cause why it should not be declared invalid. Battle North amended the petition to request that the two quitclaim deeds also be declared invalid as spurious documents. Following a hearing, the district court made extensive findings, including that the 1915 Stock Certificate was created by Tucker and was a sham, and that both it and the two quitclaim deeds were spurious documents; the court therefore “released” the three documents. The court also awarded Battle Mountain attorney fees and costs pursuant to CRS § 38-35-204(2).

On appeal, Sensible argued that the priority rule required the district court to stay this case pending resolution of the quiet title action. The Court disagreed, holding that CRCP 105.1 allowed Battle North to bring this petition in a separate action and that staying the case would not further the policies behind the priority rule.

Sensible then argued that allowing Battle North to litigate this action contravened the mandate of the Court in an earlier appeal of the quiet title action where it remanded for further proceedings as to the Pine Martin parcel. The Court found nothing in that order precluding Battle North form proceeding as permitted by CRS § 38-35-204 and CRCP 105.1.

Sensible contended that its use of the 1915 Stock Certificate as an exhibit in the quiet title action did not entitle Battle North to relief under CRS § 38-35-204; filing a document as an exhibit in a civil case does not qualify as recording or filing a document within the meaning of the statute. The Court agreed. It held that “recorded or filed” as used in CRS § 38-35-204(1) is limited by its having to affect a person’s real or personal property. The filing of an exhibit in a civil case does not affect a person’s real property. Moreover, there would be no way to “release” such a document (the remedy in the statute). Thus, although the Court did not disturb the finding that the 1915 Stock Certificate was a sham, it was error to rule it was a spurious document under the statute, and that part of the order was reversed.

Sensible argued that the quitclaim deeds were not spurious because a quitclaim deed can convey only the title or interest that the grantor had, and the district court determined that the newly created PMMC had no title or interest to convey. Therefore, Battle North’s property could not have been affected by the recording of the quitclaim deeds. The Court found this argument to be without merit. Sensible argued that unless a document was a valid lien or encumbrance against real property, it cannot be a spurious document, because it cannot affect real property. However, in that case, the document would not be spurious.

Sensible argued that Battle North is not a “person whose real . . . property is affected by” the 1915 Stock Certificate and quitclaim deeds because it does not own the Pine Martin parcel. This argument was based on deficiencies in the treasurer’s deeds by which Battle North claimed title. The Court rejected those arguments on multiple grounds.

The Court also awarded Battle Mountain reasonable appellate attorney fees for defending the judgment as to the quitclaim deeds. The case was remanded to the district court for a determination of that amount.

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