April 2, 2015

Frederick Skillern: Real Estate Case Law — Titles and Title Insurance (2)

Editor’s note: This is Part 17 of a series of posts in which Denver-area real estate attorney Frederick Skillern provides summaries of case law pertinent to real estate practitioners (click here for previous posts). These updates originally appeared as materials for the 32nd Annual Real Estate Symposium in July 2014.

frederick-b-skillernBy Frederick B. Skillern

Egelhoff v. Taylor
Colorado Court of Appeals, August 15, 2013
2013 COA 137,
312 P.3d 270

Spurious lien statute; phony lien against judge.

Lest anyone be confused about why the legislature passed the spurious lien statute in 1998, we give you the case of Denver District Judge Egelhoff. In 2008, the judge sentenced Taylor to prison on a felony conviction. After he was sentenced, Taylor began mailing the judge various documents, claiming that Judge Egelhoff was indebted to him. The judge understandably did not respond. Taylor filed suit, claiming that the judge’s failure to respond created liability to Taylor under a terrific doctrine called the “commercial affidavit process.” Robin Hood could not have done better.

Taylor contends that the “commercial affidavit process” permits an individual to send an affidavit to a purported debtor, claiming the recipient owes the sender a debt, and if the recipient does not specifically rebut the alleged debt, he is deemed to have agreed to the debt and its collection by any means. At our social gathering tonight, perhaps someone can advise us from whence this legal doctrine derives. According to Taylor, a recipient’s silence results in a “self-executing contract,” binding the recipient to pay the amount of the alleged debt. Thus, Taylor argues that, because the judge did not respond to his affidavit, his honor “agreed” that the five hundred million dollar debt was valid.

The panel of the court of appeals, seemingly lacking any sense of humor, goes on for several pages as to why this procedure does not form a contract between judge and convict. An opportunity was missed. It is interesting that this case was selected for publication, when many other real estate cases of considerable substance are passed over.

Ute Mesa Lot 1, LLC v. First-Citizens Bank & Trust Co. (In re Ute Mesa Lot 1, LLC)
United States District Court, District of Colorado, November 25, 2013
No. 12-1134

Bankruptcy; lis pendens; preferential transfer.

Ute Mesa Lot 1, LLC (Ute Mesa) borrowed $12 million from United Western Bank to finance the construction of a home in Aspen. The deed of trust incorrectly named the property’s owner, so the deed of trust was ineffective in giving the Bank a lien on the property. Later, the Bank filed suit to reform the deed of trust and give it a first priority lien on the property. The Bank then recorded a notice of lis pendens with the county real property records. Two months later, Ute Mesa filed for bankruptcy and sought to avoid the lis pendens as a preferential transfer. The bankruptcy court and district court dismissed Ute Mesa’s claim. Ute Mesa appealed, arguing that the lis pendens would prevent a bona fide purchaser from acquiring an interest in the property superior to the Bank’s. Therefore, it was a “transfer of an interest in property” and an avoidable preferential transfer.

The Tenth Circuit holds that a lis pendens is merely a notice and does not constitute a lien, despite the fact that under Colorado law, a lis pendens renders title unmarketable. The lis pendens is not a transfer, so it was not subject to the bankruptcy provision allowing a debtor-in-possession to avoid a transfer of an interest in property that occurs within ninety days before the filing of the bankruptcy petition. The judgment is affirmed.

Frederick B. Skillern, Esq., is a director and shareholder with Montgomery Little & Soran, P.C., practicing in real estate and related litigation and appeals. He serves as an expert witness in cases dealing with real estate, professional responsibility and attorney fees, and acts as a mediator and arbitrator in real estate cases. Before joining Montgomery Little in 2003, Fred was in private practice in Denver for 6 years with Carpenter & Klatskin and for 10 years with Isaacson Rosenbaum. He served as a district judge for Colorado’s Eighteenth Judicial District from 2000 through 2002. Fred is a graduate of Dartmouth College, and received his law degree at the University of Colorado in 1976, in another day and time in which the legal job market was simply awful.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Declaratory Judgment Appropriate and Statutory Definition of Firearm Encompasses Bow Hunting

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Moss v. Board of County Commissioners for Boulder County on Thursday, March 26, 2015.

Declaratory Judgment—Firearm—Definition—County Board—Geographic Area.

This case concerns a county resolution that prohibits firearm discharges in a designated area of Sugar Loaf Mountain in unincorporated Boulder County. Moss and Westby live and own property in this area. Colorado Advocates for Public Safety is a nonprofit corporation whose mission is to assist in protecting the public from safety hazards, such as those involving firearms. This dispute between plaintiffs and the Board of County Commissioners for Boulder County (County Board) centers around the definition and scope of this resolution.

On appeal, plaintiffs contended that the district court erred in dismissing their declaratory judgment claim, wherein plaintiffs sought a judicial determination that, as a matter of law, the word “firearm” in CRS §§ 30-15-301 to -302 and Resolution 80-52 includes bows and arrows. Because a declaratory judgment would terminate the controversy or uncertainty regarding the scope of the resolution, plaintiffs’ declaratory judgment claim was properly raised in the district court and the district court erred in declining to address it.

The statute that authorizes counties to prohibit firearm discharges expressly defines “firearm” or “firearms” as “any pistol, revolver, rifle, or other weapon of any description from which any shot, projectile, or bullet may be discharged.” A bow is a weapon and an arrow is a projectile. Therefore, a bow and arrow constitute a “firearm” under this statute, and plaintiffs were entitled to a declaratory judgment in their favor on this issue.

Plaintiffs also requested an expansion of the geographic area covered by the resolution in their claim for injunctive relief. CRS § 30-15-302 does not subject the County Board to any procedural requirements to address plaintiffs’ request, and Colorado’s Administrative Procedure Act does not apply to the County Board. Additionally, plaintiffs concede that they have not asserted and cannot assert a claim under CRCP 106(a)(4) because there has been no final agency action in this case. Finally, plaintiffs have failed to state a constitutional due process claim on which relief can be granted. Therefore, the district court did not err in dismissing plaintiffs’ claim for injunctive relief on this issue.

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

e-Legislative Report: March 24, 2015

legislationCBA Legislative Policy Committee

For readers who are new to CBA legislative activity, the Legislative Policy Committee (LPC) is the CBA’s legislative policy-making arm during the legislative session. The LPC meets weekly during the legislative session to determine CBA positions on requests from the various sections and committees of the Bar Association.

The following bill was discussed as the only action item taken up at the meeting on Friday, March 20. Other bills of interest from that agenda are tracked and updated below.

HB 15-1272—Timely Filed Claims Not Barred By Laches
Sponsors: Rep. Daneya Esgar (D) & Sen. Chris Holbert (R)
The LPC voted to oppose this bill because Laches is an important equitable defense. Colorado has a long history with the Doctrine of Laches and this bill upsets that balance. We understand the specific nature of the concern addressed in the bill, but the approach to a solution was overbroad. Therefore we voted to oppose HB 1272.

SB 15-069—Repeal Job Protection Civil Rights Enforcement Act
Sponsors: Sen. Laura Woods (R) & Rep. Kevin Priola (R)
The Legislative Policy Committee voted to oppose this bill to maintain a consistent position with the CBA’s position on previous legislation (HB13-1136 which the CBA supported). SB 69 would have reversed the effect of that bill.

HB 15-1292—Resentence Juveniles Life Sentence No Parole
Sponsors: Rep. Daniel Kagan (D)
The LPC voted to support the Juvenile Law Section’s recommendation to support this bill. There was a great deal of discussion. The bill allows for Juveniles who were previously convicted to petition for resentencing. The bill takes into consideration many factors for both victims and offenders.

Bills that the LPC is monitoring, watching or working on can be found at this link on Priority Bill Track.

At the Capitol—Week of March 16

This past week was a slower week for Bar priority bills. A number of bills we are watching and working on have not been scheduled for hearings or debate. We are constantly watching to ensure we are represented and up to date on bills the LPC has taken action on, and expect that this section will be more full after the “Long bill” (the state budget) is passed over the next two weeks.

HB 15-1142—Public Trustee Conduct Electronic Foreclosure Sale
We successfully amended this bill per the Real Estate Sections requirements, working in conjunction with the Denver Public Trustee and Representative McCann.

SB 15-077—Parents Bill of Rights
This bill was Postponed Indefinitely by the House Committee on Public Health Care and Human Services.

New Bills of Interest

The pace of new bill introductions is now slowing down, but there are a few new bills introduced still introduced through the remainder of the session. We will highlight some of the bills we have identified for tracking or monitoring here:

SB 15-200—Private Student Loan Disclosure Requirements
Sponsors: Sen. Andrew Kerr (D) & Sen. Nancy Todd (D)

The bill prohibits a private educational lender, as defined in the bill, from offering gifts to a covered educational institution, as defined in the bill, including public and private institutions of higher education, in exchange for any advantage or consideration related to loan activities or from engaging in revenue sharing. Further, the bill prohibits persons employed at covered educational institutions from receiving anything of value from private educational lenders. The bill makes it unlawful for a private educational lender to impose a fee or penalty on a borrower for early repayment or prepayment of a private education loan and requires a lender to disclose any agreements made with a card issuer or creditor for purposes of marketing a credit card. The bill requires private educational lenders to disclose information to a potential borrower or borrower both at the time of application for a private education loan and at the time of consummation of the loan.

The required disclosures are described in the bill and include, among other disclosures, the interest rate for the loan and adjustments to the rate, potential finance charges and penalties, payment options, an estimate of the total amount for repayment at the interest rate, the possibility of qualifying for federal loans, the terms and conditions of the loan, and that the borrower may cancel the loan, without penalty, within three business days after the date on which the loan is consummated.

SB 15-210—Title Insurance Commission
Sponsors: Sen. Laura Woods (R) & Rep. Jennifer Arndt (D)

The bill creates the title insurance commission (commission). The bill establishes the powers, duties, and functions of the commission and provides for the appointment of the members of the commission. With the exception of rate regulation and licensing, which will continue to be done by the insurance commissioner, the commission participates in the regulation of the title insurance business in Colorado by concurring in rules of the insurance commissioner, proposing rules for approval by the insurance commissioner, and reviewing and concurring in disciplinary actions related to the regulation of the title insurance business. The commission is scheduled to sunset Sept. 1, 2025, subject to continuation after a sunset review as provided by law.

Frederick Skillern: Real Estate Case Law — Titles and Title Insurance (1)

Editor’s note: This is Part 16 of a series of posts in which Denver-area real estate attorney Frederick Skillern provides summaries of case law pertinent to real estate practitioners (click here for previous posts). These updates originally appeared as materials for the 32nd Annual Real Estate Symposium in July 2014.

frederick-b-skillernBy Frederick B. Skillern

Grosboll v. Grosboll (In re Estate of Grossboll)
Colorado Court of Appeals, October 24, 2013
2013 COA 141

Partnership property; statute of frauds.

Jo Ann Grosboll, decedents’ daughter, appeals the district court’s order finding that the sales proceeds of an apartment building are an asset of the parents’ estates rather than an asset of Grosboll Manor, L.L.L.P., a limited partnership formed by Jo Ann and her parents. Jo Ann’s brother, understandably, argues that the apartments are property of the estate. The key issue revolves around the fact that there is no deed of conveyance to the partnership.

As a matter of first impression, the court considers whether real property owned individually by one who enters into a partnership with others may become a partnership asset without a written conveyance sufficient to satisfy the statute of frauds. The court holds that a written conveyance (such as a deed) from a partner to the partnership is not necessarily required.

The court reviews the historical development of the entity theory of partnerships and the Uniform Partnership Act. The current version of the partnership act allows real property titled in an individual partner’s name to be deemed an asset of the partnership. The trust relationship between partners provides adequate protection against fraud in oral agreements making a partner’s real property a partnership asset. As a result, by statute, the intention of the partners determines whether such real property is a partnership asset. The existence of a written conveyance is a factor for a court to consider in evaluating that intent.

Jo Ann contended that, according to the terms of the written partnership agreement and the intention of the partners, Loma Vista was a partnership asset. The partnership agreement provided that (1) title to all assets of the partnership shall be deemed to be owned by the partnership”; (2) record title to any or all assets of the partnership may be held in the name of . . . one or more nominees”; and (3) all assets of the partnership shall be recorded as the property of the partnership in the books and records of the partnership, irrespective of the name in which record title to such assets is held.” Jo Ann testified that when the partnership was established, she and her parents had agreed to make Loma Vista a partnership asset. Additionally, the accountant for the partnership testified that he treated Loma Vista as a partnership asset on the partnership books. Therefore, Jo Ann asserted she was entitled to the sale proceeds because decedents’ wills devised their interests in the partnership to her.

The partnership act provides a rebuttable presumption that a partner’s property is separate if it is not acquired with partnership assets:

Property acquired in the name of one or more of the partners, without an indication in the instrument transferring title to the property of the person’s capacity as a partner or of the existence of a partnership and without use of partnership assets is presumed to be separate property, even if used for partnership purposes.

C.R.S. § 7-64-204(4).

Because the UPL and UPA specifically contemplate that real property titled in an individual partner’s name may be deemed an asset of the partnership, the appeals court holds here that a written conveyance from a partner who originally brings real estate into the partnership, although a factor to consider, is not required to convert real property into partnership property.

Frederick B. Skillern, Esq., is a director and shareholder with Montgomery Little & Soran, P.C., practicing in real estate and related litigation and appeals. He serves as an expert witness in cases dealing with real estate, professional responsibility and attorney fees, and acts as a mediator and arbitrator in real estate cases. Before joining Montgomery Little in 2003, Fred was in private practice in Denver for 6 years with Carpenter & Klatskin and for 10 years with Isaacson Rosenbaum. He served as a district judge for Colorado’s Eighteenth Judicial District from 2000 through 2002. Fred is a graduate of Dartmouth College, and received his law degree at the University of Colorado in 1976, in another day and time in which the legal job market was simply awful.

Bills Regarding Trustee Notification, Recorded Documents, and More Signed

On Wednesday, March 18, 2015, Governor Hickenlooper signed nine bills into law. Governor Hickenlooper has now signed 58 bills this legislative session. The bills signed Wednesday are summarized here.

  • HB 15-1010 – Concerning a Presumption that a Trustee has Notified a Beneficiary when the Trustee has Adopted a Beneficiary Notification Procedure, and, in Connection Therewith, Clarifying that a Trustee May Deliver Information to Beneficiaries Electronically, by Reps. Tracy Kraft-Tharp & Dan Nordberg and Sen. Cheri Jahn. The bill creates a presumption that a beneficiary of a trust has received notifications about the status of a trust when the trustee has notification procedures in place, and also allows electronic notifications for beneficiaries who elect electronic notifications.
  • HB 15-1022 – Concerning Juveniles Charged with Certain Minor Offenses, by Rep. Beth McCann and Sens. Pat Steadman & John Cooke. The bill allows police officers to issue petty offense tickets to juveniles if certain conditions are met.
  • HB 15-1028 – Concerning Repeal of the Mercantile Licensing Standards, by Rep. Jon Keyser and Sen. Cheri Jahn. The bill repeals licensing requirements for merchants because the requirements are not enforced.
  • HB 15-1062 – Concerning Increasing the Penalties for Persons who Engage in Animal Fighting, by Reps. Jovan Melton & Steve Lebsock and Sens. David Balmer & Jerry Sonnenberg. The bill requires mandatory fines for convictions for animal fighting.
  • HB 15-1064 – Concerning Access to the Safe Deposit Box of a Decedent, and, in Connection Therewith, Limiting the Obligations of Custodians who Access the Box, by Rep. Dan Nordberg and Sen. Chris Holbert. The bill clarifies who has access to a decedent’s safe deposit box under the Colorado Probate Code and and clarifies that the custodian is not deemed to have knowledge about the contents of the box.
  • HB 15-1069 – Concerning Information Required to be Included in Recorded Written Instruments Filed with the County Clerk and Recorder to Claim a Homestead Exemption, by Rep. Su Ryden and Sen. Chris Holbert. The bill adds a requirement that a property owner’s name be included on a homestead exemption document.
  • HB 15-1071 – Concerning Clarification that, Following a Merger of Entities, the Surviving Entity is Entitled to Control the Premerger Attorney-Client Privileges of a Constituent Entity, by Rep. Jon Keyser and Sen. Owen Hill. The bill specifies that a corporation that merges with another entity inherits the attorney-client privilege from the other entity.
  • SB 15-057 – Concerning the Reporting Requirements of the Colorado Clean Claims Task Force, by Sen. David Balmer and Rep. Angela Williams. The bill changes the reporting requirements for the Colorado Medical Clean Claims Task Force so that the reports will go to the Commissioner of Insurance and the business committee of the General Assembly.
  • SB 15-142 – Concerning a Change in State Law to Make Requirements for Moneys Held in Escrow for the Payment of Ad Valorem Property Taxes the Same as the Requirements of the Federal “Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act of 1974″, by Sen. Ellen Roberts and Rep. Dan Pabon. The bill conforms state law to the requirements of the federal Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act, specifically repealing May 30 date for final settlement and changing the provision to reference RESPA.

For a complete list of Governor Hickenlooper’s 2015 legislative decisions, click here.

Colorado Supreme Court: Airport Concessionaires’ Possessory Interests in Concession Spaces Taxable

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Cantina Grill, JV v. City & County of Denver County Board of Equalization on Monday, March 16, 2015.

Taxable Possessory Interests—Significant Incidents of Private Ownership—Valuation of Taxable Possessory Interests in Tax-Exempt Properties.

The Supreme Court determined that the possessory interests in concession spaces held by several food and beverage concessionaires at Denver International Airport are taxable under Article X of the Colorado Constitution and Colorado’s property tax statutes because the concessionaires’ interests exhibit significant incidents of private ownership under the three-factor test established in Board of County Commissioners v. Vail Associates, Inc., 19 P.3d 1263 (Colo. 2001). Specifically, the Court held that: (1) the concessionaires’ interests are sufficiently exclusive to qualify as real property interests under the property tax statutes because the concessionaires have the right to exclude others from using their respective concession spaces; and (2) the concessionaires’ revenue-generating capability is sufficiently independent from the city that a tax on their possessory interests would not be effectively a tax on the government. The Court also held that the city’s valuation of the concessionaires’ interests is consistent with the valuation scheme set forth in CRS § 39-1-103(17), and is supported by the record. The judgment was affirmed.

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

Rule of 7, Wind Energy Development, Government Audit, and More Bills Signed by Governor

On Friday, March 13, 2015, Governor Hickenlooper signed 25 bills into law. To date, the governor has signed 49 bills into law during this 2015 legislative session. Some of the bills signed Friday are summarized here.

  • HB 15-1021 – Concerning Statutorily Established Time Periods that are Multiples of Seven Days, by Rep. Yeulin Willett and Sen. Michael Merrifield. The bill continues amending the Colorado Revised Statutes to conform statutorily prescribed time periods to the Rule of 7.
  • HB 15-1023 – Concerning the Age Limitation for Persons Served in a Day Treatment Center, by Rep. Susan Lontine and Sen. Irene Aguilar. The bill changes the age limits for people served by day treatment behavioral health programs to 3 to 21 (previously, the age limits were 5 to 18).
  • HB 15-1039 – Concerning the Donation of Prescription Medications by Licensed Health Care Facilities, by Rep. Max Tyler and Sen. Tim Neville. The bill allows licensed facilities to donate unused medications to other licensed facilities and removes the requirement that the expiration date be more than six months after the donation date.
  • HB 15-1121 – Concerning Agreements Between Landowners and Wind Energy Developers, and, in Connection Therewith, Clarifying the Rights and Duties of Parties to those Agreements and the Effects of Recording an Agreement in County Land Records, by Rep. Jon Becker and Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg. The bill requires wind energy agreements to be recorded in order to be binding on the parties, defines the wind energy developer of record, and imposes time limits for performing wind energy development.
  • SB 15-010 – Concerning Augmentation Requirements for Wells Withdrawing Water from the Dawson Aquifer, by Sen. Mary Hodge and Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush. The bill repeals a requirement that would have been effective July 1, 2015 requiring calculations based on actual depletions and instead continues the current practice of replacing out-of-priority depletions.
  • SB 15-024 – Concerning Updates to the Local Government Audit Law to Maintain Consistency with Audit Standards, by Sens. Jerry Sonnenberg & Cheri Jahn and Rep. Su Ryden. The bill increases the annual fiscal audit exemption amount from $500,000 to $750,000 and updates certain terminology.
  • SB 15-025, -026, -027, and -028 – Establish statutory requirements for statewide Fire and Police Pension Association Plans.
  • SB 15-082 – Concerning the Authority of Counties to Establish a County Workforce Development Program, by Sens. Vicki Marble & Mary Hodge and Reps. Dominick Moreno & Polly Lawrence. The bill allows counties to establish workforce programs to provide grants to high school graduates who pursue higher education.

Several bills were also signed regarding supplemental appropriations and transfers from the General Fund to various programs. For a complete list of legislation signed by Governor Hickenlooper on March 13, 2015, click here. For a list of all of Governor Hickenlooper’s 2015 legislative decisions, click here.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Lessee of Oil and Gas Interest Must Incur Post-Production Costs Where Lease is Silent

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Patterson v. BP America Production Co. on Thursday, March 12, 2015.

Class Action—Moratory Interest Request—CRS § 5-12-102(1)(a) and (b)—Fraudulent Concealment and Equitable Tolling—Jury Instructions.

In the early 1970s, named plaintiffs and approximately 4,000 royalty owners (collectively, Royalty Owners) entered into lease agreements with BP America Production Company (BP) to be paid royalties in exchange for natural gas extracted from their wells. The lease agreements provided that BP would pay Royalty Owners “1/8 of the proceeds of the market value of such gas at the mouth of the well; if said gas is sold by [BP], then as royalty 1/8 of the proceeds of the sale thereof at the mouth of the well.” Post-production costs were not expressly authorized as being deductible from royalty payments.

In the 1980s, BP changed how it calculated royalties and started employing a netback methodology whereby BP deducted a proportionate share of the post-production costs. The royalty statements did not disclose these deductions.

In 2003, Royalty Owners sued BP for breach of contract, alleging underpayment of royalties between January 1, 1986 and December 1, 1997. A jury found that BP breached the lease agreements by underpaying royalties and that BP fraudulently concealed the underpayments, thereby tolling the applicable statute of limitations. The jury awarded Royalty Owners $7,941,809.23 in damages. The district court amended the judgment to add $32,273,817 in statutory prejudgment interest, pursuant to CRS § 5-12-102(1)(b).

Royalty Owners appealed the district court’s pretrial grant of BP’s CRCP 56(h) motion and its denial of moratory interest. CRS § 5-12-102(1)(a) codifies the common law concept of moratory interest. Moratory interest is intended to be compensatory, not punitive. To obtain moratory interest, a plaintiff must demonstrate the defendant’s gain or benefit realized on the withheld money by a preponderance of the evidence. The Court of Appeals found no evidence or discernible means to calculate any such gain or benefit by BP on the underpaid royalty money. Therefore, the district court’s grant of the motion denying moratoryinterest was affirmed.

On cross-appeal, BP contended that the district court erred by denying its motions for a directed verdict and judgment notwithstanding the verdict because (1) Royalty Owners could not prove their fraudulent concealment and equitable tolling claims for all class members; and (2) the evidence demonstrated that Royalty Owners’ gas was undisputedly marketable at the well and thus the post-production deductions from royalties were proper. In reviewing the record and the evidence in the light most favorable to Royalty Owners, the Court concluded the evidence was sufficient to send the issue of fraudulent concealment to the jury and that reasonable jurors could find that Royalty Owners were ignorant of BP’s concealed royalty deductions, relied on the concealment, and were unable, using reasonable diligence, to discover the concealment.

Colorado law provides that where, as here, royalty agreements are silent on the allocation of post-production costs, the “implied covenant to market must be considered in determining the rights and obligations of the parties.” This covenant obligates BP, not Royalty Owners, to make the gas marketable, and BP must incur those costs. If, however, the gas is marketable at the wellhead, and post-production costs merely enhance the value of the gas, those costs may be shared. Marketability at the wellhead is a question of fact. The Court concluded that a reasonable person could determine that the wellhead was not the first market for gas extracted from the wells during the time period at issue.

BP also argued that it was error to decline to instruct the jury that “[i]f a person signs a contract without reading it, that person is barred from claiming he or she is not bound by what it says.” The Court disagreed, holding that this instruction would have only confused jurors, incorrectly informed them on the issues in the case, and improperly directed them as to the proper weight to give the contracts.

BP further argued it was error to deny its request to decertify the class. The Court found that the district court rigorously analyzed the evidence and did not abuse its discretion in concluding that the questions of law or fact common to the members of the class predominated over any questions affecting only individual members. The judgment was affirmed.

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

Frederick Skillern: Real Estate Case Law — Property Taxation and Assessments

Editor’s note: This is Part 15 of a series of posts in which Denver-area real estate attorney Frederick Skillern provides summaries of case law pertinent to real estate practitioners (click here for previous posts). These updates originally appeared as materials for the 32nd Annual Real Estate Symposium in July 2014.

frederick-b-skillernBy Frederick B. Skillern

Roaring Fork Club, LLC v. Pitkin County Board of Equalization
Colorado Court of Appeals, December 5, 2013
2013 COA 167

Valuation of a private golf club property.

The Pitkin County assessor determined the value of the Roaring Fork Club property for tax year 2011, and The Pitkin County Board of Equalization and the Board of Assessment Appeals agrees with the valuation. On appeal, the club asserts that the assessor should not have included the value of sold club memberships in the assessment of the club’s property. The Court of Appeals agrees and reverses.

The club’s property is open only to its members. Membership rights are retained for life unless sold or relinquished or revoked by the club. The club uses membership deposits to improve the property and maintain the improvements. The deposits are treated as a liability for accounting purposes because all or a part of them are refunded if members maintain their membership for at least thirty years or if they resign earlier and replacement members fill their spots.

The club’s amenities were completed in 1999 and the club had sold about 82% of the memberships by 2011. The club argues that the value of the sold memberships should not be considered in determining the actual value of the club’s property for property tax purposes because they are not interests in the real property. The BOE contends that the membership deposits are akin to prepaid rent on leasehold interests and they would escape taxation if not included in the property value.

On appeal, the club and the BOE agree that the income approach is the proper method to value the club’s property. However, the county argues that the memberships are an interest in land, like a leasehold, and should be included in the value under the “unit assessment rule.” The club contends that memberships are licenses, and are not an interest in land. The court agrees, and holds: (1) the membership agreement is not a lease; (2) memberships are not life estates; (3) the membership agreement does not give members any other taxable interest in the club’s property; (4) the membership agreement establishes that memberships are revocable licenses; (5) the unit assessment rule does not apply to these memberships; and (6) the sold memberships are not usufructuary interests. Accordingly, the Board’s order is reversed and the case is remanded to hold a hearing to determine the actual value of the club’s property without taking into account the value of the sold memberships.

 

Village at Treehouse, Inc. v. Property Tax Administrator
Colorado Court of Appeals, January 16, 2014
2014 COA 6.

Property tax; unit assessment rule.

Village paid more than $1 million to purchase certain development rights from the Treehouse Condominium Association (HOA). This supposedly gave Village the right to construct up to nineteen condominium units in the complex. The development rights were created by an amendment to the Treehouse declaration in 2006. The rights were assigned to Village in 2008 in a document entitled “Warranty and Assignment of Supplemental Development Rights”. The question is whether this property right is a taxable interest in real property. The Board of Assessment Appeals found that the right to build new condominium units constituted a taxable interest in real property for ad valorem tax purposes.

On appeal, the court of appeals affirms the BAA, and holds that the assignment, in effect, severed the development rights from the common elements owned by the HOA, creating a new taxable property interest. Because the Village acquired an interest in land, taxation of the development rights was required under C.R.S. § 39-1-102(16) and (14)(a).

Because the Assignment evinced the intent to sever title to the development rights from the common elements, taxing the development rights separately from the common elements did not contravene §§39-1-103(10) or 38-33.3-105. This taxation does not violate the unit assessment rule.

The Assignment created separate interests in real estate as between the interests of the individual unit owners in the common elements and those of the developer. The order was affirmed.

 

Premises Liability, Trespass and Nuisance

S.W. v. Towers Boat Club, Inc.
Colorado Supreme Court, December 23, 2013
2013 CO 72

Attractive nuisance; premises liability statute.

The Supreme Court considers whether, in the context of our premises liability statute, the attractive nuisance doctrine applies to both (a) trespassing children and (b) children who are licensees or invitees. The Court held that the doctrine permits all children, regardless of their classification, to bring a claim for attractive nuisance. C.R.S. § 13-21-115. The court therefore reverses the judgment of the court of appeals, which had found that the doctrine only protects trespassing children.

 

Frederick B. Skillern, Esq., is a director and shareholder with Montgomery Little & Soran, P.C., practicing in real estate and related litigation and appeals. He serves as an expert witness in cases dealing with real estate, professional responsibility and attorney fees, and acts as a mediator and arbitrator in real estate cases. Before joining Montgomery Little in 2003, Fred was in private practice in Denver for 6 years with Carpenter & Klatskin and for 10 years with Isaacson Rosenbaum. He served as a district judge for Colorado’s Eighteenth Judicial District from 2000 through 2002. Fred is a graduate of Dartmouth College, and received his law degree at the University of Colorado in 1976, in another day and time in which the legal job market was simply awful.

Frederick Skillern: Real Estate Case Law — Lawyers and Professional Liability

Editor’s note: This is Part 14 of a series of posts in which Denver-area real estate attorney Frederick Skillern provides summaries of case law pertinent to real estate practitioners (click here for previous posts). These updates originally appeared as materials for the 32nd Annual Real Estate Symposium in July 2014.

frederick-b-skillernBy Frederick B. Skillern

Gibbons v. Ludlow
Colorado Supreme Court, July 1, 2013
2013 CO 49

Professional negligence; transactional “case within the case”; causation of damage; “better deal” test.

This case was mentioned in last year’s “supplement” to our outline, and is repeated here for convenience, as it is an important case in the professional liability circles. It involves liability claims against both brokers and transactional attorneys, and the key element of causation. If one is negligent in advising a client in a transaction, and the client gains less from a deal than is anticipated, must the plaintiff prove that a “better deal” could be had? The court is required to find the analog to the “case within a case” that is tried in legal malpractice actions arising out of the litigation process. Although the case addresses the liability of a seller’s broker, the same principles apply to a claim against a seller’s attorney.

The trial court answered the presented question affirmatively, and dismissed a negligence claim against the seller’s broker on summary judgment. The court of appeals reversed, but the supreme court reverses and reinstates the summary judgment ruling. To sustain a professional negligence claim against a transaction real estate broker (or attorney), a plaintiff must show causation of damage, in addition to negligence. That is, it must be shown that but for the alleged negligent acts of the broker, the seller either (1) would have been able to obtain a better deal in the underlying transaction, or (2) would have been better off by walking away from the underlying transaction. In the court’s view, the sellers failed to present evidence that any negligence of the broker caused the seller to suffer damage. They did not establish beyond mere possibility or speculation that they suffered a financial loss as a result of the transactional broker’s professional negligence. Because no injury could be shown, the trial court properly granted summary judgment as a matter of law.

The underlying deal was documented in a contract with a set price, with adjustments for construction of infrastructure and cost-sharing with other developers. The sellers claim that the brokers failed to explain that the net income from the transaction could be substantially less than the stated purchase price as a result of the cost-sharing provisions. The brokers argued that their sellers submitted no evidence that they could have sold the property to someone else for more. This is termed the “better deal” test. The sellers respond that they presented evidence that the property was worth the contract price, or $1.6 million more than the net proceeds of the deal. They argue that they can recover in negligence for this “no deal” scenario. The court of appeals agreed and held that the general measure of damages for a total loss of property is the fair market value of the property at the date of loss. In effect, the Supreme Court says — you must prove you could have sold the property for more, or that you would have made more had you walked away from the deal.

 

Baker v. Wood, Ris & Hames

Petition for Writ of Certiorari GRANTED February 3, 2014.

Summary of the Issues:

  • Whether the court of appeals erred in determining that third-party intended beneficiaries of a deceased testator’s estate plan lack standing to pursue a claim for professional malpractice against the testator’s estate planning attorneys based on either breach of contract or professional negligence.
  • Whether the court of appeals erred in confusing petitioners’ claim for fraudulent concealment with the distinct tort of fraudulent misrepresentation in applying the heightened pleading requirements of C.R.C.P. 9(b) to petitioners’ concealment claim as if it were a claim for fraudulent representation.
Frederick B. Skillern, Esq., is a director and shareholder with Montgomery Little & Soran, P.C., practicing in real estate and related litigation and appeals. He serves as an expert witness in cases dealing with real estate, professional responsibility and attorney fees, and acts as a mediator and arbitrator in real estate cases. Before joining Montgomery Little in 2003, Fred was in private practice in Denver for 6 years with Carpenter & Klatskin and for 10 years with Isaacson Rosenbaum. He served as a district judge for Colorado’s Eighteenth Judicial District from 2000 through 2002. Fred is a graduate of Dartmouth College, and received his law degree at the University of Colorado in 1976, in another day and time in which the legal job market was simply awful.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Reformation of Conservation Deed Appropriate to Correct Mutual Mistake

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Ranch O, LLC v. Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust on Thursday, February 26, 2015.

Conservation Easement—Summary Judgment—Reformation of Deed Based on Mutual Mistake.

Craig Walker was the sole manager and 99% membership owner of Walker I-Granby, LLC (LLC). Walker owned certain property that he conveyed to the LLC. Walker and the Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust (Land Trust) then signed a deed of conservation easement (Conservation Deed) that purported to give the Land Trust a conservation easement on the subject property. The Conservation Deed named Walker as the grantor, but Walker had previously conveyed the subject property to his LLC. The LLC should have been the grantor. Neither Walker nor the Land Trust was aware of this error.

Walker, on the LLC’s behalf, then entered into discussions with Ranch O, LLC’s principal about selling the subject property to Ranch O. Walker informed Ranch O of the Land Trust’s conservation easement.

Ranch O bought the subject property from the LLC. The deed conveying the property noted that the subject property was encumbered by a conservation easement held by the Land Trust and noted the recording information for the Conservation Deed.

Ranch O requested a declaratory judgment that the Conservation Deed was invalid and had no force and effect because Walker had no ownership interest in the subject property at the time the Conservation Deed was signed and recorded. The Land Trust answered, seeking a declaratory judgment that the Conservation Deed was valid and enforceable despite the scrivener’s error and reformation of the Conservation Deed to correct any error regarding the identity of the grantor. The Land Trust claimed any error was the result of mutual mistake. The district court granted the Land Trust’s motion for summary judgment and denied Ranch O’s request.

On appeal, Ranch O argued that the undisputed facts precluded the district court from reforming the Conservation Deed based on a mutual mistake of fact. The Court of Appeals disagreed. It found that the evidence clearly and unequivocally showed that reformation was appropriate because both parties to the Conservation Deed mistakenly believed that it correctly identified the grantor and that the grantor had the authority to convey the conservation easement. The mutual mistake justified reforming the Conservation Deed.

Ranch O also argued that reformation violated the policies and purposes behind Colorado’s race-notice statute. The Court disagreed, noting that Ranch O had actual notice of the Conservation Deed before it purchased the subject property. It was also advised of the Conservation Deed in the LLC’s deed to Ranch O. Ranch O, given its actual knowledge of the Conservation Deed, cannot simply ignore it and then seek to defeat its reformation in this action. Reformation is an equitable remedy and equity demands that the Conservation Deed be reformed. The judgment was affirmed.

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

Frederick Skillern: Real Estate Case Law — Judgments and Fraudulent Transfer

Editor’s note: This is Part 13 of a series of posts in which Denver-area real estate attorney Frederick Skillern provides summaries of case law pertinent to real estate practitioners (click here for previous posts). These updates originally appeared as materials for the 32nd Annual Real Estate Symposium in July 2014.

frederick-b-skillernBy Frederick B. Skillern

Shigo, LLC v. Hocker
Colorado Court of Appeals, February 27, 2014
2014 COA 16

Execution upon water rights; homestead; water rights appurtenant to land.

A creditor obtains a judgment against Hocker for $4.4 million, and seeks to levy and execute upon Hocker’s shares in the Highland Ditch Company. Hocker owns an undivided 50 percent interest in two and three-quarter shares of Highland stock. The Highland shares represent Hocker’s right to use water that runs through a mutually owned ditch, a branch of which leads to a pond on the 35-acre farm that Hocker owns with her husband. Hocker files a claim under the homestead exemption, asserting that the shares, which represent water rights appurtenant to her farm, could not be levied. The court denies Hocker’s claim of exemption, and Hocker appeals.

The district court found that the homestead exemption “does not apply to water stock certificates.” The appeals court holds that the homestead exemption for a “farm” includes not just the farm’s soil, but also the water rights appurtenant to the land.

Shares of stock in a mutual ditch company represent water rights. However, because the record is not clear as to whether the water rights represented by the Highland shares are necessary to the use and enjoyment of the farm, the case was reversed and remanded to the trial court for further findings on that issue.

Frederick B. Skillern, Esq., is a director and shareholder with Montgomery Little & Soran, P.C., practicing in real estate and related litigation and appeals. He serves as an expert witness in cases dealing with real estate, professional responsibility and attorney fees, and acts as a mediator and arbitrator in real estate cases. Before joining Montgomery Little in 2003, Fred was in private practice in Denver for 6 years with Carpenter & Klatskin and for 10 years with Isaacson Rosenbaum. He served as a district judge for Colorado’s Eighteenth Judicial District from 2000 through 2002. Fred is a graduate of Dartmouth College, and received his law degree at the University of Colorado in 1976, in another day and time in which the legal job market was simply awful.