August 29, 2016

Tenth Circuit: No Error where District Court Granted Summary Judgment Prior to Rule 26(f) Meeting

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Trans-Western Petroleum, Inc. v. United States Gypsum Co. on Tuesday, July 26, 2016.

United States Gypsum (USG) owns the oil and gas underlying 1,700 acres of land in Utah. USG entered into an oil and gas lease in 1995 that was subsequently assigned to Wolverine Oil & Gas Corp. and extended through August 17, 2004. In 2004, Douglas Isern, the owner and sole officer of Trans-Western, called USG and expressed interest in leasing the oil and gas rights when the Wolverine lease expired. Trans-Western sent USG a proposed five-year lease beginning August 17, 2014, and a check for $32,680. USG executed the lease on September 15, 2004 but did not cash the check.

On October 1, 2004, Wolverine protested the recording of the lease, claiming its lease remained valid. USG then rescinded the Trans-Western lease both orally and in writing. Trans-Western brought suit against Wolverine in 2006, seeking a declaratory judgment that Wolverine’s lease had expired on August 17, 2004. The district court determined that the lease had expired and granted the parties’ joint motion for a Rule 54(b) certification and stay. The Tenth Circuit affirmed on appeal. Thereafter, USG and Trans-Western executed a Ratification and Lease Extension for a primary five-year term beginning December 11, 2009.

In 2010, Trans-Western filed a second amended complaint, seeking a declaratory judgment that its lease with USG was valid and damages for breach of contract and breach of the covenant of quiet enjoyment. Trans-Western moved for partial summary judgment, which USG opposed. The district court granted partial summary judgment but denied attorney fees due to disputed material facts on damages. At a bench trial on damages, Trans-Western contended it was entitled to expectation damages because USG deprived it of the opportunity to assign. The district court disagreed, finding Trans-Western was entitled to only nominal damages based on the contract’s value on the date of the breach. The parties appealed.

The Tenth Circuit certified a question to the Utah Supreme Court regarding how expectation damages should be measured for the breach of an oil and gas lease. The Utah Supreme Court responded that consequential damages are those that are reasonably foreseeable by the parties at the time the contract was made. The court also held that the trial court may exercise its discretion to allow for the use of post-breach evidence to help calculate expectation damages.

The Tenth Circuit first evaluated USG’s cross-appeal, in which it argued that the district court should have granted its Rule 56(d) motion and deferred ruling on its partial summary judgment motion so that USG could conduct discovery. The district court determined that USG had a correct understanding of certain facts and constructive notice of others, thereby allowing the case to be resolved as a matter of law. In the district court, USG argued that extra time would allow it to discover evidence that Trans-Western was aware that USG was under a mistaken impression. On appeal, USG argued that discovery would have shown there was no meeting of the minds due to a lack of consideration from Trans-Western. The Tenth Circuit found these arguments different, and ruled that USG waived its argument. The Tenth Circuit further noted, though, that even if it were to consider the argument, USG did not meet the requirements for Rule 56(d) deferral because its allegations were vague and non-specific.

USG also argued the district court violated a scheduling order by granting summary judgment prior to the Rule 26(f) meeting. The Tenth Circuit found no abuse of discretion, noting that nothing suggested that USG sought to enforce the scheduling order and the order did not preclude motions practice. USG next argued the district court erred by granting Trans-Western’s motion for partial summary judgment because the lease failed for want of mutuality and consideration. The Tenth Circuit again disagreed. Trans-Western issued a bank draft in 2004, and USG had the ability to negotiate the draft from the moment of its delivery. Because the parties exchanged promises with adequate consideration, the district court did not err in granting partial summary judgment.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court but remanded for calculation of damages consistent with the Utah Supreme Court’s opinion.

Tenth Circuit: Lower-Rung Participant in RICO Association-in-Fact Enterprise Can Play Part in Carrying Out Affairs

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in George v. Urban Settlement Services on Monday, August 15, 2016.

Plaintiffs Richard George, Steven Leavitt, Sandra Leavitt, and Darrell Dalton asserted claims under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) against Bank of America (BOA) and Urban Settlement Services, along with a promissory estoppel claim against BOA, based on the defendants’ allegedly fraudulent administration of the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP). BOA was required to participate in HAMP and comply with the program guidelines because it received funds pursuant to the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008. BOA contracted with third parties, including Urban, to administer its HAMP program. Each of the four plaintiffs had a home mortgage through BOA and applied for home loan modifications through HAMP, interacting with BOA and Urban representatives during the application process. Despite various misleading representations from BOA and Urban, the plaintiffs were unable to obtain HAMP relief, depriving them of opportunities to sell their homes or pay off other debts.

Plaintiffs brought RICO claims against BOA and Urban, alleging defendants formed a RICO enterprise with the common goal of wrongfully denying HAMP loan modifications to qualified homeowners by developing a scheme to obstruct and delay borrowers’ HAMP loan modification requests. Plaintiffs also asserted promissory estoppel claims against BOA, alleging BOA made clear promises in Trial Period Plan (TPP) documents and on its website promising permanent loan modifications to qualified borrowers who completed TPPs. BOA and Urban filed Rule 12(b)(6) motions to dismiss. BOA argued the plaintiffs failed to sufficiently allege a RICO enterprise distinct from BOA, while Urban argued they failed to sufficiently allege Urban participated in the enterprise. Both defendants argued plaintiffs failed to sufficiently allege a pattern of racketeering activity. The district court granted both defendants’ motions and dismissed plaintiffs’ claims.

On appeal, plaintiffs argued the factual allegations in their amended complaint state facially plausible RICO claims against BOA and Urban and the district court erred in dismissing the claims. The plaintiffs argued that because they alleged an association-in-fact enterprise consisting of independently owned and operated companies, the alleged enterprise is sufficiently distinct from BOA. The Tenth Circuit agreed. The plaintiffs contend the enterprise’s common purpose was to extend as few HAMP modifications as possible while appearing to comply with program rules. The district court concluded that Urban employees were BOA’s agents, who did nothing more than follow BOA’s instructions, but the Tenth Circuit disagreed. The Tenth Circuit found that plaintiffs sufficiently showed that BOA and Urban formed an association-in-fact enterprise, and that by orchestrating and operating a scheme to deny HAMP modifications, BOA and Urban furthered the enterprise’s scheme to delay modifications.

The district court also concluded that plaintiffs failed to show Urban’s participation in the enterprise. The district court characterized Urban as an outside entity having no participation in BOA’s enterprise. The Tenth Circuit noted that this mischaracterization failed to appreciate that BOA was not the alleged enterprise. Plaintiffs alleged Urban was a lower-rung participant knowingly carrying out BOA’s orders, and the Tenth Circuit agreed, noting that even a bit part participant can play some part in carrying out the enterprise’s affairs.

Defendants alternatively argued that the Tenth Circuit could affirm the district court because plaintiffs failed to show a pattern of racketeering activity. Plaintiffs alleged several acts of mail and wire fraud, but defendants argued plaintiffs failed to show particularity. As to BOA, the Tenth Circuit disagreed, noting that plaintiffs had illustrated several conversations with various BOA employees about their HAMP modifications. As to Urban, the Tenth Circuit found it was a close call. Plaintiffs argued that they were unable to show particularity without further discovery, because Urban employees frequently held themselves out as BOA employees. The Tenth Circuit found this sufficient to survive a motion to dismiss. The Tenth Circuit reversed the district court’s dismissal of plaintiffs’ RICO claims and remanded for further proceedings.

Turning to the promissory estoppel claims against BOA, the Tenth Circuit again found the district court erred. Plaintiffs described BOA’s unambiguous promises to provide permanent HAMP modifications for borrowers who complied with their TPPs. The district court found that BOA made no promise, but the Tenth Circuit determined this to be in error. Screenshots of the BOA website and TPP documents unambiguously promised borrowers permanent modifications if they complied with their TPPs. The Tenth Circuit found this sufficient to satisfy the first step of the promissory estoppel analysis. Because the district court did not address the remaining factors, the Tenth Circuit remanded for further proceedings.

The Tenth Circuit reversed the district court’s dismissal of plaintiffs’ RICO and promissory estoppel claims, and remanded for further proceedings consistent with its opinion.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Reversal Based on Firm and Definite Conviction that Mistake Had Been Made

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Indian Mountain Corp. v. Indian Mountain Metropolitan District on Thursday, August 11, 2016.

In 1970, Indian Mountain Corporation’s (IMC’s) predecessor in interest purchased land and water rights in Park County with the intent of creating an upscale subdivision within a community of amenities. After residential construction had begun in the Indian Mountain subdivision, SB 72-35 passed, requiring the subdivision to obtain a water-court-approved augmentation plan. The plan required homeowners to drill a well at their own expense, but for many years, IMC maintained and operated the plan at its own expense.

In 1972, the developer spearheaded the creation of the Indian Mountain Parks & Recreation District, which was converted into the Indian Mountain Metropolitan District (IMMD) in 2012 in order to be able to legally purchase and provide water services. IMMD negotiated to purchase the plan from IMC, but was not successful. In 2013, owners of a neighboring ranch approached IMC’s director about purchasing the reservoir, and eventually purchased all of the assets of IMC, including the water plan. IMC’s new owner charged IMMD for its water usage, but IMMD did not pay the invoices.

IMC filed an action in district court, seeking a declaratory injunction that it is the legal owner of the water rights and the plan and IMMD has no right, title, or interest in them. IMMD filed an answer and counterclaim, seeking a declaratory injunction that the Indian Mountain lot owners owned the plan and water rights as beneficiaries of a constructive trust. The district court issued an order in favor of IMMD. IMC filed a post-judgment motion requesting a hearing on the amount of reasonable fees it could charge IMMD for ongoing operation of the plan, which the district court denied.

On appeal, the court of appeals ruled the district court erred in finding that the water rights and augmentation plan were held in a constructive trust. The court based its reversal on a “firm and definite conviction that a mistake ha[d] been made.” Because three experts testified that the lot prices included the cost of the plan, but all advanced different theories that were directly refuted by the documentary evidence in the record, the court found reversal necessary. The court of appeals found that the district court clearly erred in finding that the lot prices included the cost of the plan, and the unjust enrichment analysis failed at the first prong.

The judgment of the district court was reversed.

Colorado Court of Appeals: “For Sale” Sign Only Invites Viewer to Contact Listing Agent, Not Enter Property

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Rucker v. Federal National Mortgage Association on Thursday, July 28, 2016.

Ellyn and David Rucker decided to purchase a house that their daughter, Kristin, would rent from them. David placed an offer on a house for which Kristin had had a showing with a Heter & Co. listing agent, but Ellyn had not seen the property, so Kristin took Ellyn to the house. There was a “For Sale” sign in the yard and a small notice on the door warning that trespassers would be prosecuted. After walking around the house and looking through some windows, Ellyn started walking from the house down the paved walkway to return to the car. She fell and sustained injuries.

Ellyn sued Federal National Mortgage Association (FNMA) and Heter for damages, alleging she was an invitee under the Premises Liability Act (PLA) because the “For Sale” sign constituted an implied invitation to the public. She also argued that she was an invitee because she was present on the property for purposes of a business transaction. The trial court disagreed and concluded Ellyn was a trespasser, finding that because she never obtained the express or implied consent of the landowner, she did not have an invitation to enter the property. The court did not address Ellyn’s business transaction argument. Upon Ellyn’s request, the court certified its “For Sale” sign order for immediate appeal. The court of appeals dismissed her appeal without prejudice, finding the issues were not ripe. Ellyn again raised the “For Sale” sign and business transaction issues in the trial court, and again the court ruled that Ellyn was not an invitee and rejected her arguments. She again requested the court to certify its order for immediate appeal.

Ellyn filed a second interlocutory appeal, seeking review of both the “For Sale” and business transaction orders. The court of appeals limited its review to the “For Sale” sign issue because the trial court declined to certify the business transaction issue for interlocutory appeal. On appeal, Ellyn contended that the “For Sale” sign created an implied representation that the public was requested, expected, or intended to enter the premises. The court of appeals disagreed. After examining case law from other jurisdictions, the court of appeals found that the “For Sale” sign created only an invitation to contact the listing agent, not to enter the property. Because the listing agent or landowner did not have a practice of allowing others to enter the property without express permission, Ellyn could not show that her entrance on the property was as an invitee.

The court of appeals affirmed the trial court.

Tenth Circuit: Title Insurance Does Not Cover Loss of Property at Foreclosure Sale

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in BV Jordanelle, LLC v. Old Republic National Title Insurance Co. on Tuesday, July 26, 2016.

In 2008, BV loaned $6.3 million to PWJ Holdings, which owned the Aspens Property in Wasatch, Utah. In exchange for the loan, BV received a mortgage for one parcel in the Aspens Property, and obtained a title insurance policy through Old Republic. PWJ defaulted on the loan, and BV foreclosed on the property in 2009, acquiring title to the property at a trustee’s sale. The property was located in an improvement district, but PWJ did not pay the assessments for the improvement district, and the district initiated foreclosure proceedings in 2010. BV sued the district in state court, seeking to stop the foreclosure and retain title, but the court issued a decree in 2012 allowing the district to complete the foreclosure. Because Utah law holds that improvement district liens are superior to all other liens, the improvement district obtained title to the insured property, extinguishing BV’s interest.

BV did not learn about the improvement district’s lien until 2010, after it had acquired title to the property. When it learned of the lien, BV sought compensation from Old Republic under the title insurance policy, but Old Republic denied coverage. BV sued Old Republic, contending Old Republic had breached the insurance policy by refusing to compensate it for the loss of the property and by failing to defend BV in the state court litigation with the improvement district. The district court granted judgment on the pleadings to Old Republic, concluding that the policy did not entitle BV to recovery for loss of the property or defense in the state court suit. BV appealed.

The Tenth Circuit applied Utah law in affirming the district court. BV contended it was entitled to coverage based on six different covered risks: loss caused by a defect in title, loss by encroachments that affect title, loss caused by unmarketable title, loss caused by enforcement of subdivision regulations, loss caused by a governmental taking, and loss caused by the imposition of a statutory lien for services, labor, or material used in construction. The Tenth Circuit found that none of the covered risks applied.

The Tenth Circuit specifically found that a Utah Supreme Court opinion precluded BV’s claims regarding the defect in title, as that case held the defect must be present at the time of acquisition of the property. BV argued that because the improvement district was contemplated before it acquired the property, the defect was present, but the Tenth Circuit disagreed. The Tenth Circuit also rejected BV’s claims due to loss caused by encroachment, noting those claims were not raised in BV’s complaint. Similarly, the Tenth Circuit refused to consider BV’s claim for loss caused by unmarketable title because it was not raised in district court. The Tenth Circuit disposed of the remaining claims by finding that the improvement district’s notice to enforce a subdivision regulation was not in effect at the time BV acquired title, any governmental taking would have happened after BV acquired title, and the improvement district’s lien was not for any services, labor, or materials used in construction.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court.

Tenth Circuit: Lack of Economic Marketability Does Not Equate to Unmarketable Title

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Fidelity National Title Insurance Co. v. Woody Creek Ventures, LLC on Tuesday, July 26, 2016.

Woody Creek acquired two parcels of land in Pitkin County and purchased two title insurance policies from Fidelity, insuring, among other things, access and marketability of title. The two parcels were separated by a tract of land owned by the Bureau of Land Management, but Woody Creek assumed it could access the more remote parcel via a roadway crossing the BLM’s tract. It subdivided the parcels and sought prospective buyers. When a prospective buyer expressed concern about access to the remote lot, Woody Creek discovered that it had no legal right of access.

Woody Creek submitted a claim to Fidelity under the title insurance policies, and Fidelity retained counsel on Woody Creek’s behalf. Counsel ultimately negotiated the purchase of a 30-year revocable right-of-way grant from the BLM to allow Woody Creek access to the remote parcel. Woody Creek maintained that it suffered a covered loss because the lack of permanent access significantly diminished the value of the remote parcel. Fidelity filed an action for declaratory judgment that Woody Creek was not entitled to coverage for its alleged losses because the right-of-way cured the access issue. Woody Creek counterclaimed for declaratory judgment on the existence of coverage, breach of contract, and bad faith breach of insurance contract. The parties filed cross-motions for partial summary judgment on the coverage issues.

After a hearing, the district court granted Fidelity’s motion and denied Woody Creek’s. The court concluded that the 30-year right-of-way fell within the plain meaning of “access” and left the question of whether Fidelity may be required to pay for future loss of access for another day. The court concluded that the possibility of future litigation did not render the title unmarketable, and rejected Woody Creek’s bad faith claims as a matter of law. Woody Creek appealed.

The Tenth Circuit first addressed Woody Creek’s argument that Fidelity’s purchase of a 30-year right-of-way did not cure the access issue because the right-of-way was revocable and temporary. Fidelity argued that although the title insurance policy guaranteed access, it did not guarantee unrestricted, unregulated, or permanent access. The Tenth Circuit construed the phrase “right of access” and determined that permanent, unrestricted access was not contemplated by the phrase. The Tenth Circuit decided that the Colorado Supreme Court would have construed the phrase “right of access” to include the 30-year right-of-way obtained by Fidelity.

The Tenth Circuit next considered whether the lack of permanent access supported Woody Creek’s claim for unmarketability of title, and concluded it did not. Woody Creek cited a treatise on title insurance law for the proposition that lack of access makes title unmarketable. Fidelity disagreed and suggested that Colorado case law supported its position that even complete lack of access does not render title unmarketable. The Tenth Circuit evaluated the cases and affirmed the district court’s decision, noting the distinction between economic marketability and marketability of title. The Tenth Circuit noted that a parcel of land could be worth no money but have clear title.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Tender of Funds in Satisfaction of Lien Before Redemption Period Must Be Accepted by Creditor

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Mortgage Investment Enterprises, LLC v. Oakwood Holdings, LLC on Thursday, July 14, 2016.

Foreclosure—Lien—Redemption.

The debtors purchased the property at issue and subsequently defaulted on their obligation to pay monthly fees to the Kimblewyck Village Owners Association (Kimblewyck). Kimblewyck filed a lien against the property. The property was also encumbered by (1) a lien filed by the Fox Run Owners Association and (2) two judgments entered in favor of Community Management Association, Inc. (CMA). Kimblewyck obtained a judgment and decree of foreclosure. Mortgage Investments Enterprises LLC (Mortgage Investments) was the successful bidder at the foreclosure sale. On the day before the foreclosure sale, Oakwood Holdings, LLC (Oakwood) purchased the Fox Run lien and both CMA judgments. Oakwood subsequently filed notices of intent to redeem the Fox Run lien and one of the CMA judgments. Mortgage Investments tendered, on behalf of the debtor, pursuant to a valid power of attorney, lien satisfaction payments to Oakwood. Although Oakwood’s period to redeem had not yet begun, it refused to accept the payments. Mortgage Investments filed a complaint for a declaratory judgment that Oakwood was required to accept Mortgage Investments’ tenders on behalf of the debtor. Oakwood subsequently redeemed the property, and the district court granted Oakwood’s motion for summary judgment.

On appeal, Mortgage Investments argued that the district court erred in concluding that Oakwood had no duty to accept tender of payment in satisfaction of its liens. Prior to the start of Oakwood’s period to redeem and before it tendered redemption funds, Oakwood had a duty to accept Mortgage Investments’ tender of payment, on behalf of the debtor, in satisfaction of the lien Oakwood sought to redeem. The district court’s judgment was reversed and the case was remanded with directions to enter summary judgment in favor of Mortgage Investments.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Proposed Development Plan Need Not Include Outdoor Gathering Space

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Rangeview, LLC v. City of Aurora on Thursday, July 14, 2016.

Rezoning of Property—Site Plan—Standards—Abuse of Discretion.

BFR’s application to rezone its parcel of property (the property) was granted. Rangeview LLC owns Rangeview Estates, which borders the property to the west, and Eades and Sellery each own property in the neighborhoods surrounding the property. Rangeview, Eades, and Sellery (collectively, Rangeview) filed the underlying action against the City of Aurora, claiming that the Aurora City Council exceeded its jurisdiction in granting BFR’s application to rezone the property. The district court affirmed the City Council’s decision.

On appeal, Rangeview argued that City Council abused its discretion by approving the site plan because the plan did not include an outdoor gathering space as mandated by the Aurora Municipal Code’s (Code) sustainable infill redevelopment (SIR) zoning district design standards. The Code defaults to the terms of the SIR handbook, which states that projects “should” provide a public space. Therefore, although a public space is desirable, it is not required. Because City Council’s approval was supported by competent evidence, it did not abuse its discretion.

Rangeview also argued that City Council abused its discretion in rezoning the property to an SIR district when the property does not meet the requirements of an “infill development parcel,” the proportions of which are defined in the Code. Because the Code language’s ordinary meaning does not reference any requirement related to the proportions of developed boundaries, the City Council did not abuse its discretion by approving the rezoning request even though the property would not meet the definition of an “infill development parcel.”

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Disclosed Costs Can Be Actionable Under CCPA if Costs Are Not Actual, Necessary, and Reasonable

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in State v. The Castle Law Group, LLC on Monday, July 5, 2016.

In this C.A.R. 21 original proceeding, the State appealed from the trial court’s order barring testimony of market rate prices. The State brought CCPA claims against Castle and several affiliated vendors, alleging that the vendors conspired with Castle to charge above market rate prices for various foreclosure-related services, and the inflated charges were eventually carried by mortgage servicers and the public because they relied on Castle’s representation that the costs were “actual, necessary, and reasonable.”

The trial court limited the State’s ability to provide market rate comparisons because it ruled that charging high prices is not illegal, and as long as Castle disclosed everything it charged, there was no deception. The Colorado Supreme Court disagreed with the trial court’s characterization of the CCPA claims. The court ruled that the trial court misperceived the alleged deception: that the prices charged were not “actual, necessary, and reasonable.” Because market rate comparison evidence directly impacts the determination of whether the charges were “actual, necessary, and reasonable,” the supreme court made its Order to Show Cause absolute and remanded to the trial court for further proceedings.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Property Owners Lacked Standing to Assert Claims for Relief

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Wibby v. Boulder County Board of County Commissioners on Thursday, June 30, 2016.

Lack of Standing.

Plaintiffs are property owners in unincorporated Boulder County (the Owners) who sued to try to force the Boulder County Board of County Commissioners (the County) to maintain their subdivision roads. The roads were part of the county road system and, by statute, are assigned to the County for maintenance. They were maintained by the County until the mid-1990s, but since that time the County has reduced its road funding and the Owners claimed this has resulted in “severe deterioration” of the roads. The Owners brought claims for breach of contract, declaratory relief, and mandamus. After various amendments to the complaint and motions, the district court granted the County’s motion to dismiss for lack of standing. The Owners appealed.

The Court of Appeals analyzed whether the Owners had standing. To establish standing, a plaintiff must demonstrate that (1) plaintiff suffered an injury in fact and (2) the injury was to a legally protected interest. The Owners claimed standing by alleging that a contract was created through the statutory subdivision approval process that they could enforce. However, there is a presumption that statutory enactments alone do not create contractual relationships. The Owners alleged no facts to overcome this presumption and therefore lacked standing to sue the County for breach of contract.

The Owners requests for declaratory relief and mandamus alleged that the County violated its “statutory duty” to maintain subdivision roads under the county highway statutes. Because the statutory county road provisions do not in indicate an intent that they can be enforced by private citizens, the Owners lacked standing. Moreover, the statute clearly entrusts the County with the discretion to allocate funds for developing and overseeing its county road policies.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Workers’ Compensation Insurer Not Required to Provide Notice of Cancellation to Certificate Holder

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Pinnacol Assurance v. Hoff on Monday, June 27, 2016.

Workers’ Compensation Insurance—Promissory Estoppel—Certificates of Insurance—Notice of Cancellation.

The Supreme Court considered whether an insurer had a contractual or statutory obligation to notify a non-insured holder of a certificate of insurance when the insurance policy evidenced by the certificate was cancelled. Because the certificate said notice of cancellation “will be delivered in accordance with the policy provisions” and the insurance policy did not promise notice to certificate holders, the Court concluded that the insurer had no contractual obligation to provide notice of cancellation to the certificate holder. The Court further concluded that no provision or public policy contained in the Workers’ Compensation Act required the insurer to provide such notice. Therefore, the Court reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Economic Loss Rule Bars Tort Claims Against Mortgage Lender

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Miller v. Bank of New York Mellon on Thursday, June 16, 2016.

Dual Tracking—Failure to State a Claim for Relief—Economic Loss Rule—Implied Duty of Good Faith and Fair Dealing—Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress—Fraud—Negligence.

The Millers obtained a note and deed of trust in 2004 to purchase a house, and the loan was transferred several times. They began missing payments in 2007 and filed for bankruptcy and received discharges in 2009. Bank of America, N.A. (BANA) then told the Millers to vacate their house, but they stayed and eventually entered into negotiations with BANA regarding a loan modification. In February 2012, Bank of New York Mellon (BNY Mellon) moved for an order authorizing the public trustee to proceed with a foreclosure sale, pursuant to C.R.C.P. 120. While this Rule 120 action was pending, the Millers filed a complaint against five financial institutions (collectively, the Banks) to quiet title to the house in their favor. The Millers alleged that the Banks improperly subjected them to dual tracking (a process under which banks pursue foreclosure on a home while negotiating a loan modification) in violation of the consent judgment that resulted from the National Mortgage Settlement, which generally prohibits dual tracking. The district court dismissed for failure to state a claim for relief. The court in the Rule 120 action authorized the sale in July 2012, but the Millers kept negotiating a loan modification with BANA. In 2013, BANA and the Millers agreed to a loan modification, the Millers began making payments, and BNY Mellon dismissed the Rule 120 action. In October 2014, the Millers amended their complaint, asserting claims for breach of the implied duty of good faith and fair dealing, intentional infliction of emotional distress, fraud, and negligence. The Banks moved to dismiss, and the court granted the motion.

On appeal, the Millers argued that the court erred in determining that the economic loss rule barred their tort claims. The economic loss rule provides that “a party suffering only economic loss from the breach of an express or implied contractual duty may not assert a tort claim for such a breach absent an independent duty of care under tort law.” Here, the consent judgment in a federal case challenging dual tracking did not create a private cause of action for third parties and there was no special relationship between the parties that established an independent duty.

The Millers also argued that the court erred in dismissing their contract claim, because they had a reasonable expectation that the Banks would not engage in dual tracking and would modify their loan. Although there is an implied duty of good faith and fair dealing in every contract, there was no reasonable expectation on the part of the Millers that their loan would be modified or that the Banks would refrain from dual tracking. Neither allegation has any basis in their contractual agreement.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.