May 21, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: Party Seeking to Reopen Evidence after Resting and after Motion for Directed Verdict Made Must Make Offer of Proof as to What Specific Evidence they Would Present and How it Would Cure Deficiencies

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Justi v. RHO Condominium Ass’n on June 23, 2011.

Directed Verdict—C.R.C.P. 60 Motion.

Plaintiff Dennis Justi appealed the judgment entered after defendant RHO Condominium Association (RHO) moved for a directed verdict under C.R.C.P. 50 and the trial court denied his motion to reopen his case. Justi also appealed the court’s order denying his C.R.C.P. 60 motion for relief from the judgment against him. The judgment and order were affirmed.

In July 2005, Justi, his brother, and a friend rented a room at the Hi Country Haus Condominiums. During their stay, Justi fell down a flight of stairs and ruptured his left quadriceps muscle. Justi sued RHO, whose primary place of business was located at Hi Country Haus. Justi asserted that RHO was liable for his injury under the Premises Liability Act (Act).

At trial, after Justi’s last witness was questioned, Justi’s counsel and the court had an exchange wherein counsel stated he wouldn’t rest but had no further witnesses. After prodding from the court, counsel rested. RHO then moved for a directed verdict under C.R.C.P. 50, arguing that Justi had presented no evidence to establish a connection between his injury and RHO, including how RHO was connected to the property at issue.

Justi responded by indicating that such evidence would come from RHO witnesses. After another colloquy with the court, Justi moved to reopen his case to present evidence from RHO witnesses to show RHO owned Hi Country Haus. Justi’s counsel stated that he had relied on defense counsel’s representations that he would call an RHO representative, and that he intended to introduce the management agreement and prove ownership at that time. RHO’s counsel denied having promised to call any witnesses. The court denied Justi’s motion to reopen the evidence and granted RHO’s motion for a directed verdict.

On appeal, Justi argued it was error to deny his motion to reopen his case. The Court of Appeals held that even if it was error, any such error was harmless. In what appeared to be a matter of first impression in Colorado, the Court held that a party seeking to reopen the evidence after he or she has rested and after a motion for a directed verdict has been made must make an offer of proof as to what specific evidence the party would present and demonstrate that this evidence would cure any deficiencies in that party’s case.

In this instance, Justi sought to reopen the evidence to prove that RHO owned the condominium in question. The Court held that such evidence would have been insufficient to save Justi’s claim under the Act, because it would not have shown that RHO did not exercise reasonable care to protect against dangers about which it knew or should have known. Thus, even if the court had allowed Justi to reopen his case to present evidence of ownership, a directed verdict still would have been proper.

Justi also argued that it was an abuse of discretion for the trial court to deny what he characterized as a motion under C.R.C.P. 60(b). The Court disagreed, noting there was no evidence that a reasonably prudent person similarly situated would have neglected to put on a prima facie case before resting. The trial court rejected the argument that defense counsel misled Justi or otherwise caused his mistake. In addition, no evidence was presented showing this was an abuse of discretion. Finally, the Court found no abuse of discretion to deny the request under C.R.C.P. 60(b)(5).

This summary is published here courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer. Other summaries for the Colorado Court of Appeals on June 23, 2011, can be found here.

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