June 17, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: Trial Court’s Imposition of Fine in Excess of Damages Upheld

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in In re Estate of Hossack: Robinson v. Hossack on Thursday, April 25, 2013.

Contempt—Fine as Remedial Sanction for Contempt.

Gladys Robinson appealed the trial court’s order denying her motion to set aside a judgment in favor of decedent’s children and against Robinson in the sum of $231,300. The order was affirmed.

Robinson lived with the decedent, Charles Erroll Hossack, at the time of his death. Following the settlement of his estate, the court ordered her to return specified items of personal property to Lori and Kirk Hossack, decedent’s children. Robinson did not comply.

In a written order issued November 14, 2007, made effective nunc pro tunc August 21, 2007, the court found Robinson in contempt because she did not return the property. Robinson did not timely appeal the contempt order and did not comply with its terms. The fines that were imposed ($100 per day and later $1,000 per day) eventually accumulated to a sum of $231,300.

The decedent’s children moved to reduce this amount to judgment in March 2008. This motion was granted in January 2010, with interest accruing at 8% annually.

Robinson moved under CRCP 60(b)(3) to set aside the judgment. She argued that the amount of the fine should have been limited to any damages the decedent’s children may have suffered. The trial court denied the motion, and Robinson appealed.

CRCP 60(b)(3) allows a court to grant a party relief from a void judgment. Robinson based her argument on cases and language in CRCP 107(d) that limited the amount of a remedial fine to the damages the adverse party suffered. Due to amendments to the rule, effective April 1, 1995, the rule now defines remedial sanctions for contempt to be “[s]anctions imposed to force compliance with a lawful order or to compel performance of an act within the person’s power or present ability to perform.” It also empowers the court to continue to fine a contemnor until an act ordered to be performed is performed.

Robinson also argued that any fine could only be payable to the court and not to decedent’s children. The Court found no authority for this argument. Accordingly, the order was affirmed.

Summary and full case available here.

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