August 19, 2019

Archives for March 9, 2015

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.

Tenth Circuit: Citizenship of Beneficiaries to Trust Necessary to Determine Diversity Jurisdiction

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in ConAgra Foods, Inc. v. Americold Logistics, LLC on Tuesday, January 27, 2015.

Multiple plaintiffs brought suit against Americold Logistics, LLC and Americold Realty Trust (collectively, Americold) in Kansas state court. Americold removed to the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas, asserting complete diversity of the parties. No party challenged removal and the district court did not address the issue. The district court granted summary judgment to Americold and plaintiffs timely appealed on the merits. On appeal, the Tenth Circuit noticed a potential defect in the notice of removal and ordered Americold to file supplemental briefing to address whether Americold’s Notice of Removal was sufficient to establish diversity jurisdiction and, if not, what curative facts could correct the defect in the appeal?

In its supplemental briefing, Americold asserted the omission of the citizenship of the beneficiaries of the Americold Realty Trust was not a jurisdictional defect because the citizenship of a trust is determined solely by the citizenship of its trustees. The Tenth Circuit disagreed. After analyzing Supreme Court precedent in Navarro and Carden, the Tenth Circuit found the citizenship of a trust depends on not only the citizenship of the trustees but also that of its beneficiaries. The Tenth Circuit ruled that when a trustee is a party to litigation, it is the trustee’s citizenship that controls for diversity jurisdiction purposes, as long as the trustee satisfies Navarro‘s real-party-in-interest test. However, when a trust itself is party to the litigation, the citizenship of the trust is derived from all of the trust’s “members.” In this case, the Tenth Circuit found that at a minimum the trust’s “members” were its beneficiaries.

The Tenth Circuit found Americold failed to meet its burden to establish diversity jurisdiction because it failed to present evidence of the citizenship of its beneficiaries. The Tenth Circuit remanded to the district court to vacate its judgment on the merits and remand to state court.

Tenth Circuit: Unpublished Opinions, 3/9/2015

On Monday, March 9, 2015, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued one published opinion and no unpublished opinion.

Case summaries are not provided for unpublished opinions. However, published opinions are summarized and provided by Legal Connection.

Tenth Circuit: Drug Quantity Increase that Alters Guidelines Range Not Impermissible Under Alleyne

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in United States v. Cassius on Tuesday, January 27, 2015.

Timothy Cassius was arrested in June 2006 while carrying a briefcase that contained crack cocaine, digital scales, and a semi-automatic handgun. At trial, the government put forth evidence that the cocaine in the briefcase totaled 20.869 grams. Defendant was classified as a career offender and sentenced to 25 years in prison. He moved to vacate his sentence, contending new case law proved he had been wrongly classified as a career offender. The government conceded this point and the court ordered resentencing. The district court held an evidentiary hearing to determine the amount of crack cocaine attributable to defendant and found him responsible for 450.462 grams. Four days later, the Supreme Court issued Alleyne v. United States, 133 S. Ct. 2151 (2013), and Cassius objected, arguing the district court was violating Alleyne by utilizing the larger crack amount to drastically increase his sentence. The court disagreed and sentenced him to 204 months. Defendant appealed.

Defendant argued on appeal the district court committed procedural error in calculating the applicable Guidelines range. Defendant contended quantity is an element of drug violations and must be found by a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. The Tenth Circuit did not reach this argument because Defendant’s sentence was within the range for the drug quantity found by the jury. The Tenth Circuit further found Alleyne supported this position because the Supreme Court found in that case that the district court had altered the defendant’s statutory sentencing range based on a finding not found by the jury. The Court in Alleyne dictated that its finding does not mean any fact that influences judicial decision must be found by a jury, but rather only those that aggravate the legally prescribed punishment.

The district court’s sentence was affirmed.

Tenth Circuit: Unpublished Opinions, 3/6/2015

On Friday, March 6, 2015, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued two published opinions and four unpublished opinions.

Buck v. American Quarter Horse Association

United States v. Rangel-Hernandez

Verburg v. Bureau of Prisons Staff

United States v. Hodge

Case summaries are not provided for unpublished opinions. However, published opinions are summarized and provided by Legal Connection.