June 17, 2019

Archives for April 13, 2015

Frederick Skillern: Real Estate Case Law — Titles and Title Insurance (3)

Editor’s note: This is Part 18 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.

By Frederick B. Skillernfrederick-b-skillern

First Citizens Bank & Trust Co. v. Stewart Title Guaranty Co.
Colorado Court of Appeals, January 2, 2014
2014 COA 1

Title Insurance; Exclusion 3(a) matters “created, suffered, assumed or agreed to by the insured claimant”; closing handled by insured lender; ambiguous; no need to “foreclose first” if deed of trust defective; subrogation to rights of insured lender to sue on note; attorney fees and the American Rule.

Bank commits to make a loan, and gets a commitment for a loan policy of title insurance. The commitment reflects that title is not in borrower, and contains a requirement that a deed be recorded vesting title in borrower before issuance of a new policy. Bank closes the loan in house and does not get a vesting deed. According to the trial court’s findings, the bank assumed the title company issuing the commitment (but not handling the closing) would get and record the deed. The title company assumed the bank would do that. It is not apparent from the decision whether title was searched prior to closing or issuance of a policy.

The borrower defaults on the loan, and files a title claim in the amount of the debt. A separate action is filed by the bank against the borrower, which had not gone to judgment by the time of trial in this action. The trial court enters judgment against the title insurer for the full amount of the balance due on the loan, together with attorney fees incurred by the lender in bringing the action. On appeal, the court affirms the judgment for the full amount of the debt but reverses the award of attorney fees.

The court follows the holding in Sims v. Sperry, 835 P.2d 565 (Colo. App. 1992), that Exclusion 3(a), which excludes coverage for matters “created, suffered, assumed or agreed to” is ambiguous, and that the title insurer must prove that the lender “made a conscious and deliberate act intended to bring about the conflicting claim” in order to successfully resort to this exclusion from coverage. Id. at 570. Like many legal rules stated by courts, this rule itself may overstate the meaning of the court’s ruling in Sims, since if a title company relies on the “agreed to” portion of 3(a), which would seem to mean that the encumbrance, if you will, was “intended.” In any event, the court here held that each party thought the other would satisfy the “requirement,” and the court held that the lender was only negligent in not complying with the requirement. The trial court’s refusal to apply this defense was supported by the record, and the judgment is upheld on liability.

As to damages, the court held that the insurance company could be held liable for the full amount of the indebtedness owed to the insured, as the deed of trust is invalid. The court held that the trial court correctly did not require the lender to attempt foreclosure of the deed of trust under Policy Condition and Limitation 8(b), holding that the limitation does not apply where “it is conceded that the insured’s title is defective. It did not require that this action be stayed pending the outcome of the banks suit on the note – any recovery would reduce the damage claim of the insured lender – because upon payment of judgment in this action, the insurer would be subrogated to the bank’s right to proceed against its borrower.

Perhaps the most significant ruling in this case is the court’s reversal of the insured bank’s claim for its attorney fees incurred in suing the title insurer. It explicitly disapproves of the holding in an earlier case, Hedgecock v. Stewart Title Guaranty Company, 676 P.2d 1208, 1210-11 (Colo. App. 1983), relying to a large extent on the holding of our supreme court in Allstate v. Huizar, 52 P.3d 816, 820-21 (Colo. 2002) (the creation of a new exception to the American Rule is best left to the legislature). In the absence of a contractual or other statutory provision for recovery of attorney fees, no recovery.

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: Cost of Installing Bars on Victim’s Window Improperly Assigned as Restitution

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Martinez on Thursday, April 9, 2015.

Identification—Physician–Patient Privilege—Restitution.

The victim awoke one morning to a noise outside her second-floor bedroom. She walked to the bathroom and saw a man standing on her roof, trying to enter the bathroom window. Seeing the victim, the man ran away. Defendant was found by police hiding in a row of bushes near the victim’s house, and the victim positively identified defendant at the scene as the person who attempted to enter her residence. Defendant was convicted of attempted first-degree criminal trespass, third-degree criminal trespass, and criminal mischief

On appeal, defendant claimed that the district court erred when it admitted evidence that the victim previously identified him as the man she saw in her window and allowed her to identify him again at trial. “One-on-one show-ups” are disfavored because they tend to be suggestive, but they are not per se invalid. Here, the victim had a good opportunity to view defendant trying to enter her residence, she described defendant to the police when they arrived at the scene, she immediately identified defendant when the police presented him to the victim at the scene, and the police did not make any suggestive comments during the procedure. Therefore, the district court did not err in denying defendant’s motion to suppress the identification evidence.

Defendant argued that the district court erred when it allowed Dr. Stafford, the physician who treated defendant at the hospital that evening for a fractured right heel, to testify because defendant had not waived the physician-patient privilege. A physician who treats an injury that he has reason to believe involves a criminal act has a duty to report the injury to the police, which abrogates the privilege as to the medical examination and diagnosis, but not as to any statements made by the patient. Dr. Stafford had reason to believe defendant’s injury involved a criminal act. In addition, his testimony was limited to his examination and diagnosis and he did not disclose any statements defendant made in the course of his treatment. Therefore, Dr. Stafford’s testimony fell within the exception created by the reporting statute.

Defendant further argued that the district court erred when it ordered restitution of $489 for the cost of installing bars on the victim’s bathroom window because there was no showing that his conduct proximately caused the expense. Expenses resulting from a general feeling of insecurity are too attenuated to qualify as restitution. Here, the court failed to find that the expense of installing bars was the result of a specific, ongoing threat related to defendant’s conduct as opposed to a general feeling of insecurity. Therefore, this part of the restitution order was vacated.

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

Colorado Court of Appeals: Admission of Voice Exemplar Did Not Violate Right Against Self-Incrimination

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Ortega on Thursday, April 9, 2015.

Voice Identification—Self-Incrimination—Physical Evidence—Due Process—CRE 403—Prosecutorial Misconduct.

While at a public park, an undercover police officer who was wearing a wire bought marijuana from a man who was later identified as Ortega. At trial, the prosecutor moved to have Ortega read a statement to allow the jury the opportunity to match his voice with the person speaking on the recording of the drug deal.

On appeal, Ortega argued that the voice identification procedure violated his right against self-incrimination, the right to due process, and CRE 403. The voice exemplar provided by defendant was physical evidence and not testimonial. Therefore, the procedure did not violate Ortega’s right against self-incrimination. Additionally, although the jurors had not seen or heard Ortega before trial, they listened to the officer’s and detective’s testimony describing their out-of-court identifications of Ortega. This testimony gave them “an independent basis” for identifying Ortega as the seller. Therefore, the totality of the circumstances indicates that the identification procedure did not violate Ortega’s right to due process. Finally, the trial court’s determination that the voice exemplar posed a minimal risk of unfair prejudice was not “manifestly arbitrary, unreasonable, or unfair.”

Ortega also argued that the prosecutor’s comments during closing argument appealed to the jurors’ fears and concerns for public safety, thus denying him a fair trial. The prosecutor’s comments were an improper attempt to persuade the jurors to convict defendant “in order to combat evil for the community.” However, because the comment was an isolated incident in an otherwise proper closing argument, the error was harmless.

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

Tenth Circuit: Unpublished Opinions, 4/13/2015

On Monday, April 13, 2015, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued one published opinion and four unpublished opinions.

Cleveland v. Harvanek

Bremer v. Association of Flight Attendants – CWA

United States v. Melot

Van Fleet v. Wright

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

Law Week: Simple Tips For A Small Firm Owner

Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared in Law Week Colorado on February 18, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

Catherine_ChanBy Catherine Chan

Small firm owners have to wear many hats, among them: business promoter, manager and senior attorney. Each of those roles requires the development and refinement of distinct skill sets.

In 2004 I began a solo practice specializing in immigration law. In 2010, I hired my first associate attorney. Since 2010, the firm has grown to include three active attorneys (including me), three paralegals and a receptionist. We strive to continue to grow our capacity to help more people.

Sometimes I’m asked by new attorneys to talk about my firm’s path and to offer tips for firm growth and development. The truth is that small firm ownership, management and development is not easy. Most small firm owners just went to law school; they lack an MBA. An MBA might help with the business side of things, but it is not required to apply some common-sense principles. Here are four top tips I’ve learned over the past ten years while developing a solo practice into a small firm.

First, everybody loves customer service. If you don’t feel a good communication with a prospective client, trust your gut. Don’t hire them. For the clients you do hire — it’s not just them hiring you — you must offer that constant winner: customer service.

Clients feel they receive good customer service when the people in your firm are happy to see them, glad they called and are eager to find a response to their important question. Customer service includes the aim of providing satisfaction to the client in their purchase of your legal services. Of course, a firm can’t guarantee results. It can, however, work passionately and competently for a client’s cause, case or position. A firm can prioritize client communication and listen to the client’s questions and concerns. At the end of the day, all our clients want to be heard. We win their loyalty and referrals by graciously and faithfully complying with that request.

Second, hire and empower the best team of professionals available in the market that you can afford. As a small firm owner, you do not have the luxury of acting only as a senior associate in your firm. You have to concern yourself with the task of raising revenue to sustain the firm and to grow it. Therefore, you need key team players that are competent, motivated and able to deliver consistent and accurate products.

The firm owner can and must do many things to support and maintain a great team. You must strive to provide a workplace that is relaxed, calm and supportive. You must provide your team with responsibility and challenges. This includes providing opportunities for their self-promotion and growth — you are well advised to encourage it and invest in that for your team members. A firm can encourage its team’s growth and knowledge through providing and promoting a generous CLE budget, including for the support staff. The firm can allow for work-from-home opportunities, mental health days and maternity and paternity time. The firm should encourage work-life balance in word and in deed. The firm should also create opportunities for advancement of team-members as individuals and as ambassadors of the firm. The betterment of your team in practically any dimension adds measurable value to your firm. Individuals are motivated to succeed and to shine and to grow. The firm always wins in turn. A good plan is to provide guidance and avenues for your team to succeed, attach recognition and reward and relax antiquated notions about productivity and value.

Third, identify your niche, study it and specialize. Firms can grow and add practice areas according to their goals and growth. It may be advisable, however, especially for small firms in the early stages of growth, to pick a niche and to specialize in that. Simply put, it’s easier to study one trade carefully than to attempt to study a few trades sporadically. Next, commit your intellect, passion and dedication to your expertise. Achievement and success are positively correlated with your commitment and devotion.

Fourth, you must passionately love and respect your firm and your practice. When you love something passionately, you are grateful for it, you are mindful of it, you pay it respect and admiration, you pay it kind and tender attention and you work to keep it and increase it in order to continue enjoying it.

If you are passionate about the law, you study it, you hold it in reverence, you strive at sharpening your skills, you accept challenge and responsibility and you positively promote your profession. Instilling passion in your work can affect the outcome of your cases and your practice — whatever your field, whomever your client, whatever the cause.

It’s easy to be overwhelmed trying to run a small firm. The world of unknowns, risks and fears looms large. But risk is inherent in business, and fear is not conducive to success. The unknown simply is waiting to be discovered. A small law firm filled with passionate professionals committed to their service and their trade stands poised to succeed in the law and in business.

Catherine Chan is the managing attorney at the Chan Law Firm, a small firm specializing in immigration law.

The opinions and views expressed by Featured Bloggers on CBA-CLE Legal Connection do not necessarily represent the opinions and views of the Colorado Bar Association, the Denver Bar Association, or CBA-CLE, and should not be construed as such.

Colorado Supreme Court: Announcement Sheet, 4/13/2015

On Monday, April 13, 2015, the Colorado Supreme Court issued two published opinions.

Jordan v. Panorama Orthopedics & Spine Center, P.C.

Westin Operator, LLC v. Groh

Summaries of these cases are forthcoming, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Neither State Judicial nor the Colorado Bar Association provides case summaries for unpublished appellate opinions. The case announcement sheet is available here.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Abbreviated Miranda Warning Does Not Adequately Advise Suspect of Rights

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Carter on Thursday, April 9, 2015.

Miranda Warning—Police Interview—Jury Access to Video Interview.

Ray and Owens were attendees at a barbecue and rap festival. When a fight broke out in the parking lot, Owens shot and killed an individual who attempted to break up the fight, and Ray shot and injured Marshall-Fields and another person. After the shooting, Ray and Owens fled in Ray’s car. Ray and Owens were charged in connection with the homicide.

About one year after the shooting, Owens instructed Carter to approach Marshall-Fields, who was at a sports bar, and discourage him from testifying—either by offering him money or threatening him. Carter entered the bar and spoke to Marshall-Fields. The following night, Marshall-Fields and his fiancée were shot and killed in their car by the occupants of a passing vehicle. A jury convicted Carter of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, intimidating a witness, and unlawful distribution of a controlled substance.

On appeal, Carter contended that the district court erred in admitting evidence of his videotaped interrogation because the police failed to adequately advise him of his Miranda right to have a lawyer present. A warning that provides that a custodial suspect has “the right to have an attorney,” without more, does not adequately inform a suspect of his or her right to the presence of an attorney before and during the interrogation. However, because Carter never confessed and did not otherwise incriminate himself during the interview, the admission of his videotaped interview was ultimately harmless beyond a reasonable doubt and did not affect the outcome of the trial. Therefore, the court’s error did not warrant reversal.

Carter also contended that the district court erred in allowing the jury to have unfettered access to the video-recording of his interrogation. A district court may allow “unrestricted jury access during deliberations to a defendant’s voluntary and otherwise admissible confession.” Although the lack of Miranda warning prohibited admission of this evidence, any error was harmless. The judgment was affirmed.

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

Tenth Circuit: Discrimination Claims Fail Where Plaintiff Cannot Perform Essential Job Function

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Hawkins v. Schwan’s Home Service, Inc. on Thursday, February 19, 2015.

David Hawkins was a facility supervisor for Schwan’s Home Service (SHS), in which position he was occasionally required to drive company delivery trucks but mainly was responsible for ordering products, scheduling, and loading trucks. In 2010, Hawkins began experiencing severe health problems and was repeatedly hospitalized with heart problems. He had a mild stroke in June 2010 but returned to work shortly after. Hawkins’ supervisor, Mr. Hillaker, began assigning truck driving duties to Hawkins and communicated to several coworkers that Hawkins was “a liability.”

On June 21, 2010, Hawkins failed a routine DOT medical evaluation and did not receive the DOT certification required of all SHS supervisors. The next day, Hawkins received a letter that he was being placed on a 30-day unpaid leave, and he had 30 days to receive the certification or find a non-DOT position. On June 23, 2010, Hawkins signed a voluntary termination form but wrote on the form that he was forced to quit for medical reasons. He filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma, bringing claims under the ADAAA, the Oklahoma ADA, and asserting a Burk tort. The district court granted summary judgment to SHS and Hawkins timely appealed.

The Tenth Circuit evaluated Hawkins’ claims as disparate treatment claims, and noted Hawkins must show that at the time he was terminated: (1) he was disabled as defined by statute, (2) he was qualified to perform the essential functions of his job, with or without reasonable accommodations, and (3) he was fired because of his disability. The Tenth Circuit found Hawkins’ discrimination claims failed at step two, because he was unable to obtain the DOT certification and it was an essential job function.

Hawkins disputed the district court’s determination that driving a company truck was an “essential function” of a supervisor’s job, and asserted the district court incorrectly allocated burdens between the parties. The Tenth Circuit discussed “burdens” at length, noting that the term was tricky, but Tenth Circuit precedent required the plaintiff at all times to bear the burden of persuasion. Hawkins also argued the district court erroneously conflated the terms “qualification” and “function,” but the Tenth Circuit again disagreed, finding the district court’s opinion was well-reasoned and thoughtfully followed Tenth Circuit precedent.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to SHS.

Tenth Circuit: Unpublished Opinions, 4/10/2015

On Friday, April 10, 2015, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued one published opinion and four unpublished opinions.

Amey v. Patton

Parker v. Darby

United States v. Montoya-Gonzalez

United States v. Rios-Zamora

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