April 19, 2019

Archives for June 24, 2015

Colorado Court of Appeals: Reversal Required when Jury Instructed on Uncharged Felony Offense Rather than Charged Misdemeanor

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Riley on Thursday, June 18, 2015.

Attempt to Influence a Public Servant—Tampering With Physical Evidence—Second-Degree Forgery—Jury Instructions—Constructive Amendment of Information—Jury Deliberations—Audio Recording.

The People charged defendant with third-degree assault and harassment for allegedly attacking his ex-wife in July 2006. After the charges were filed, defendant gave his attorney a receipt from a hotel in Kansas that purportedly showed that defendant was not in Colorado on the dates of the charged offenses. Because the receipt contained fraudulent information based on defendant’s alterations of it, the People charged defendant with attempt to influence a public servant, tampering with physical evidence, and second-degree forgery. He was convicted by a jury on all counts.

On appeal, defendant argued that the trial court erred when it instructed the jury on the uncharged offense of felony forgery rather than the charged offense of second-degree forgery (a misdemeanor). The trial court’s instruction constituted a constructive amendment of the information because it changed an essential element of the charged offense and allowed the jury to convict defendant of an uncharged crime. Further, second-degree forgery is not a lesser included offense of felony forgery. Because it is constitutionally prohibited to convict a defendant of a charge not contained in the information, defendant’s conviction for second-degree forgery was reversed.

Defendant also argued that because the trial court did not provide the jury with instructions defining the terms “attempt” and “official proceeding,” his respective convictions for attempt to influence a public servant and tampering with physical evidence must be reversed. There is no reference to the criminal definition of “attempt,” and adding such a definition would result in an absurd result. Further, although “official proceeding” is defined in the statute, any error was harmless because defendant failed to show that this error contributed to his conviction for tampering with physical evidence.

Defendant argued that the trial court erred in allowing the jury during deliberations unfettered access to an audio recording between the prosecutor and defendant’s ex-wife about a conversation she had with defendant. When defendant’s ex-wife testified at trial, she denied everything she had initially told the police about the attack and all the statements she had made during the recorded interview with the prosecutor. Therefore, the audio recording of the interview was admitted as prior inconsistent statements, and the recording was played for the jury during her testimony. Although the trial court failed to exercise its discretion with respect to the jury’s access to the recording during deliberations, such failure did not substantially influence the verdict or affect the fairness of the trial such that reversal of defendant’s convictions was required.

The case was remanded for a new trial on the charge of second-degree forgery. The remaining convictions were affirmed.

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

Colorado Court of Appeals: Colorado Governmental Immunity Act Does Not Apply Retroactively

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Smokebrush Foundation v. City of Colorado Springs on Thursday, June 18, 2015.

Colorado Governmental Immunity Act—Gas Facility Exception—Public Building Exception.

The Smokebrush Foundation (Smokebrush) alleged that various contaminants had migrated from the City of Colorado Spring’s (City) property onto its property, causing damages. The district court denied the City’s motion to dismiss, concluding that the City’s immunity was waived under two statutory provisions of the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act (CGIA): the gas facility exception and the public building exception. The district court also concluded that these waiver provisions applied retroactively to contamination that undisputedly occurred before the CGIA was enacted.

On appeal, the City argued that the trial court erred in finding that the CGIA applied retroactively. Nothing in the CGIA states that it is intended to operate retroactively. Therefore, the CGIA operates prospectively, effective July 1, 1972. Accordingly, to the extent that Smokebrush’s allegations were based on contamination stemming from the City’s coal gas operations in the 1920s and 1930s, the district court erred in concluding that the gas facility or public building exceptions to governmental immunity applied retroactively. The City is therefore immune from tort claims based on such contamination.

The City argued that the district court erred in concluding that the City was subject to suit under the gas facility and public building exceptions to governmental immunity for the injuries claimed by Smokebrush from alleged asbestos migration during the demolition activities on the property beginning in late 2012. The legislature waived governmental immunity for injuries resulting from “[t]he operation and maintenance of any public water facility, gas facility, sanitation facility, electrical facility, power facility, or swimming facility by such public entity.” Because the City’s property was not used in the collection, production, or distribution of natural gas and only housed administrative functions after the 1930s, the gas facility exception did not apply. Governmental immunity is also waived for injuries resulting from a dangerous condition of a public building. Although the City acknowledged that the property was a public building, this exception only applies to “constructing” and “maintaining” a public building. When the asbestos allegedly migrated to Smokebrush’s property, the property was in the process of being completely demolished. The dangerous condition definition applicable to the public building exception does not expressly recognize negligence claims stemming from demolition of a public facility. Therefore, the public building exception did not apply. The order denying the City’s motion to dismiss was reversed and the case was remanded to the district court with instructions to grant the motion.

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

Colorado Court of Appeals: No Error in Trial Court’s Calculation of Medicaid Lien

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in State of Colorado Department of Health Care Policy & Financing v. S.P. on Thursday, June 18, 2015.

Accident—Medicaid—Settlement—Statutory Lien—Calculation.

S.P. was injured in a snowboarding accident at a ski area. As a result of her injuries, she is a paraplegic and will require ongoing medical care and assistance for the rest of her life. She applied for Medicaid assistance and was accepted. Over the course of several years, Medicaid paid $142,779 for her accident-related medical care. S.P. sued the ski area, alleging negligence, and eventually settled the case for $1 million. Medicaid was entitled to a statutory lien against the settlement for repayment of the medical assistance it had provided. The settlement agreement, however, did not specify the portion of the settlement amount attributable to medical expenses, as opposed to other categories of damages. The Medicaid administration agency sued S.P. to enforce its lien.

On appeal, both parties argued that the trial court incorrectly calculated the amount S.P. was required to repay to Medicaid. Colorado has not enacted statutory, administrative or other procedures for apportioning third-party settlements for Medicaid lien purposes. The trial court applied a proportional allocation formula to determine what amount out of S.P.’s settlement funds should be considered compensation for past medical expenses. The trial court also relied on an objective indication of S.P.’s total past medical expenses that was supported by the record.

The Court of Appeals held that the decision to rely on the amount paid rather than the amount billed by Medicaid was not clearly erroneous, and that the trial court’s method in this case was neither unreasonable nor arbitrary. The trial court also did not err in applying its formula to the gross settlement amount and properly took attorney fees into consideration in reducing the amount owed to Medicaid. The judgment was affirmed and the case was remanded to the trial court to release the funds held in its registry pursuant to the judgment.

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

Colorado Court of Appeals: Jury Determination that Defendant’s Negligence Did Not Cause Plaintiff’s Injuries Acceptable

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Vititoe v. Rocky Mountain Pavement Maintenance, Inc. on Thursday, June 18, 2015.

Personal Injury—Challenges to Jurors and Jury Verdict and Jury Instructions.

Plaintiff was riding his motorcycle late at night. Shortly after making a U-turn, he collided with a lowboy trailer that was connected to a tractor driven by an employee of defendant. The collision occurred as the tractor was either stopped or beginning to proceed through an intersection controlled by a traffic signal that had turned green.

Plaintiff alleged negligence on the part of the truck driver. Plaintiff’s expert opined that defendant’s employee had worked more than the allowable fourteen-hour day and was likely tired and inattentive at the intersection and stopped for an unreasonable amount of time. Another expert for plaintiff testified that the taillights were positioned too low. The jury returned a special verdict form finding defendant was negligent but its negligence was not a cause of plaintiff’s injuries. Judgment was entered for defendant.

On appeal, plaintiff argued that some of the jurors made prejudicial statements during voir dire concerning motorcyclists’ helmet use, and that the trial court erred by refusing to canvass the jurors on that topic, give a limiting instruction, or declare a mistrial. The Court of Appeals disagreed. In Colorado, evidence of a plaintiff’s failure to wear a helmet is inadmissible to show negligence on the part of the plaintiff or to mitigate damages. If the jury learns a motorcyclist was not wearing a helmet, a limiting instruction may be required. When a prospective juror makes a potentially prejudicial statement during voir dire, the trial court may issue a curative instruction, canvass the jury, or declare a mistrial. Whether a statement is potentially prejudicial depends significantly on the facts and circumstances. Here, no juror expressed an opinion that plaintiff was negligent for not wearing a helmet and, in fact, there was no evidence allowed as to whether or not plaintiff wore a helmet.

Plaintiff argued that the evidence admitted at trial did not support the jury’s verdict. After reviewing the evidence presented, the Court found that there was competent evidence to support the verdict.

Plaintiff argued that the court erroneously instructed the jury by not omitting any reference to the doctrine of assumption of risk because the evidence did not support it. The Court found that testimony from a detective that plaintiff “accelerated toward something he saw” supported the instruction regarding assumption of risk.

Plaintiff argued that the court erred by instructing the jury that the law presumes a driver is negligent if the driver hits another vehicle in the rear. Plaintiff contended that the instruction should not have been given because this was not a rear-end collision, but a barrier crash. The Court found no authority to suggest that hitting the lowboy trailer, even if not moving forward, constituted a barrier crash as opposed to a type of rear-end collision. The judgment was affirmed.

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

Colorado Court of Appeals: Use of Stock Certificate as Exhibit Does Not Qualify as a Filing or Recording

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Battle North, LLC v. Sensible Housing Co. on Thursday, June 18, 2015.

Spurious Documents—CRS §§ 38-35-201(3) and -204.

This case involves a dispute over ownership of real property in Eagle County (Pine Martin parcel). In 1998, Mortgage Investment Corporation (MIC) filed for judicial foreclosure on a deed of trust encumbering the Pine Martin parcel and the Piney Lumber parcel. Defendants included Pine Martin Mining Company (PMMC) and Piney Lumber Company (PLC). PMMC claimed ownership of the Pine Martin parcel and PLC claimed ownership of the Piney Lumber parcel. This essentially converted the foreclosure case to a quiet title action.

In 2000, PMMC and PLC moved for partial summary judgment and MIC filed a cross-motion for partial summary judgment. In 2004, the motions still pending, MIC assigned its interest in the matter to Ginn Battle Lender, LLC (Ginn). PMMC and PLC purported to transfer their interests in the parcels to respondent Sensible Housing Company (Sensible) by quitclaim deeds that Sensible recorded in the Eagle County Clerk and Recorder’s Office. Two of the deeds, one recorded in 2006 and one in 2008, were from PMMC to Sensible and concerned the Pine Martin parcel. These deeds are at issue in this case.

Pursuant to an approved stipulation for how to proceed to resolve the quiet title case, Sensible filed as an exhibit a purported 1915 Stock Certificate certifying that 1,251,000 shares of the capital stock of PMMC had been issued to Bouvier. Sensible’s principal, Tucker, claimed he had obtained those shares from Bouvier’s heir in 1996. On that authority, Tucker created and recorded the 2006 and 2008 quitclaim deeds.

In 2009, the district court granted Ginn’s cross-motion for summary judgment and denied Sensible’s motion. It found the 1915 Stock Certificate and related documents were incredible as a matter of law and therefore Sensible had no interest in either parcel. Sensible appealed, and a division of the Court affirmed summary judgment as to the Piney Lumber parcel but reversed as to the Pine Martin parcel, finding the 1915 Stock Certificate not “so incredible that no reasonable jury could believe it.”

In April 2012, Battle North, LLC (Battle North) filed a petition for an order to show cause pursuant to CRS § 38-35-204 and CRCP 105.1, alleging the 1915 Stock Certificate was a spurious document and requesting an order directing Sensible to show cause why it should not be declared invalid. Battle North amended the petition to request that the two quitclaim deeds also be declared invalid as spurious documents. Following a hearing, the district court made extensive findings, including that the 1915 Stock Certificate was created by Tucker and was a sham, and that both it and the two quitclaim deeds were spurious documents; the court therefore “released” the three documents. The court also awarded Battle Mountain attorney fees and costs pursuant to CRS § 38-35-204(2).

On appeal, Sensible argued that the priority rule required the district court to stay this case pending resolution of the quiet title action. The Court disagreed, holding that CRCP 105.1 allowed Battle North to bring this petition in a separate action and that staying the case would not further the policies behind the priority rule.

Sensible then argued that allowing Battle North to litigate this action contravened the mandate of the Court in an earlier appeal of the quiet title action where it remanded for further proceedings as to the Pine Martin parcel. The Court found nothing in that order precluding Battle North form proceeding as permitted by CRS § 38-35-204 and CRCP 105.1.

Sensible contended that its use of the 1915 Stock Certificate as an exhibit in the quiet title action did not entitle Battle North to relief under CRS § 38-35-204; filing a document as an exhibit in a civil case does not qualify as recording or filing a document within the meaning of the statute. The Court agreed. It held that “recorded or filed” as used in CRS § 38-35-204(1) is limited by its having to affect a person’s real or personal property. The filing of an exhibit in a civil case does not affect a person’s real property. Moreover, there would be no way to “release” such a document (the remedy in the statute). Thus, although the Court did not disturb the finding that the 1915 Stock Certificate was a sham, it was error to rule it was a spurious document under the statute, and that part of the order was reversed.

Sensible argued that the quitclaim deeds were not spurious because a quitclaim deed can convey only the title or interest that the grantor had, and the district court determined that the newly created PMMC had no title or interest to convey. Therefore, Battle North’s property could not have been affected by the recording of the quitclaim deeds. The Court found this argument to be without merit. Sensible argued that unless a document was a valid lien or encumbrance against real property, it cannot be a spurious document, because it cannot affect real property. However, in that case, the document would not be spurious.

Sensible argued that Battle North is not a “person whose real . . . property is affected by” the 1915 Stock Certificate and quitclaim deeds because it does not own the Pine Martin parcel. This argument was based on deficiencies in the treasurer’s deeds by which Battle North claimed title. The Court rejected those arguments on multiple grounds.

The Court also awarded Battle Mountain reasonable appellate attorney fees for defending the judgment as to the quitclaim deeds. The case was remanded to the district court for a determination of that amount.

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

Tenth Circuit: Unpublished Opinions, 6/23/2015

On Tuesday, June 23, 2015, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued four published opinions and four unpublished opinions.

United States v. McCoy

Hunter v. Hirsig

Wiglesworth v. Pagel

United States v. Roman

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