July 21, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: Claim Preclusion Bars Suit Against Attorney for Disclosure of PRE Report

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Foster v. Plock on Thursday, March 10, 2016.

Claim Preclusion—Attorney Fees.

This case stemmed from Foster’s dissolution of marriage action but also involved related criminal and tort cases. Plock represented Foster’s wife (wife) in the dissolution action, but was not a named party in any of the other cases.

Wife filed to dissolve her marriage to Foster, and a temporary civil protection order was issued by the domestic relations court barring Foster from contacting wife.

The court ordered a Parental Responsibilities Evaluation (PRE), which reported that Foster had an extensive criminal history. The PRE recommended that the court grant wife sole decision-making authority for the minor child. Foster requested a second evaluator, who noted that it was questionable whether all the crimes in the first report had actually been committed by Foster, but made the same recommendation. Both PREs were confidential and not to be “made available for public inspection” without court order.

Two misdemeanor criminal cases arose against Foster from multiple violations of the domestic court’s temporary civil protection order. In May 2013, the district attorney in one of those cases contacted Plock and asked whether he had any information that would be helpful to the criminal court in sentencing if Foster was convicted. Plock emailed him both PREs without Foster’s knowledge or consent, and without a court order releasing the PREs. The PREs were used in sentencing and, on Foster’s motion, ordered to be sealed.

In November 2013, Plock filed a motion with the domestic relations court admitting that he had disclosed the PREs to the prosecuting attorney, and in July 2014 the court sanctioned Plock and ordered him to pay Foster’s attorney fees associated with responding to Plock’s motion in which he admitted disclosing the PREs to the prosecutor.

During this time period, Foster filed 11 separate lawsuits regarding the first PRE alleging libel, slander, and outrageous conduct. These cases were all consolidated and all defendants moved to dismiss. Foster then filed 11 amended complaints against wife and the first investigator alleging that each had caused the disclosure of the PREs to the prosecutor in the criminal case. Plock wasn’t named in any of these cases, but in the complaint against wife, it was alleged that she, through her attorney, caused the PREs to be disclosed. In May 2014 the district court dismissed all of Foster’s complaints. Foster appealed but then voluntarily dismissed the appeal.

Four months after the dismissal and 10 months after he learned that Plock had disclosed the PREs to the prosecutor, Foster filed this action against Plock alleging invasion of privacy, defamation, and outrageous conduct. The court granted Plock’s motion to dismiss based on both claim and issue preclusion.

On appeal, Foster argued that it was error to conclude that his claims were barred by claim preclusion because there was no identity of subject matter, claims, or parties. The Court of Appeals disagreed. Specifically, the Court found that all of the elements of claim preclusion had been met: (1) finality of the first judgment, (2) identity of subject matter, (3) identity of claims for relief, and (4) identity or privity between parties to the actions.

Foster and Plock both requested attorney fees. The Court denied Foster’s request, but agreed that Plock was entitled to a mandatory award of attorney fees and costs on appeal under CRS §§ 13-17-201 and 13-16-113(2).

The judgment was affirmed and the case was remanded for a determination of reasonable attorney fees to be awarded to Plock.

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

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