July 21, 2018

Colorado Court of Appeals: “For Sale” Sign Only Invites Viewer to Contact Listing Agent, Not Enter Property

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Rucker v. Federal National Mortgage Association on Thursday, July 28, 2016.

Ellyn and David Rucker decided to purchase a house that their daughter, Kristin, would rent from them. David placed an offer on a house for which Kristin had had a showing with a Heter & Co. listing agent, but Ellyn had not seen the property, so Kristin took Ellyn to the house. There was a “For Sale” sign in the yard and a small notice on the door warning that trespassers would be prosecuted. After walking around the house and looking through some windows, Ellyn started walking from the house down the paved walkway to return to the car. She fell and sustained injuries.

Ellyn sued Federal National Mortgage Association (FNMA) and Heter for damages, alleging she was an invitee under the Premises Liability Act (PLA) because the “For Sale” sign constituted an implied invitation to the public. She also argued that she was an invitee because she was present on the property for purposes of a business transaction. The trial court disagreed and concluded Ellyn was a trespasser, finding that because she never obtained the express or implied consent of the landowner, she did not have an invitation to enter the property. The court did not address Ellyn’s business transaction argument. Upon Ellyn’s request, the court certified its “For Sale” sign order for immediate appeal. The court of appeals dismissed her appeal without prejudice, finding the issues were not ripe. Ellyn again raised the “For Sale” sign and business transaction issues in the trial court, and again the court ruled that Ellyn was not an invitee and rejected her arguments. She again requested the court to certify its order for immediate appeal.

Ellyn filed a second interlocutory appeal, seeking review of both the “For Sale” and business transaction orders. The court of appeals limited its review to the “For Sale” sign issue because the trial court declined to certify the business transaction issue for interlocutory appeal. On appeal, Ellyn contended that the “For Sale” sign created an implied representation that the public was requested, expected, or intended to enter the premises. The court of appeals disagreed. After examining case law from other jurisdictions, the court of appeals found that the “For Sale” sign created only an invitation to contact the listing agent, not to enter the property. Because the listing agent or landowner did not have a practice of allowing others to enter the property without express permission, Ellyn could not show that her entrance on the property was as an invitee.

The court of appeals affirmed the trial court.

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