August 17, 2018

Colorado Court of Appeals: Attorney Fee Award Non-dischargeable as Civil Penalty Under CCPA

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in State of Colorado ex rel. Coffman v. Robert J. Hopp & Associates, LLC on Thursday, May 17, 2018.

Bankruptcy—Attorney Fees—Colorado Consumer Protection Act—Colorado Fair Debt Collection Practices Act—Civil Penalty—Reasonableness—Groundless.

The State brought an action alleging that Hopp and his wife Lori Hopp, and Hopp’s law firms and affiliated companies, violated the Colorado Consumer Protection Act (CCPA) and the Colorado Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (CFDCPA) (see 2018 COA 69, No. 16CA1983, State of Colorado v. Robert J. Hopp & Associates, LLC). The district court entered judgment against Hopp and in favor of plaintiffs, but concluded there was insufficient evidence to find Lori Hopp liable for any alleged misconduct. The trial court also awarded plaintiffs most of their reasonable attorney fees and costs incurred in bringing the enforcement action under the CCPA and CFDCPA.

On appeal, Hopp contended that the trial court erred when it imposed an award of attorney fees and costs against him because it was precluded from doing so by his discharge of debts in bankruptcy. Hopp filed for bankruptcy in January 2013 and obtained a discharge in February 2014. Plaintiffs’ enforcement action was filed 10 months later. Hopp argued that the bankruptcy discharge applied to any claim for attorney fees and costs that could have been fairly or reasonably contemplated during the bankruptcy case. The trial court’s attorney fee awards under the CCPA and CFDCPA are not dischargeable, and the Court of Appeals declined to order that they be vacated as void under 11 U.S.C. § 5243.

Hopp further contended that the trial court erred when it failed to reduce plaintiffs’ attorney fees award by the amount of any fees incurred for their unpursued and unsuccessful claims. Because plaintiffs’ claims involved a common core of facts and were brought under the same legal theories, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in declining to reduce plaintiffs’ attorney fees.

Lori Hopp contended that the trial court erred in rejecting her argument that she was entitled to her attorney fees and costs under C.R.S. §§ 13-17-101 to -106 for defending against plaintiffs’ eventually unsuccessful claims against her. The trial court’s decision that plaintiffs’ CCPA claim against Lori Hopp was not substantially groundless was not manifestly arbitrary, unreasonable, or unfair, and the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it declined to award her attorney fees.

The order was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

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