July 22, 2018

Archives for July 6, 2018

Colorado Court of Appeals: ALJ Not Required to Rank Firefighter’s Cancer Risk Factors in Workers’ Comp Case

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in City of Boulder Fire Department v. Industrial Claim Appeals Office on Thursday, June 28, 2018.

Workers’ Compensation—Coverage for Occupational Diseases Contracted by Firefighters—C.R.S. § 8-41-209.

A firefighter worked for the City of Boulder’s fire department for 35 years. After he retired, a doctor discovered he had squamous cell carcinoma in his tongue. He filed a claim for workers’ compensation benefits under C.R.S. § 8-41-209 (section 209). Section 209 creates a presumption that certain cancers are compensable if stricken firefighters meet certain criteria. But it does not impose strict liability on fire departments or cities; rather, the presumption may be overcome by showing that a firefighter’s cancer “did not occur on the job.”

The City challenged the firefighter’s claim. It maintained that human papillomavirus 16/18 was the more likely cause of his cancer and retained an expert that opined that was the case. The firefighter offered testimony from his own expert refuting the City’s expert. Based on the evidence, the administrative law judge (ALJ) decided the cancer was compensable and awarded the firefighter benefits. A panel of the Industrial Claim Appeals Office (Panel) affirmed, finding that substantial evidence supported the ALJ’s findings and conclusions.

On appeal, the City argued it had proved it was more likely that the virus had caused the firefighter’s cancer than other, more attenuated, risks. It further contended that by accepting the “multifactorial” or “combination” of causes advanced by the firefighter’s experts, the ALJ misinterpreted a trio of Colorado Supreme Court cases that had analyzed section 209 (the trio of cases). The City maintained that the trio of cases requires ALJs to “weigh and rank the risk factors to determine whether the employer showed by a preponderance of the evidence that a non-occupational risk factor was the greater or higher risk factor in the firefighter’s cancer.” The trio of cases does not mandate that ALJs rank firefighters’ cancer risks, nor does it preclude consideration of multifactorial causes of cancer. Rather, the cases emphasize that an employer can overcome the presumption by establishing the prevalence of non-work-related-factors. But this does not automatically rebut the section 209 presumption because the determination of whether an employer has met its burden is within the fact-finder’s discretion. Substantial evidence supported the ALJ’s factual findings, and the Panel did not err.

The order was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Contract Between Private Cable Provider and Government Void Because It Does Not Provide for Annual Appropriations

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Falcon Broadband, Inc. v. Banning Lewis Ranch Metropolitan District No. 1 on Thursday, June 28, 2018.

Contract—Colorado Governmental Immunity Act—Tort—Civil Conspiracy—Unjust Enrichment—Promissory Estoppel—Annual Appropriation—Attorney Fees.

Falcon Broadband, Inc. (Falcon) signed a contract, the “Bulk Services Agreement” (BSA), with Banning Lewis Ranch Metropolitan District No. 1 (the District) to provide Internet and cable services to Banning Lewis Ranch area residents. Under the BSA, the District granted Falcon the exclusive right to provide Internet and cable services to residents for a monthly per-resident fee. The BSA states that it remains in effect until 2,700 homes in the development are occupied, which hasn’t yet occurred. The District later disavowed the BSA, stopped paying Falcon, and stopped collecting fees from residents. Falcon sued the District, its directors, and Oakwood Homes, LLC (the developer) and related Oakwood entities (collectively, Oakwood).  The district court dismissed Falcon’s complaint in part as barred by the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act (CGIA) and granted summary judgment in defendants’ favor on the remaining claims not subject to dismissal under the CGIA.

On appeal, Falcon contended that the district court erred in its application of the CGIA and in granting summary judgment. It is undisputed that the District is a public entity within the meaning and protection of the CGIA. Thus, the district court properly dismissed the civil conspiracy claim against the District because that claim is undeniably a tort claim. However, the court improperly dismissed the unjust enrichment and promissory estoppel claims as sounding in tort because they were grounded in contracts; the district court should have granted summary judgment to the District on these claims. The district court properly granted the District summary judgment on the breach of contract, breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and declaratory judgment claims. The District directors are also protected by the CGIA, and the district court should have dismissed the claims against them. All of the Oakwood entities are private associations; thus, the district court erred in dismissing some claims against Oakwood under the CGIA.

Falcon also contended that the district court erred by determining that the BSA is void and by entering summary judgment on its tortious interference and civil conspiracy claims regardless of the BSA’s validity. The BSA is void under C.R.S. § 29-1-110 because it is a multi-year contract that does not provide that the obligation to pay is subject to annual appropriations. Because all of Falcon’s claims are premised on the BSA’s validity, only its unjust enrichment claim against Oakwood survives.

The District and the directors cross-appealed, arguing that the court erred by failing to award them attorney fees under C.R.S. § 13-17-201. Because the gist of Falcon’s action against the District was the District’s failure to perform the BSA, not its commission of any tort, and those claims were dismissed on summary judgment, the District is not entitled to fees. On the other hand, the only claims Falcon brought against the directors were tort claims. Because Falcon’s entire action against the directors should have been dismissed under C.R.C.P. 12(b)(1) as tort claims barred by the CGIA, the directors are entitled to an award of their reasonable attorney fees under C.R.S. § 13-17-201. The directors are also entitled to an award of their reasonable attorney fees incurred in their successful appeal under C.R.S. § 13-17-201.

The judgment was affirmed on all claims except Falcon’s unjust enrichment claim against Oakwood, which was reversed. The district court’s denial of the District’s request for attorney fees was affirmed. The district court’s denial of the directors’ request for attorney fees was reversed and the case was remanded to determine those fees.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Announcement Sheet, 7/5/2018

On Thursday, July 5, 2018, the Colorado Court of Appeals issued no published opinion and 14 unpublished opinions.

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

Tenth Circuit: Unpublished Opinions, 7/5/2018

On Thursday, July 5, 2018, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued no published opinion and three unpublished opinions.

Watson v. Hollingsworth

Verlo v. City & County of Denver

Nelson v. Roberts

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