February 17, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: Presumption of Regularity Applied to 20-Year-Old Default Judgment; Error to Place Burden on Plaintiff to Prove Valid Service

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Tallman v. Aune on Thursday, January 24, 2019.

Default Judgment—Presumption of Regularity—Lost or Destroyed Records—C.R.C.P. 60(b)(3).

In 1996, Tallman obtained a default judgment against Aune. About 15 years after the judgment entered, the district court destroyed the case file under its records retention policy. In 2016, Tallman filed writs of garnishment to enforce the judgment and the writs issued. Shortly after, Aune filed a motion to vacate the default judgment and quash the writ of garnishment, asserting that he had not been aware that a judgment had been entered against him and he had not been served. In response, Tallman admitted he could not produce the affidavit of service, but he attached copies of the default motion and default judgment and cited the register of actions entry noting service had been made. The district court granted Aune’s motion to vacate, finding that Tallman failed to establish by clear and convincing evidence that Aune was properly served. It also denied Tallman’s motion to revive the default judgment as moot. Tallman moved for reconsideration, arguing that the presumption of regularity must apply. The district court dismissed the case.

On appeal, Tallman argued that the district court erred in vacating the default judgment and it should have applied the presumption of regularity to presume the default judgment was entered with jurisdiction. Here, though the return of service is no longer available, the register of actions, the limited record, and the 1996 default judgment show service was effectuated, so the presumption of regularity applies. The district court erred in declining to apply the presumption of regularity to the default judgment when it granted the motion to vacate. Further, the burden remained on Aune to overcome the presumption as to the default judgment. At most, Aune provided the district court with an unsworn assertion that he had not been served two decades ago. These inferences do not constitute sufficient evidence to overcome the presumption of regularity. For the same reason, Aune didn’t satisfy his burden of proof to present clear and convincing evidence to set aside the default judgment

Tallman also requested the court of appeals to direct the district court to “grant a nunc pro tunc order for revival of judgment,” arguing he complied with the procedural requirements to revive the default judgment. Because the default judgment must be reinstated, the motion to revive is not moot.

The judgment was reversed and the case was remanded to reinstate it and to consider Tallman’s request to revive the default judment.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Burden to Prove Collectability of Judgment in Underlying Case Lies with Claimant

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in LeHouiller v. Gallegos on Monday, January 28, 2019.

Attorney Malpractice—Burden of Proof—Tort.

In this attorney malpractice case founded on professional negligence, the supreme court was asked to decide who—the client or the attorney—bears the burden to prove that any judgment that could have been obtained against the underlying defendant would or would not have been collectible. The court held that because the collectibility of the underlying judgment is essential to the causation and damages elements of a client’s negligence claim against an attorney, the client-plaintiff bears the burden of proving that the lost judgment in the underlying case was collectible.

Here, the record shows that client-plaintiff failed to prove that the underlying judgment would have been collectible. However, given the absence of a clear statement from this court regarding client-plaintiff’s burden to prove collectibility at the time of trial, and given that the issue was not raised in this case until after client-plaintiff had presented her case-in-chief, the court reversed the court of appeals’ judgment and remanded the case for a new trial.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Evidence Viewed in Light Most Favorable to Prosecution Sufficient to Affirm Restitution Order

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Barbre on Thursday, August 23, 2018.

Criminal Law—Sentencing—Restitution—Burden of Proof—Preponderance of the Evidence.

Defendant stole several types of prescription pain medication while working at a pharmacy. She pleaded guilty to one count of theft and one count of possession of a controlled substance occurring over a nearly year-long period. The district court sentenced her to two years of probation and ordered restitution.

On appeal, defendant challenged the amount of restitution, contending that the prosecution did not sufficiently prove that she caused a loss in the amount of $10,553.80. Here, the court specifically relied on defendant’s admission that she had stolen thousands of pills over a one-year period and the pharmacy’s automated system for tracking inventory. Viewed in the light most favorable to the prosecution, the evidence was sufficient.

The order was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Heat of Passion Jury Instruction Impermissibly Lowered Prosecution’s Burden of Proof

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Tardif on Thursday, November 2, 2017.

Jury InstructionsBurden of ProofHeat of Passion ProvocationAttempted Second Degree MurderFirst Degree AssaultMitigating FactorEvidenceDue ProcessSelf-DefenseDeadly Physical ForceSlow Motion VideoUnfair Prejudice—Prosecutorial Misconduct.

Tardif’s friend Soto was at a skate park and got into an argument with the victim. Tardif and Soto were members of the same gang, and the victim was wearing the colors of a rival gang. Soto called Tardif, and when Tardif arrived, Tardif and Soto walked up to the victim and Tardif shot him once in the abdomen. The victim fled and survived. Other people in the skate park recorded video of part of the initial argument between Soto and the victim as well as the shooting. A jury found Tardif guilty of attempted second degree murder, first degree assault, conspiracy to commit first degree assault, and three crime of violence counts.

On appeal, Tardif argued that the trial court erred by not instructing the jury that the prosecution had the burden to prove the absence of heat of passion provocation beyond a reasonable doubt. Heat of passion provocation is a mitigating factor for attempted second degree murder and first degree assault. Here, the heat of passion provocation instructions failed to inform the jury that the prosecution had to prove the absence of heat of passion provocation beyond a reasonable doubt. Therefore, the instructions, considered together, failed to properly instruct the jury on the prosecution’s burden of proof. Because Tardif presented sufficient evidence for a heat of passion provocation instruction, the error lowered the prosecution’s burden of proof and violated Tardif’s constitutional right to due process. Tardif also argued that the trial court’s self-defense instructions included several reversible errors. Self-defense is not an affirmative defense to conspiracy to commit first degree assault, and therefore, the court did not err in failing to instruct the jury that it was. But the trial court erred by instructing the jury on when deadly physical force may be used in self-defense because deadly physical force requires death, and here the victim did not die.

Tardif additionally argued that the trial court erred by admitting slow motion video recordings of the shooting. Although this evidence was relevant to explain the events around the shooting and to determine whether defendant acted with aggression or in self-defense, the probative value of the slow motion recordings was very low. This evidence was also cumulative of the real-time recording that was also admitted. Further, because Tardif’s state of mind at the time of the shooting was a disputed issue, the slow motion recordings’ low probative value was substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice. The slow motion recordings may have portrayed Tardif’s actions as more premeditated than they actually were. The trial court abused its discretion by failing to weigh the slow motion recordings’ probative value against their danger of unfair prejudice.

Tardif further argued that two statements by the prosecutor during closing argument constituted misconduct and required reversal. The court of appeals did not doubt the reliability of Tardif’s conspiracy conviction and concluded that the prosecutor’s allegedly improper statements did not constitute plain error.

The conspiracy to commit first degree assault conviction was affirmed. The remaining convictions were reversed and the case was remanded with directions.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: In Identity Theft Case, People Must Show Knowledge of Theft

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in People v. Molina on Monday, February 6, 2017.

Criminal Law—Identity Theft.

This case came to the Colorado Supreme Court on certiorari review of the court of appeals’ unpublished opinion, People v. Molina, No. 11CA1650 (Colo. App. June 19, 2014). A jury convicted Daniela Molina of two counts of identity theft and three counts of forgery. The court granted certiorari to resolve three issues: (1) whether the People must show that Molina knew she stole another person’s information; (2) whether there was sufficient evidence that Molina knew she stole a real person’s information; and (3) whether an apartment lease and employment qualify under the identity theft statute as “thing[s] of value.” The court answered all three questions in the affirmative. Therefore, the court affirmed in part and reversed in part the court of appeals’ judgment and remanded the case for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: No Error in ALJ’s Finding of Claimant’s Attempt to Circumvent Burden of Proof

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Feliciano v. Industrial Claim Appeals Office on Thursday, May 19, 2016.

Workers’ Compensation—Reopening Claim—DIME—Maximum Medical Improvement.

Claimant sustained an injury, underwent treatment, and was placed at maximum medical improvement (MMI) by her authorized treating provider (ATP). Claimant requested a division-sponsored independent medical examination (DIME) to challenge the ATP’s MMI finding. The DIME physician agreed with the ATP’s MMI date and recommendation for treatment, and he rated claimant’s impairment. Claimant’s employer and its insurer filed a final admission of liability (FAL) based on the DIME.

Claimant did not object to the FAL but instead petitioned to reopen her claim less than two weeks after the FAL was filed and while her claim was still open. The administrative law judge (ALJ) denied and dismissed her petition, noting that the proper procedure would have been to challenge the DIME. The Industrial Claim Appeals Office affirmed and claimant appealed.

On appeal, claimant argued that the ALJ improperly disregarded her counsel’s arguments that she was not challenging the MMI finding and that the ALJ’s findings were not supported by substantial evidence. To reopen a claim, a claimant must show error, mistake, or change in condition. The reopening of a claim is within the sound discretion of the ALJ and may only be reversed for fraud or clear abuse of discretion. The ALJ found that claimant was filing to reopen a claim that wasn’t closed to avoid the higher burden of proof required to overcome a DIME. Claimant’s counsel admitted at oral argument that the petition to reopen was a “strategic” move taken because counsel did not believe claimant could overcome the DIME. The record supports the ALJ’s determination that claimant improperly used the reopening process to challenge the DIME.

The order was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Workers’ Compensation “Firefighter’s Statute” Shifts Burden of Causation to Employer

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in City of Littleton v. Industrial Claim Appeals Office on Monday, May 2, 2016.

Workers’ Compensation—Firefighters—Statutory Presumptions.

In this case, the Colorado Supreme Court addressed the presumption created in the “firefighter statute,” C.R.S. § 8-41-209, of the Workers’ Compensation Act of Colorado, C.R.S. §§ 8-40-101 to 8-47-209. The court held that the presumption in C.R.S. § 8-41-209(2)(a) relieves the claimant firefighter of the burden to prove that his cancer “result[ed] from his or her employment as a firefighter” for purposes of establishing under C.R.S. § 8-41-209(1) that his condition is a compensable “occupational disease” under the Workers’ Compensation Act. However, C.R.S. § 8-41-209(2) does not establish a conclusive, or irrebuttable, presumption. Instead, the firefighter statute shifts the burden of persuasion to the firefighter’s employer to show, by a preponderance of the medical evidence, that the firefighter’s condition “did not occur on the job.”

The court held that an employer can meet its burden by establishing the absence of either general or specific causation. Specifically, an employer can show, by a preponderance of the medical evidence, either: (1) that a firefighter’s known or typical occupational exposures are not capable of causing the cause of the claimant’s condition or type of cancer at issue; or (2) that the firefighter’s employment did not cause the firefighter’s particular cancer where, for example, the claimant firefighter was not exposed to the substance or substances that are known to cause the firefighter’s condition or impairment, or where the medical evidence renders it more probable that the cause of the claimant’s condition or impairment was not job-related.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Statutory Presumption of Occupational Disease for Firefighters Not Irrebuttable

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Industrial Claim Appeals Office v. Town of Castle Rock on Monday, May 2, 2016.

Workers’ Compensation—Firefighters—Statutory Presumptions.

In a companion case, City of Littleton v. Industrial Claim Appeals Office, 2016 CO 25, the Colorado Supreme Court held that the presumption created by the firefighter statute, C.R.S. § 8-41-209, relieves the claimant firefighter of the burden to prove that his cancer “result[ed] from his or her employment as a firefighter” for purposes of establishing under C.R.S. § 8-41-209(1) that his condition is a compensable “occupational disease” under the Workers’ Compensation Act. However, C.R.S. § 8-41-209(2) does not establish a conclusive, or irrebuttable, presumption. Instead, the firefighter statute shifts the burden of persuasion to the firefighter’s employer to show, by a preponderance of the medical evidence, that the firefighter’s condition “did not occur on the job.”

Here, the court held that an employer can seek to meet its burden to show a firefighter’s cancer “did not occur on the job” by presenting particularized risk-factor evidence indicating that it is more probable that the claimant firefighter’s cancer arose from some source other than the firefighter’s employment. To meet its burden of proof, the employer is not required to prove a specific alternate cause of the firefighter’s cancer. Rather, the employer need only establish, by a preponderance of the medical evidence, that the firefighter’s employment did not cause the firefighter’s cancer because the firefighter’s particular risk factors render it more probable that the firefighter’s cancer arose from a source outside the workplace.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Tenth Circuit: Mandatory Victim Restitution Act Requires Verified Proof of Actual Losses

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in United States v. Ferdman on Friday, February 13, 2015.

Joshua Ferdman and three co-conspirators concocted a plan in which they obtained account information for several corporate customers of Sprint. Defendant impersonated account representatives and purchased cell phones from various Sprint stores, charging them to the corporate accounts. After he was caught, he pled guilty to a two-count indictment. He was sentenced to 15 months in prison and ordered to pay $48,715.59 in restitution pursuant to the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act (MVRA). The court calculated the restitution amount based on what Sprint referred to as the “retail unsubsidized price” of 86 stolen phones, plus Sprint’s shipping and investigative costs. Defendant appeals the restitution order, arguing the government’s proof of loss was insufficient to support the award.

The Tenth Circuit first analyzed the MVRA in detail in light of last term’s Supreme Court decision in Paroline. The Tenth Circuit emphasized that restitution is intended to make victims whole, not unjustly enrich them or provide them a windfall. The Tenth Circuit determined the MVRA is intended to compensate for actual losses, not merely speculated losses, but does not preclude a district court’s exercise of discretion in determining actual loss. The government bears the burden of proof to demonstrate the actual amount of loss.

In this case, Sprint’s regional manager of investigations submitted an unverified letter setting forth Sprint’s losses, basing its calculations on the “retail unsubsidized price” of each fraudulently obtained phone, $449 to $549 per phone. The letter also listed estimated shipping costs, travel expenses, investigatory expenses, and GPS activation expenses, listing Sprint’s estimated total loss as $48, 715.59.

Defendant argued the better measure of actual loss was the price he paid per phone, or $149 to $199 per phone, and repeatedly questioned the government’s evidence of actual losses. Defendant pointed out that the government did not present any evidence his crimes caused Sprint to lose retail sales or attendant profits. The district court denied an evidentiary hearing on the restitution amount, and found the MVRA’s “value of the property” language broad enough to cover lost profits.

The Tenth Circuit found that the government’s complete lack of verified evidence precluded a restitution award. Because the MVRA requires proof of actual losses, the Tenth Circuit vacated the district court’s restitution award and remanded for further proceedings.

Colorado Supreme Court: Burden of Proof Does Not Shift Under Res Ipsa Loquitur

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Chapman, M.D. v. Harner on Monday, December 8, 2014.

Allocation of the Burden of Proof Under Res Ipsa Loquitur.

In this case, the Supreme Court clarified the proper allocation of the burden of proof under the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur. Specifically, the Court resolved the tension between its fifty-six-year-old precedent in Weiss v. Axler, 137 Colo. 544, 559, 328 P.2d 88, 96-97 (1958), which held that the burden of proof shifts to the defendant once a plaintiff makes a prima facie showing of res ipsa loquitur, and the more recent adoption of CRE 301, which indicates that rebuttable presumptions such as res ipsa loquitur shift onto the defendant only the burden of production and not the burden of proof. After determining that this issue has remained unsettled since the adoption of CRE 301, the Court held that the burden of proof does not shift to the defendant under res ipsa loquitur. Accordingly, the Court reversed the court of appeals’ judgment.

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

Colorado Supreme Court: Party Seeking to Modify Admission of Liability Has Burden of Proof that Modification Should Be Made

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in City of Brighton v. Rodriguez on Monday, February 3, 2014.

Workers’ Compensation—Liability—CRS § 8-41-301(1)(c)—Settlement and Hearing Procedures—CRS § 8-43-201(1).

In this workers’ compensation case, the Supreme Court held that an “unexplained fall” satisfies the “arising out of” employment requirement in CRS § 8-41-301(1)(c), if the fall would not have occurred but for the fact that the conditions and obligations of employment placed the employee in the position where he or she was injured. Additionally, the Court held that when a party seeks to modify an issue determined by a general or final admission, a summary order, or a full order, per CRS § 8-43-201(1), that party has the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that a modification is warranted. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the court of appeals’ holding, but for different reasons.

Summary and full case available here.

Colorado Supreme Court: Defendant Bears Burden of Proving that Search and Seizure Violated Fourth Amendment Rights

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in People v. Cunningham on Monday, December 23, 2013.

Criminal Procedure—Crim. P. 41(e)—Suppression Hearing—Defendant’s Burden of Going Forward With Evidence—Searches and Seizure Under Warrant.

The Supreme Court held that the trial court erred in suppressing evidence when it ruled that the prosecution must go forward with evidence showing that the warrant in this case was facially valid and legally executed. Whether a search or seizure is performed pursuant to a warrant or is warrantless, the defendant under Crim.P. 41(e) bears the burden of going forward to show that the search or seizure violated his or her Fourth Amendment rights. The suppression order was reversed and the case was remanded to the trial court.

Summary and full case available here.