August 24, 2019

Tenth Circuit: SEC Asserted Sufficient Evidence that Defendants Were Operating Ponzi Scheme

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Securities and Exchange Commission v. Traffic Monsoon, LLC on Thursday, January 24, 2019.

The district court ordered the appointment of a receiver and granted a preliminary injunction enjoining Defendants from continuing business. On interlocutory appeal, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s preliminary rulings.

Traffic Monsoon is a Utah-based company that allegedly makes most of its money selling internet advertising packages to its members. Members who purchase the “Adpack” package also qualify to share in Traffic Monsoon’s revenue. Approximately 90% of Traffic Monsoon’s members reside outside the United States, and presumably bought the Adpacks while in their home countries.

The SEC alleged that the sale of the Adpacks constituted an illegal Ponzi scheme in violation of § 10(b) of the Exchange Act and § 17 of the Securities Act. The SEC asserted that, regardless of where the transactions had occurred, the Dodd-Frank amendments allowed the SEC to pursue its claims based on significant, allegedly wrongful conduct in the United States.

The SEC obtained from the district court an order for the appointment of a receiver over Defendants’ business and assets, and a preliminary injunction enjoining Defendants from continuing business. On interlocutory appeal, Defendants challenged the district court’s preliminary rulings on three theories.

First, Defendants argued that the antifraud provisions of the federal securities acts do not reach Traffic Monsoon’s sales of, or offers to sell, Adpacks to people living outside the U.S., which amounted to 90% of Traffic Monsoon’s Adpack sales.

The Court noted that while the originally enacted federal securities acts did not address the extraterritorial reach of the acts’ antifraud provisions, courts had historically applied the acts’ antifraud provisions extraterritorially when the “conduct-and-effects” test was satisfied, and treated the issue as a matter of subject-matter jurisdiction. However, Morrison v. National Australia Bank limited the substantive scope of the federal securities laws to U.S. based transactions, and held that the extraterritorial extent of U.S. law is not a jurisdictional issue, instead the issue goes to the substance of the securities laws.

The Court noted that the initial versions of the Dodd-Frank amendments had been drafted before the Morrison decision, and while Congress is deemed to be familiar with Supreme Court precedent when it enacts legislation, in the instant case it was more reasonable to assume that Morrison was issued too late in the legislative process to reasonably permit Congress to react to it.

The Court concluded that Congress had intended the Dodd-Frank amendments to allow the SEC and the United States to sue based on conduct or effects within the United States, regardless of where the securities transactions occurred. In other words, the SEC may bring an enforcement action based on allegedly foreign securities transactions involving non-U.S. residents if sufficient conduct occurred in the United States. The Court therefore applied the “conduct-and-effects” test, and concluded that the SEC’s allegations satisfied the test. Defendants had operated in the United States while allegedly defrauding foreign investors.

Second, Defendants argued that Adpacks are not “securities” and are therefore not subject to federal securities laws. The Court first found that the Adpack is an investment because it offered its purchasers an opportunity to share in Traffic Monsoon’s revenue in addition to the purchased advertising service, and the revenue sharing was in fact the primary drive for purchasing the Adpack. Next, the Court found that the Adpack is a common enterprise, because the shared revenue was generated from the sale of Traffic Monsoon’s advertising services. Finally, the Court found that the revenue Adpack purchasers share is derived almost exclusively from Defendants’ efforts to sell advertising services. The Court therefore concluded that the Adpacks qualified as securities because they met the three-part test for investment contracts.

Finally, Defendants argued that the SEC could not show that Defendants engaged in a fraudulent securities scheme with the requisite scienter. The Court rejected this argument, and found that the SEC had presented sufficient evidence that Defendants were operating an illegal Ponzi scheme with the required scienter, as Defendant’s were operating a Ponzi scheme, which is inherently deceptive because it gives the false appearance of profitability by using money from new investors to generate returns for earlier investors.

In a concurring opinion, Justice Briscoe rejected the premise that the Adpacks were foreign sales outside of the U.S., abating the need to address whether the antifraud provisions of the securities act apply extraterritorially. Instead, the SEC’s allegations satisfied Morrison’s transactional test, because Defendants had sold their products over the internet and had incurred irrevocable liability in the United States to deliver the products to the buyers, wherever located. Therefore, the SEC had sufficiently established that the Defendants sold securities in the United States in violation of the antifraud provisions of the securities acts.

Governor Polis Signs First Bills of 2019 Legislative Session Into Law

On Wednesday, February 20, 2019, Governor Polis signed seven bills into law. These bills were the first bills signed during this 2019 legislative session. The bills signed Wednesday are summarized here.

  • HB 19-1005: “Concerning an Income Tax Credit for Certain Early Childhood Educators,” by Reps. Janet Buckner & James Wilson and Sens. Nancy Todd & Kevin Priola. The bill provides an income tax credit to eligible early childhood educators who hold an early childhood professional credential and who, for at least 6 months of the taxable year, are either the head of a family child care home or are employed with an eligible early childhood education program or a family child care home. 
  • HB 19-1015: “Concerning the Recreation of the Colorado Water Institute,” by Rep. Jeni James Arndt and Sen. Joann Ginal. The Colorado water institute was created in 1981 and automatically repealed in 2017. The bill recreates the institute.
  • SB 19-018: “Concerning the Age Requirement to Drive a Commercial Vehicle in Interstate Commerce,” by Sens. Ray Scott & Vicki Marble and Reps. Barbara McLachlan & Lori Saine. The bill authorizes the department of revenue to adopt rules authorizing a person who is at least 18 years of age but under 21 years of age to be licensed to drive a commercial vehicle in interstate commerce if the person holds a commercial driver’s license and operation of a commercial vehicle in interstate commerce by a person in that age range is permitted under federal law.
  • SB 19-021: “Concerning Eliminating the Requirement that the State Board of Health Approve the Retention of Counsel in Certain Circumstances,” by Sen. Dominick Moreno and Rep. Hugh McKean. The bill removes the requirement that the State Board of Health approve the retention of counsel when the executive director of the Department of Public Health and Environment seeks to bring an action to enjoin, prosecute, or enforce public health laws or standards and the local district attorney fails to act.
  • SB 19-028: “Concerning the Authority of Licensing Authorities to Continue to Issue Certain Fermented Malt Beverage Retail Licenses in Rural Areas,” by Sens. Chris Holbert & Jeff Bridges and Reps. Hugh McKean & Julie McCluskie. Recent legislation (Senate Bill 18-243) terminated the licensing of retailers to sell fermented malt beverages (formerly known as “3.2 beer” but now including all beer) for consumption on and off a licensed premises, requiring the holder of such a license to combine its renewal application with an application to convert the license into either a license to sell for consumption on the licensed premises or a license to sell for consumption off the licensed premises.The bill lifts the requirement to convert an existing license, and reinstates the availability of new licenses, in specified areas with low populations.
  • SB 19-045: “Concerning Clarifying that Members of the Radiation Advisory Committee are Reimbursed for Expenses Incurred for Authorized Business of the Committee,” by Sen. Dominick Moreno and Rep. Edie Hooten. The bill clarifies that members of the radiation advisory committee are reimbursed for necessary and actual expenses incurred in attendance at meetings or for authorized business of the committee.
  • SB 19-058: “Concerning the Enactment of the Colorado Revised Statutes 2018 as the Positive and Statutory Law of the State of Colorado,” by Sen. Pete Lee and Rep. Leslie Herod. This bill enacts the softbound volumes of the Colorado Revised Statutes 2018 and the Special Supplement 2018 as the positive and statutory law of the state of Colorado and establishes the effective date of said publications.

For more information about the signed bills, click here.

Tenth Circuit: Despite Probability of Ongoing Harm, Business Failed to Show Former Employee’s Solicitation Violated Business Agreement

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in DTC Energy Group, Inc. v. Hirschfeld on Friday, December 28, 2018.

The district court denied plaintiff DTC Energy Group’s motion for preliminary injunctive relief. On appeal, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed.

DTC is a staffing and consulting firm, and has sued two of its former employees—Adam Hirschfeld and Joseph Galban—as well as a competing firm, Ally Consulting, LLC, for using DTC’s trade secrets to divert business from DTC to Ally.

Hirschfeld worked for DTC as a business development manager, and had signed an employment agreement that included confidentiality, non-solicitation, and non-interference provisions.  The confidentiality provision prohibited Hirschfeld from using DTC’s confidential information for his own benefit or the benefit of another company. The non-solicitation and non-interference provisions prohibited Hirschfeld from encouraging DTC’s current customers to take their business to a competitor and from recruiting DTC’s employees to work for a competitor, for the duration of his employment with DTC and for a period of 1-year thereafter, unless he resigned due to a change in ownership.

While employed by DTC, Hirschfeld used DTC’s resources to win business for Ally, allegedly in violation of his duty of loyalty to DTC and his employment agreement. Hirschfeld resigned from DTC in May 2017, citing a change in ownership. Upon his resignation, Hirschfeld took a flash drive containing DTC’s confidential information, and also kept his laptop logged into DTC’s Dropbox account so he could continue accessing DTC’s confidential information after his departure. The day after leaving DTC, Hirschfeld began working at Ally as its director of business development.

In September 2017, DTC filed its amended complaint and moved for preliminary injunction based on its claims for breach of contract, breach of duty of loyalty, misappropriation of trade secrets in violation of the federal Defend Trade Secrets Act and Colorado’s Uniform Trade Secrets Act, and unfair competition. The district court denied the motion, finding the duty of loyalty owed by defendants to DTC and the non-solicitation clause of Hirschfeld’s employment agreement had expired, and that DTC was unable to show a significant risk of future misappropriation of trade secrets and unfair competition. The district court reasoned that because a majority of the conduct at issue had occurred before DTC moved for a preliminary injunction, the resulting harm to DTC was therefore identifiable and could be remedied by an award of damages.

On appeal, DTC argued that the district court’s finding that DTC had established a significant risk of irreparable harm based on defendants’ past misconduct was erroneous because it failed to take into consideration the harm DTC continues to suffer as a result of defendants’ past misconduct—specifically the harm to DTC’s goodwill and competitive market position.

In its review of the district court’s decision, the Tenth Circuit focused on the showing of irreparable injury in the absence of the issuance of a preliminary injunction. The district court had found that DTC had shown a probability of irreparable harm from Hirschfeld’s ongoing breach of his employment agreement, but not with respect to DTC’s other claims.

DTC’s trade secret claims did not establish a probability of irreparable harm because there was no evidence in the record that defendants retained access to DTC’s confidential information or trade secrets. While the federal Defend Trade Secrets Act and Colorado’s Uniform Trade Secrets Act authorize preliminary injunctive relief to prevent actual or threated misappropriation of a trade secret, the Tenth Circuit concluded that DTC had not offered sufficient evidence that defendants currently possessed DTC’s trade secrets or would be likely to regain access to DTC’s trade secrets.

DTC’s unfair competition claim did not establish a probability of future irreparable harm because DTC had offered no evidence that Ally continues to appropriate DTC’s name or resources to solicit business, nor was there any evidence demonstrating ongoing confusion within the industry as to the relation between the two companies.

DTC’s breach of duty of loyalty claim also did not give rise to a future of irreparable harm. Because DTC identified the 12 contracts that Hirschfeld diverted from DTC to Ally and had previously hired experts to value the company during the change of ownership, the Court of Appeals reasoned that both the prior loss of DTC’s customers and consultants and the general decline of DTC’s value of a business could be quantified in money damages.

While DTC had shown a probability of future irreparable harm from Hirschfeld’s ongoing solicitation of DTC’s customers and consultants, the district court still denied injunctive relief as DTC had not shown a likelihood of success on the merits of the claim. The district court found that Hirschfeld was not bound by his employment’s non-solicitation provision as the change in ownership clause provision had been triggered.

On appeal, DTC argued that the prior breach doctrine prevented Hirschfeld from relying on the change in ownership clause, stating that Hirschfeld could not claim the benefit of the contract’s change in ownership clause after he had already violated the contract by improperly diverting business to Ally prior to his resignation. The Tenth Circuit agreed with the district court’s finding that the prior breach doctrine was inapplicable, as this was not an instance where DTC was defending against a demand specific performance, and the text of the employment agreement itself did not prevent Hirschfeld from relying on the provision in instances of prior breach. The Circuit went on to say that Hirschfeld’s present solicitation of DTC’s customers and consultants would not support issuing a preliminary injunction because the injunction would exceed the 1-year durational scope of the non-solicitation (the agreement’s provisions had expired prior to the time of the appeal).

In his concurrence, Judge McHugh wrote that in some circumstances an injunction can supported by the irreparable harm caused by defendants’ legal actions that would not have been possible but for their past breaches, as courts will sometimes enjoin future legal conduct because it was made possible by prior illegal conduct and will cause irreparable harm to the plaintiff. However, DTC had not pointed to any evidence of future irreparable harm stemming from defendants’ past misconduct (e.g., evidentiary support that DTC’s goodwill and competitive market position continues to be harmed) in the record that should have been considered by the district court, therefore the district court’s denial should be affirmed.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Under Rescue Doctrine, Plaintiff Must Have Physically Intervened to Stop Altercation

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Garcia v. Colorado Cab Co., LLC on Thursday, January 10, 2019.

Negligence—Personal Injury—Common Carrier/Passenger Relationship—Duty of Care—Rescue Doctrine.

A passenger in one of Colorado Cab Company’s taxis got into an altercation with the cab driver, Yusuf. Garcia, who thought the cab was the one for which he had called, approached the cab, told the passenger to leave Yusuf alone, and told them to stop fighting. Ultimately, the passenger assaulted Yusuf and Garcia and stole the taxi. The passenger then hit Garcia with the taxi, ran him over, and dragged him down the street.

Garcia suffered extensive injuries and sued Colorado Cab for negligence. Colorado Cab moved for summary judgment, arguing that it didn’t owe Garcia a duty of care and that any breach of such duty did not proximately cause Garcia’s injuries as a matter of law. The district court denied the motion. At trial, Colorado Cab moved twice for a directed verdict, based on the same reasoning in the summary judgment motion, and the district court denied those motions. A jury found for Garcia, and the district court entered judgment against Colorado Cab. The district court denied Colorado Cab’s subsequent motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict.

On appeal, Colorado Cab argued that the district court erred in determining that it owed Garcia a duty of care. In this case, Garcia alleged that Colorado Cab’s failure to take safety measures caused his injuries, which is nonfeasance (the defendant’s failure to prevent harm). In such cases, a duty exists only if there is a special relationship between the plaintiff and the defendant, which, as relevant here, is a common carrier/passenger relationship. No evidence showed that Garcia was a passenger or prospective passenger of the cab, so as a matter of law, there was no common carrier/passenger relationship between Garcia and Colorado Cab. Further, Garcia does not fall under the “rescue doctrine,” which extends a defendant’s liability to a plaintiff who attempts to rescue someone (1) to whom the defendant owed a duty, and (2) who was in danger because of the defendant’s negligence. Here, although Yusuf was in imminent peril, there was no evidence in the record that Garcia attempted to physically intervene. Therefore, there was no basis for extending any duty to Garcia, and the district court erred in denying Colorado Cab’s directed verdict and post-trial motions.
The judgment was reversed and the case was remanded for the district court to enter judgment in Colorado Cab’s favor.
 

Summary provided courtesy ofColorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Collection Agency’s Bold and All-Caps Statement Would Be Confusing to Least Sophisticated Consumer

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Garrett v. Credit Bureau of Carbon County on Thursday, October 18, 2018.

Debt CollectionColorado Fair Debt Collection Practices ActLeast Sophisticated Consumer.

Credit Bureau of Carbon County (Credit Bureau) is an agency that collects or attempts to collect debts owed, due, or asserted to be owed or due to another. It sent Garrett two collection notices demanding payment on a consumer debt. Garrett sued Credit Bureau, asserting that the language of its communications overshadowed and contradicted the statutory requirements of the Colorado Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (the Act). The district court concluded that Credit Bureau’s notices had not violated the Act and denied Garrett’s motion for judgment on the pleadings, granted Credit Bureau’s motion for summary judgment, and dismissed the case.

On appeal, Garrett contended that the district court wrongly concluded that Credit Bureau did not violate the Act because the format and content of Credit Bureau’s notices overshadowed or contradicted the statutorily required disclosures. The Act requires debt collectors to provide a debt validation notice describing the debt. It prohibits debt collectors from using false, deceptive, or misleading representations when collecting a debt. Overshadowing occurs when a collection letter contains the requisite validation notice, but that information is obscured or diminished by the letter’s presentation or format. Contradiction occurs when language accompanying the validation notice is inconsistent with the substance of the rights and duties that the statute imposes. In Flood v. Mercantile Adjustment Bureau, LLC, 176 P.3d 769 (Colo. 2008), the Supreme Court adopted the “least sophisticated consumer” test to determine whether a collection agency’s notice was confusing with respect to the statutorily required disclosures. Here, Credit Bureau’s use of the bold and capitalized phrase “WE CANNOT HELP YOU UNLESS YOU CALL” in the second notice would confuse the least sophisticated consumer because it was capable of being reasonably interpreted as changing the manner in which the consumer was required by law to dispute the debt or its amount. As a matter of law, the notice was deceptive or misleading in violation of the Act.

The judgment was reversed and the case was remanded for the district court to enter judgment for Garrett and award her statutory damages, costs, and a reasonable amount of attorney fees incurred on appeal.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Tenth Circuit: Age of Rental Car Driver Inconclusive to Support Tort Claims Against Rental Company

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Amparan v. Lake Powell Car Rental Companies on February 13, 2018.

Edmundo and Kimberly L. Amparan appeal from the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Lake Powell Car Rental Companies on the Amparans’ claims for negligent entrustment and loss of consortium. The claims arose from a vehicle accident involving a motorcycle operated by Mr. Amparan and a Ford Mustang rented by Lake Powell to Denizcan Karadeniz and operated by Mevlut Berkay Demir. Because the Amparans failed to come forward with evidence from which the jury could find an essential element of their claim for negligent entrustment, the appeals court affirmed.

On July 14, 2014, a group of Turkish nationals, including Mr. Karadeniz, visited Lake Powell to rent two vehicles. Mr. Karadeniz produced a valid Turkish driver’s license and a valid credit card. Mert Tacir, another member of the group, produced a valid Turkish driver’s license. The owner and operator of Lake Powell, Paul Williams, asked the remaining individuals in the group if they possessed valid driver’s licenses. Mr. Demir responded that he possessed a valid driver’s license. At the time of the rental, all three individuals were 21 years old. Although Mr. Williams recognized that Mr. Karadeniz and Mr. Tacir were under the age of 25, he nonetheless agreed to rent to rent a Dodge Caravan and a Ford Mustang to Mr. Karadeniz and to permit Mr. Tacir as an additional authorized driver for the Ford Mustang. None of the other members of the group, including Mr. Demir, completed an “Additional Driver Application/Agreement.” However, Mr. Demir testified that he understood Mr. Williams’ inquiry into whether he possessed a driver’s license as a signaling that he had Lake Powell’s implicit permission to operate the vehicles. Because a reasonable jury could adopt Mr. Demir’s understanding, the Tenth Circuit proceeded under the assumption that Lake Powell implicitly entrusted the rental vehicles to Mr. Demir. Evidence in the record supports the conclusion that Mr. Williams’ decision to rent two vehicles to an individual under the age of 25 and to permit an additional driver under the age of 25 violates internal policies propagated by Lake Powell’s licensor, Avis Rent A Car Systems, LLC.

During the course of the rental, Mr. Demir operated the Ford Mustang. Mr. Demir, unfamiliar with the traffic rules governing left turns at intersections, turned left on a solid green light without yielding to oncoming traffic. Mr. Amparan, traveling in the oncoming direction, unsuccessfully attempted to swerve to avoid hitting the turning vehicle operated by Mr. Demir and the two vehicles collided. As a result of the collision, Mr. Amparan alleges he suffered multiple broken bones, a punctured lung, and various other injuries.

The Amparans filed complaint in New Mexico state court, naming Mr. Demir, Mr. Karadeniz, and Avis as defendants. Avis removed the action to federal court, where, after an initial round of discovery, the district court granted the Amparans leave to amend their complaint to add Lake Powell as a defendant. The amended complaint raised claims against Lake Powell for negligent entrustment, loss of consortium, and negligent supervision and training. Lake Powell moved for summary judgment, arguing, in part, that even if it implicitly entrusted the Mustang to Mr. Demir, it neither knew nor should have known that Mr. Demir was likely to operate the vehicle in such a manner as to create an unreasonable risk of harm to others. In response to Lake Powell’s motion for summary judgment, the Amparans filed a notice of testifying expert on both the risk posed by young drivers and standards of care in the car rental industry. The Amparans also contested Lake Powell’s motion for summary judgment, arguing in part that Lake Powell’s violation of internal policies regarding renting to, or approving as additional drivers, individuals under age 25 constituted sufficient evidence to permit the finding that Lake Powell knew or should have known that Mr. Demir was likely to operate the Ford Mustang in such a manner as to create an unreasonable risk of harm to others.

The district court indicated it would not consider factual assertions in the Amparans’ response to summary judgment that did not comply with District of New Mexico Local Rule of Civil Procedure 56.1(b) and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c)(1)(A). The district court denied Lake Powell’s motion to strike as moot. The district court deemed the motions to strike moot based on its conclusion that the Amparans’ evidence regarding Lake Powell’s alleged violation of internal policies was insufficient, on its own, to permit a reasonable jury to conclude that Lake Powell knew or should have known that Mr. Demir was likely to operate the Mustang in such a manner as to create an unreasonable risk of harm to others. The district court concluded that the disputes of fact with respect to whether Lake Powell entrusted the Mustang to Mr. Demir and whether Lake Powell violated any internal policies were not material because resolution of the disputes in favor of the Amparans did not alter the summary judgment decision.

On appeal, the Amparans argued that the district court failed to perform a proper analysis, in that a New Mexico court would view evidence of a violation of internal policies, which are also allegedly industry standards, sufficient to advance a claim for negligent entrustment. Alternatively, the Amparans urged the Tenth Circuit to address the merits of Lake Powell’s motions to strike. The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Lake Powell on the Amparans’ claims for negligent entrustment and loss of consortium.

In an effort to overcome the extensive body of case law supporting the conclusion that the New Mexico Supreme Court would reject the proposition that evidence of a car rental company’s violation of internal policies is sufficient to establish the third element of a claim for negligent entrustment even where the entrustee possesses a valid driver’s license, the Amparans argued that their expert witness would testify on car rental industry standards regarding rentals to individuals under age 25. But the fact that evidence of a violation of an internal policy is probative on the question of negligence does not establish that the evidence is sufficient to make out a prima facie case of negligence. It cannot be said that the driver’s young age, on its own, makes it likely that the driver will cause an accident, will operate the vehicle in an incompetent manner, or will operate the vehicle in such a manner as to create an unreasonable risk of harm to others. For, if such were true, no individual in New Mexico could grant a person under the age of 25 permission to drive a vehicle without facing liability for negligent entrustment based solely on the entrustee’s youthful age.

Accordingly, the Tenth Circuit held that the New Mexico Supreme Court would conclude that evidence of a car rental company’s violation of internal policies on the minimum age of renters and drivers is, on its own, insufficient to establish the third element of a claim for negligent entrustment of a motor vehicle. Thus, the Amparans failed to advance sufficient evidence to make out a prima facie case of negligent entrustment.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Lake Powell on the Amparans’ claims for negligent entrustment and loss of consortium.

Colorado Supreme Court: Tort Cannot Be Transaction Giving Rise to Obligation to Pay Money, Therefore Not Debt Per Fair Debt Collection Practices Act

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Ybarra v. Greenberg & Sada, P.C. on Monday, October 15, 2018.

Finance, Banking, and Credit—Insurance—Statutory Interpretation—Torts.

Ybarra petitioned for review of the court of appeals’ judgment affirming the dismissal of her Colorado Fair Debt Collection Practices Act action against Greenberg & Sada, P.C. The district court dismissed for failure to state a claim, finding that damages arising from a subrogated tort claim do not qualify as a debt within the contemplation of the Act. The court of appeals agreed, reasoning that the undefined term “transaction” in the Act’s definition of “debt,” required some kind of business dealing, as distinguished from the commission of a tort; and to the extent an insurance contract providing for the subrogation of the rights of an insured constitutes a transaction in and of itself, that transaction is not one obligating the debtor to pay money, as required by the Act.

The supreme court held that because a tort does not obligate the tortfeasor to pay damages, a tort cannot be a transaction giving rise to an obligation to pay money, and is therefore not a debt within contemplation of the Act; and because an insurance contract providing for the subrogation of the rights of a damaged insured is not a transaction giving rise to an obligation of the tortfeasor to pay money, it also cannot constitute a transaction creating a debt within contemplation of the Act.

Accordingly, the court of appeals’ judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: City Improperly Imposed Use Tax on Purchases from Wholesalers that were Later Sold at Retail

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Big Sur Waterbeds, Inc. v. City of Lakewood on Thursday, October 4, 2018.

Sales and Use TaxDisplayed Furniture—Primary Purpose of Purchase.

The City of Lakewood (Lakewood) imposes use tax on tangible personal property purchased at retail and used in the city. The use tax does not apply to wholesale purchases (i.e., purchases for resale to others). Big Sur Waterbeds, Inc., Denver Mattress Co., LLC, and Sofa Mart, LLC (collectively, plaintiffs) purchase furniture tax-free from wholesalers worldwide and resell it in stores, including in Lakewood. At each Lakewood store, plaintiffs provide a showroom where they display furniture for customers to peruse and try out. Plaintiffs also maintain warehouses where they store the bulk of their inventory. Plaintiffs ultimately sell all the furniture, including the displayed furniture, and fill customer orders from either the warehouses or the showrooms. Plaintiffs’ customers pay Lakewood’s sales tax on each purchase.

Lakewood assessed use tax on plaintiffs’ purchases of displayed furniture from 2012 to 2015, on the theory that plaintiffs purchased the displayed furniture at retail for their own use in advertising their products. Plaintiffs challenged the assessments in the district court, which entered judgment in their favor.

On appeal, Lakewood contended that while plaintiffs’ inventory purchases were initially treated as exempt wholesale purchases, when a portion of this wholesale inventory was withdrawn for use as demonstration and promotion tools, the transactions were properly recharacterized as taxable retail transactions. Lakewood relied on its Initial Use Regulation and regulation 3.01.300(1)(b), pertaining to initial use of property, which focus on the primary purpose of the purchase. The court of appeals employed the “primary purpose” test from A.B. Hirschfeld Press, Inc. v. City and County of Denver, 806 P.2d 917, 918–26 (Colo. 1991), and determined that the totality of plaintiffs’ conduct indicates that they purchased the displayed furniture primarily for resale in an unaltered condition and basically unused. Because plaintiffs purchased the displayed furniture primarily for resale, not for their own use or consumption, the Initial Use Regulation does not apply. Similarly, regulation 3.01.300(1)(b), which pertains to tax-free purchases for resale that are later removed from inventory for the purchaser’s own use, does not apply because the displayed furniture was always available for resale and eventually sold. Therefore, Lakewood’s use tax does not apply to the retailers’ purchases and minor use of the furniture for display.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Satisfaction of Statutory Criteria Qualifies Acquiring Employer as “Successor” for Unemployment Purposes

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Dos Almas LLC v. Industrial Claim Appeals Office on Thursday, September 20, 2018.

Unemployment Tax—C.R.S. § 8-76-104(1)(a)Successor Employer.

Dos Almas LLC began operating a restaurant after it acquired nearly all of the assets of WooPig LLC, which had operated a different restaurant at the same location. After the acquisition, Dos Almas applied for an unemployment compensation insurance account and a determination of employer liability by submitting a form along with a copy of the asset purchase agreement to the Department of Labor and Employment (Department).

A deputy ruled that Dos Almas was a successor employer to WooPig for unemployment compensation tax rate liability purposes because it met the requirements of C.R.S. § 8-76-104(1)(a) due to the acquisition. Dos Almas appealed more than eight months after the applicable 21-day time limit. Nevertheless, a hearing officer ruled that good cause was shown for the delay, and following a hearing the officer found that Dos Almas was not a successor entity to WooPig under the statutory criteria largely because it did not retain the employees as part of the asset sale. A panel of the Industrial Claims Appeal Office (the Panel) reversed. The Panel upheld the factual findings, but based on Dos Almas having acquired 90% of WooPig’s physical and intangible assets, ruled that it had acquired substantially all of WooPig’s assets and thereby met the statutory criteria to be considered a successor employer for unemployment compensation tax rate liability purposes.

On appeal, Dos Almas contended that the Panel erred in ruling that it is a successor to WooPig for unemployment tax rate liability purposes. The hearing officer’s factual findings support the conclusion that Dos Almas is a successor employer to WooPig for unemployment compensation tax rate liability purposes under the applicable statutory criteria in C.R.S. § 8-76-104(1)(a). Further, the lack of employee retention in the asset purchase transaction is irrelevant to the successor issues in this case. The Panel did not err.

The order was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Phrase “Arising Under” in Arbitration Clause Should Be Interpreted Broadly

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Digital Landscape Inc. v. Media Kings LLC on Thursday, September 20, 2018.

Arbitration Clause “Arising Under”Broad DefinitionAttorney Fees.

Media Kings LLC (Media) entered into a contract to provide marketing services to Transcendent Marketing, LLC (Transcendent). Media then contracted with Digital Landscape Inc. (Digital) to provide advertising services to Transcendent. The contract between Media and Digital had an arbitration clause providing that any disputes arising under the agreement would be resolved by binding arbitration. Per the contract, Media agreed to pay Digital a portion of its earnings from Transcendent in exchange for Digital’s work on the project. Media failed to pay Digital, and Transcendent proposed that Digital take over the project. Digital’s principal officer agreed, but had one of his other companies take over the work. Thus, Media was effectively cut out of its agreement with Transcendent.

Digital sued Media for breach of contract, and as relevant here, Media filed a counterclaim alleging that Digital had breached the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. The district court ordered the parties to arbitrate the dispute. The arbitrator awarded Digital $68,197.41. While discussing the counterclaim, the arbitrator also referred to it as addressing a breach of Digital’s duty of loyalty to Media. The arbitrator decided that Digital still owed a duty of loyalty to Media that it had breached, and she awarded Media damages on the counterclaim. Lastly, finding that there was no prevailing party, she declined to award either party attorney fees. The district court confirmed the order.

On appeal, Digital contended that the arbitrator lacked jurisdiction to consider whether Digital had breached a duty of loyalty to Media because this claim did not “arise under” the arbitration clause. The court of appeals analyzed the phrase “arising under” and concluded that it was sufficiently broad to include the duty-of-loyalty counterclaim. Further, the arbitration clause was unrestricted.

Digital further contended that the arbitrator improperly converted the counterclaim alleging breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing to a different one, breach of loyalty, which Media had not raised. It alleged that the ruling on this different claim was unfair and the award to Media was therefore void. The court found as an initial matter that the arbitrator did not intend to rule on a facially different counterclaim. But even assuming that she had, the different claim was within the issues that the parties had agreed to submit. The arbitrator did not exceed her powers because the substituted counterclaim “arose under” the contract between Digital and Media. Further, the evidence and arguments were encompassed in the breach-of-the-duty-of-good-faith-and-fair-dealing claim. The district court did not err when it confirmed the arbitrator’s award.

Finally, Digital argued that the arbitrator exceeded her authority by refusing to award attorney fees because neither party had prevailed. The court concluded there was clearly no prevailing party, so the arbitrator did not have to award attorney fees.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Herrick K. Lidstone, Jr., Esq. Receives Cathy Stricklin Krendl Business Lawyer Lifetime Achievement Award

Cathy Stricklin Krendl and Todd Olinger present Herrick Lidstone with “The Cathy Stricklin Krendl Business Lawyer Lifetime Achievement Award.”

The Business Law Section of the Colorado Bar Association recognizes that many of its members and other lawyers actively participate in the process of improving the business laws of the State of Colorado by working together to draft business legislation, help other lawyers understand and practice business law, and promote high standards of professionalism for and mutual respect among Colorado lawyers who practice business law. The Section recognizes that these lawyers have devoted many uncompensated hours and much thought participating in this process and believes that this participation, which has consistently been without regard to personal or client interests, has resulted in the improvement of Colorado business law and its practice by Colorado business lawyers.

The Section believes that it is appropriate to recognize some of the many Colorado lawyers who have participated in this process and has created an award known as “The Cathy Stricklin Krendl Business Lawyer Lifetime Achievement Award.” This award is given from time to time to persons selected by the Executive Council of the Section.

The Executive Council considers, among such other attributes as it may determine, the recipient’s intellectual and professional excellence in the practice of or scholarship on Colorado business law; the recipient’s generosity of spirit as reflected in the recipient’s participation in and contribution to the advancement of Colorado business law; the recipient’s efforts to enhance the general quality of business law practice by Colorado lawyers; and the recipient’s devotion to the principles of legal professionalism, all manifested consistently over years of endeavor.

On June 20, 2018, the Executive Council of the CBA Business Law Section considered several excellent nominations for the award and voted to recognize Herrick K. Lidstone, Jr. for his many years of furthering the development of practical, comprehensive and well-drafted business related legislation, for writing about and teaching Colorado business law and for his devotion to enduring principles of professionalism in his legal career.

Herrick K. Lidstone, Jr. was presented with the award at the 2018 Business Law Institute on September 12, 2018 in Denver.

Colorado Supreme Court: Innocent Investor to Ponzi Scheme Lacks Any Right to Return on Investment

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Lewis v. Taylor on Monday, September 17, 2018.

Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act—Ponzi Schemes—Reasonably Equivalent Value.

The supreme court held that under the Colorado Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act (CUFTA), an innocent investor who profits from his investment in an equity-type Ponzi scheme, lacking any right to a return on investment, does not provide reasonably equivalent value based simply on the time value of his investment. Here, an investor unwittingly invested in a Ponzi scheme. Before the scheme’s collapse, he withdrew his entire investment, plus a profit. A court-appointed receiver sued to claw back the investor’s profits under CUFTA, C.R.S. § 38-8-105(1)(a), which provides that a “transfer made . . . by a debtor is fraudulent as to a creditor . . . if the debtor made the transfer . . . [w]ith actual intent to hinder, delay, or defraud any creditor of the debtor.” The investor raised an affirmative defense, C.R.S. § 38-8-109(1), contending that he could keep his profit because he “took in good faith and for a reasonably equivalent value.” Because the time value of money is not a source of “value” under CUFTA and equity investors have no guarantee of any return on their investments, the court concluded that the investor did not provide “reasonably equivalent value” in exchange for his profit. Accordingly, the court reversed the court of appeals’ judgment.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.