August 16, 2018

Colorado Supreme Court: No Fraud Where Assignment Clause Made Clear that Buyers Could Assign Interests

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Rocky Mountain Exploration, Inc. v. Davis, Graham & Stubbs, LLP on Monday, June 11, 2018.

Undisclosed Principals—Fraud—Breach of Fiduciary Duty—Restatement (Third) of Agency.

This case arose out of a sale of oil and gas assets by petitioners to a buyer who was acting as an agent for a third company. The third company was represented by respondents, but due to a prior, contentious business relationship between petitioners and the third company, neither the buyer, the third company, nor respondents disclosed to petitioners that the buyer was acting on behalf of the third company in the sale.

After the sale was complete, petitioners learned of the third company’s involvement and sued respondents, among others, for breach of fiduciary duty, fraud, and civil conspiracy. The district court ultimately granted summary judgment for respondents, and a division of the court of appeals affirmed.

The supreme court here decided whether (1) petitioners could avoid their sale agreement for fraud when the buyer and respondents purportedly created the false impression that the buyer was not acting on behalf of the third company; (2) an assignment clause in the transaction documents sufficiently notified petitioners that the buyer was acting on behalf of others, such that the third company would not be considered an undisclosed principal under the Restatement provision on which petitioners’ contract avoidance argument is exclusively premised; (3) petitioners stated a viable claim for fraud against respondents; and (4) prior agreements between petitioners and the third company negated any joint venture relationship or fiduciary obligations between them.

The court first concluded that the assignment clause in the pertinent transaction documents made clear that the buyer had partners in the transaction to whom it could assign a portion of its interests. As a result, the third company was not an undisclosed principal under the Restatement provision on which petitioners’ rely, and petitioners’ contract avoidance argument and the civil conspiracy claim that flows from it fail as a matter of law. The court further concluded that, even if the Restatement provision did apply, the record did not support a finding that either the buyer or respondents created a false impression that the buyer was not acting on behalf of an undisclosed principal. For this reason as well, petitioners’ civil conspiracy claim failed as a matter of law.

The court next concluded that, as a matter of law, petitioners did not demonstrate the requisite false representation or reasonable reliance to support a viable claim for fraud against respondents.

Finally, the court concluded that the controlling agreements between petitioners and the third company expressly disavowed any pre-existing joint ventures and fiduciary obligations between the parties, and therefore the district court properly granted summary judgment for respondents on petitioners’ claim for aiding and abetting a breach of fiduciary duty.

Accordingly, the court affirmed the court of appeals division’s judgment.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Notice of Appeal Timely Filed 49 Days After Denial of Motion for Reconsideration

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Semler v. Hellerstein on Thursday, October 6, 2016.

Notice of Appeal—Timeliness—Amended Complaint—Jurisdiction—Motion to Dismiss—Fraud—Concealment—Misrepresentation—Civil Conspiracy—Breach of Fiduciary Duty—Breach of Contract—Third Party Beneficiary—Attorney Fees.

Plaintiff Semler and defendant Perfect Place, LLC are both members of the 1940 Blake Street Condominium Association (Association). Defendant Hellerstein owns and controls both Perfect Place, LLC and Bruce S. Hellerstein, CPA P.C. (collectively, Perfect Place defendants). Hellerstein also served as treasurer of the Association. Defendant Bewley is an attorney employed by defendant law firm Berenbaum Weinshienk, P.C. At all relevant times, Bewley represented Hellerstein and his two corporate entities.

The current litigation stems from a related quiet title action in which Perfect Place asked the court to determine that it was the rightful owner of parking spaces C, D, and E. The court presiding over the quiet title action determined that Semler owned parking spaces C and D, while Perfect Place owned parking space E. Semler then brought the current suit, claiming that Bewley and Hellerstein devised a scheme to gain title to Semler’s parking spaces C and D. Semler’s first amended complaint alleged claims only for breach of fiduciary duty against Hellerstein, aiding and abetting that breach against Bewley, and civil conspiracy against all defendants. The court granted defendants’ motions to dismiss. Semler then moved to amend his complaint a second time, proposing to add claims for fraud, nondisclosure and concealment, negligent misrepresentation, negligent supervision, vicarious liability, and breach of contract. He also more clearly explained that he was seeking damages for lost income opportunities he suffered as a result of having to defend against the quiet title action. The court denied Semler’s second motion to amend based on lack of standing to pursue alleged fraud or misrepresentation against the prior owner of the parking spaces and awarded attorney fees in favor of defendants.

On appeal, defendants asserted that Semler’s notice of appeal was untimely and, therefore, the Colorado Court of Appeals lacked jurisdiction to consider the appeal. The court determined that Semler timely filed his notice of appeal 49 days after the court denied his C.R.C.P. 59 motion for reconsideration.

Semler contended that the trial court erred by denying his motion for leave to amend his complaint a second time. The court’s dismissal of the action was specifically premised on Semler’s fraud claims, which were new to the second amended complaint. It was therefore apparent to the court that although the trial court denied the motion to amend, it considered the claims in the second amended complaint when ruling on the motion to dismiss.

Semler argued that the trial court erred in granting defendants’ motions to dismiss. Semler’s fraud, concealment, and misrepresentation claims were all premised on conversations and transactions between the prior owner of the parking spaces and defendants in which Semler was not involved. Semler lacked standing to bring those claims. Semler’s claims for lost opportunity damages are too remote and unforeseeable to be recoverable under these claims. Therefore, these claims failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted and should have been dismissed under C.R.C.P. 12(b)(5).

Semler also contended that defendants conspired with each other to obtain his parking spaces. He is not entitled to relief on a civil conspiracy claim against Bewley because a director cannot conspire with the corporation that he serves, which is the premise of Semler’s argument. Additionally, because Hellerstein was not acting in his role as treasurer when he engaged in the allegedly fraudulent conduct, Semler’s breach of fiduciary duty claim against Hellerstein fails. Because these claims fail, Semler’s aiding and abetting breach of fiduciary duty claim against Bewley and negligent supervision and vicarious liability claims against Bewley’s law firm, Berenbaum Weinshienk, fail as well.

As to his breach of contract claim, although Semler was not a party to the contract between Berenbaum Weinshienk and the Association in which Berenbaum Weinshienk agreed that it would not represent one Association member against another, Semler sufficiently pleaded a third-party beneficiary breach of contract claim pursuant to this agreement. Therefore, the case was remanded to the trial court for further proceedings on this claim.

Semler also contended that if the dismissal order is reversed, the attorney fees award in favor of defendants must also be reversed. Only Semler’s breach of contract claim survives C.R.C.P. 12(b) dismissal. Thus, because that claim was not pleaded against the Perfect Place defendants, the attorney fees award to them remains undisturbed. The order awarding fees award under this statute to Bewley and Berenbaum Weinshienk was reversed.

The orders were affirmed in part and reversed in part, and the case was remanded with directions.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Frederick Skillern: Real Estate Case Law — Foreclosure, Debtor-Creditor, Receivers, Lender Liability

Editor’s note: This is Part 12 of a series of posts in which Denver-area real estate attorney Frederick Skillern provides summaries of case law pertinent to real estate practitioners (click here for previous posts). These updates originally appeared as materials for the 32nd Annual Real Estate Symposium in July 2014.

frederick-b-skillernBy Frederick B. Skillern

Colorado Community Bank v. Hoffman
Colorado Court of Appeals, November 7, 2013
2013 COA 146

Receiver; order for sale certified as final judgment; C.R.C.P. 54(b); deadline to appeal; abuse of process; civil conspiracy.

This action arises from the judicial dissolution of certain companies in the course of a receivership proceeding. The companies were formed to develop golf courses. The bank sought appointment of a receiver when the companies defaulted on development loans. Certain individuals intervened and joined in the motion for appointment of a receiver. The companies asserted counterclaims for abuse of process and civil conspiracy.

The court granted a motion by the receiver for the companies to sell the golf courses to an entity controlled by the intervening individuals. The district court certified the sale orders as final under C.R.C.P. 54(b) to allow an appeal. The sale orders disposed of an “entire claim for relief” for purposes of C.R.C.P. 54(b) certification. Is a sale order in the course of a receivership action an “entire claim”? It can be, reasons the court. It states that prior cases have suggested that orders concerning property ownership can properly be certified. In Corporon v. Safeway Stores, Inc., 708 P.2d 1385 (Colo. App. 1985), the court held that “a quiet title claim is separable from slander and defamation claims, and therefore, properly certifiable under C.R.C.P. 54(b).” Because defendants did not appeal this order within forty-five days of the certification, but rather waited until the counterclaims had been resolved, the court of appeals lacked jurisdiction over this issue and that portion of the appeal was dismissed.

The court affirms the summary judgment order dismissing the abuse of process and civil conspiracy claims. Although the evidence might have proved that the interveners had an ulterior motive in bringing the receivership action, it did not establish the requisite improper use of process element. The rule was recently stated in Sterenbuch v. Goss, 266 P.3d 428 (Colo. App. 2011):

If the action is confined to its regular and legitimate function in relation to the cause of action stated in the complaint there is no abuse, even if the plaintiff had an ulterior motive in bringing the action or if he knowingly brought suit upon an unfounded claim.

The court agrees with the trial court that the claims failed this test. Because the companies’ conspiracy claims were based on the alleged underlying wrong of abuse of process, this claim also failed.

 

Armed Forces Bank v. Hicks
Colorado Court of Appeals, June 5, 2014
2014 COA 74

Guarantor; waiver of anti-deficiency rights; C.R.S. 38-38-106(6); good faith bid at foreclosure sale.

The bank makes a $6 million loan to a closely held, single asset company to build a condominium project in Glenwood Springs. The loan is personally guaranteed by Mr. and Mrs. Hicks, the principals of the company. After the loan goes into default in 2009, the bank agrees to several loan extensions, after which the company remained in default for failure to make certain payments and failure to obtain planning department approval of a condominium plat. After a trip by the company through bankruptcy court, the bank forecloses. At the foreclosure sale, the bank bids $3.7 million, leaving a $6 million deficiency, after all interest, costs and the like are added to the final tab. The bank files a civil action to collect the deficiency against Hicks. The Hicks attempt to assert defenses based on failure to make a bid based on a good faith estimate of fair market value, and alleging that the bank violated its duty of good faith and fair dealing by refusing to approve the plat ten months after the borrowers’ default. In effect, they argue that the bank failed to mitigate its damages by not allowing the plat to be recorded, even if the borrowers were in default, because the property would be more valuable at that point and the receiver would be able to lease the property, generating income to apply to the loan balance.

The court of appeals affirms the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the bank, holding that the guaranty contained a specific, and very broad, waiver of any right to challenge the bank’s bid at the foreclosure sale based on a “one action or antideficiency law.” In a case of first impression, the court holds that the statutory duty of a creditor under C.R.S. § 38-38-106(6) to bid its good faith estimate of fair market value may be waived, and that such an agreement is not void for violation of public policy. The court contrasts this statute, which has no provision barring a contractual waiver of its terms, with C.R.S. § 38-38-703, which explicitly prohibits agreements to waive, inter alia, the right of cure and redemption. The court notes that there is still a common law duty to make a good faith bid, under Chew v. Acacia Mutual Life, 165 Colo. 43, 437 P.2d 339 (1968) (bid not made in good faith on the basis of what the security could reasonably be expected to produce on sale at its fair market price), but the guaranty signed by Mr. and Mrs. Hicks included a waiver of “any defenses given to guarantors in law or in equity” except for payment of the indebtedness.

It will be interesting to see if the Supreme Court wants to take a look at this.

Frederick B. Skillern, Esq., is a director and shareholder with Montgomery Little & Soran, P.C., practicing in real estate and related litigation and appeals. He serves as an expert witness in cases dealing with real estate, professional responsibility and attorney fees, and acts as a mediator and arbitrator in real estate cases. Before joining Montgomery Little in 2003, Fred was in private practice in Denver for 6 years with Carpenter & Klatskin and for 10 years with Isaacson Rosenbaum. He served as a district judge for Colorado’s Eighteenth Judicial District from 2000 through 2002. Fred is a graduate of Dartmouth College, and received his law degree at the University of Colorado in 1976, in another day and time in which the legal job market was simply awful.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Appeal Untimely When Filed After Resolution of Case but Not Within 45 Days of C.R.C.P. 54(b) Certification

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Colorado Community Bank v. Hoffman on Thursday, November 7, 2013.

Judicial Dissolution—CRCP 54(b)—Final Judgment—Receiver—Abuse of Process—Civil Conspiracy.

This action arose from the judicial dissolution of certain companies in the course of a receivership proceeding. Defendants appealed from orders certified as final under CRCP 54(b) and from orders granting summary judgment to intervenors Victor Harshberger, Kenneth Adelberg, and Robert Williams on defendants’ counterclaims for abuse of process and civil conspiracy. The appeal was dismissed in part and affirmed in part.

Walter E. Hoffman was the president and chief executive officer of Oxford Resource & Management (Oxford). Oxford, Adelberg, and Williams owned equity membership interests in KDGC Holdings, LLC (Holdings). Holdings was the parent of three operating subsidiaries, which served as the ownership structure for three golf courses. Hoffman served as general manager of all of the entities owned by Holdings. Plaintiff Colorado Community Bank (Bank) made several loans to finance Holdings’ acquisitions of two of the golf courses. Bank initiated this action after Hoffman and the subsidiary defaulted on this loan, and intervenors joined to appoint a receiver to remove Hoffman from control.

After the assets of Holdings and the subsidiaries were sold, the intervenors moved to certify the sale orders as final under CRCP 54(b). Over Hoffman’s objection, the district court granted the intervenors’ motion. Defendants contended that the district court erred in numerous ways when it issued the sale orders. The sale orders disposed of an “entire claim for relief” for purposes of CRCP 54(b) certification. Because defendants did not appeal this order within forty-five days of the certification, the Court of Appeals lacked jurisdiction over this issue and that portion of the appeal was dismissed.

Defendants also contended that the district court erred in granting summary judgment to the intervenors on defendants’ counterclaims for abuse of process and civil conspiracy. Although the evidence might have proved that the intervenors had an ulterior motive in bringing the receivership action, it did not establish the requisite improper use of process element. Therefore, defendant’s abuse of process claim failed. Because defendants’ conspiracy claims were based on the alleged underlying wrong of abuse of process, these claims also failed.

Summary and full case available here.