July 20, 2018

Colorado Supreme Court: Trial Court Had Jurisdiction to Impose Constructive Trust where Sister Misspent Multi-party Funds

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Sandstead-Corona v. Sandstead on Monday, April 9, 2018.

Implied Trusts—Probate Jurisdiction—C.R.S. § 15-10-501—No-Contest Clause.

This case raised multiple issues arising from a dispute between two sisters concerning their mother’s estate and funds contained in a multi-party account alleged to be non-probate assets. The supreme court first held that pursuant to C.R.S. § 13-9-103(3)(b), the trial court had jurisdiction to resolve the dispute over the funds in the multi-party account and to impose a constructive trust if appropriate because the facts presented a question as to whether the funds were part of mother’s estate. The court further concluded that the trial court properly imposed a constructive trust over these funds because the sister who was the surviving signatory on the multi-party account was in a confidential relationship with her mother and her sister, and she abused that relationship when she misspent the funds. Next, the court held that because an implied trust is included in the fiduciary oversight statute’s definition of an “estate,” the trial court properly surcharged the sister who was the signatory on the multi-party  account because she had misused the funds in the implied trust. Finally, the court found that although a no-contest clause that was contained in mother’s revocable trust was incorporated by reference into her will, by its plain language, that clause applied only to actions contesting the trust, not challenges to the will. Accordingly, the court held that the trial court erred in enforcing the no-contest clause against the sister who challenged the will. The court of appeals’ judgment was reversed and the case was remanded for further proceedings.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Reversal Based on Firm and Definite Conviction that Mistake Had Been Made

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Indian Mountain Corp. v. Indian Mountain Metropolitan District on Thursday, August 11, 2016.

In 1970, Indian Mountain Corporation’s (IMC’s) predecessor in interest purchased land and water rights in Park County with the intent of creating an upscale subdivision within a community of amenities. After residential construction had begun in the Indian Mountain subdivision, SB 72-35 passed, requiring the subdivision to obtain a water-court-approved augmentation plan. The plan required homeowners to drill a well at their own expense, but for many years, IMC maintained and operated the plan at its own expense.

In 1972, the developer spearheaded the creation of the Indian Mountain Parks & Recreation District, which was converted into the Indian Mountain Metropolitan District (IMMD) in 2012 in order to be able to legally purchase and provide water services. IMMD negotiated to purchase the plan from IMC, but was not successful. In 2013, owners of a neighboring ranch approached IMC’s director about purchasing the reservoir, and eventually purchased all of the assets of IMC, including the water plan. IMC’s new owner charged IMMD for its water usage, but IMMD did not pay the invoices.

IMC filed an action in district court, seeking a declaratory injunction that it is the legal owner of the water rights and the plan and IMMD has no right, title, or interest in them. IMMD filed an answer and counterclaim, seeking a declaratory injunction that the Indian Mountain lot owners owned the plan and water rights as beneficiaries of a constructive trust. The district court issued an order in favor of IMMD. IMC filed a post-judgment motion requesting a hearing on the amount of reasonable fees it could charge IMMD for ongoing operation of the plan, which the district court denied.

On appeal, the court of appeals ruled the district court erred in finding that the water rights and augmentation plan were held in a constructive trust. The court based its reversal on a “firm and definite conviction that a mistake ha[d] been made.” Because three experts testified that the lot prices included the cost of the plan, but all advanced different theories that were directly refuted by the documentary evidence in the record, the court found reversal necessary. The court of appeals found that the district court clearly erred in finding that the lot prices included the cost of the plan, and the unjust enrichment analysis failed at the first prong.

The judgment of the district court was reversed.