May 22, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: No Violation of Open Meetings Law in Establishing Process to Refer Physicians for Disciplinary Investigations Related to MMJ Prescriptions

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in John Doe No. 1-9 v. Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment on Thursday, July 26, 2018.

Open Meetings LawState Public BodyAdministrative Procedure Act—Colorado Open Records Act—Attorney Fees and CostsMedical MarijuanaC.R.S. § 24-4-106(8)—Final Agency Action.

The Colorado Constitution authorizes physicians to recommend the medical use of marijuana for patients with debilitating medical conditions. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) is designated as “the state health agency” to administer Colorado’s medical marijuana program and is required to promulgate rules to administer the program. CDPHE created the medical marijuana registry to meet its requirement to establish a confidential registry of patients who are entitled to receive medical marijuana cards.

CDPHE has discretion to refer physicians to the Colorado Medical Board (the Board) for violations of medical marijuana laws. The Board, which is entirely separate from CDPHE and is housed under the Department of Regulatory Agencies, determines whether such violations exist.

Wolk, the CDPHE executive director, and Riggins, the state registrar and director of the Medical Marijuana Registry, (collectively, the Department) referred John Does 1 through 9 (collectively, the Doctors) to the Board for investigation of unprofessional conduct involving the Doctors’ certification of patients for the use of medical marijuana. The Department based its referrals on its medical marijuana policy (the Policy).

The Doctors then submitted Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) requests to the Department and the Board, seeking public records about, among other things, the Policy. The Department responded to the request, but withheld certain documents. The Doctors then brought this action against the Department and the Board, alleging violations of Colorado’s Open Meetings Law (OML) and the State Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and seeking injunctive and declaratory relief. The district court dismissed the claims against the Board and granted summary judgment on the Doctors’ OML and APA claims against the Department and, as a result, declared the Policy void.

On appeal, the Department argued for reversal of the summary judgment, contending that the entire agency cannot constitute a “state public body” under the OML, so the OML doesn’t apply. Under the OML’s plain language, the Department is not a state public body. Thus, the district court erred in granting summary judgment on the Doctors’ OML claim against the Board.

The Doctors challenged the dismissal of their OML claim against the Board. However, they did not allege that the Board had authority to enact or implement the Policy, or that it had enacted the Policy. Thus, even accepting as true the Doctors’ allegations that Board employees attended meetings to discuss and develop the Policy, the complaint failed to allege facts showing a link between the meetings and the Board’s policy-making powers. Thus, the Board is not subject to the OML.

The Doctors also challenged the denial of their request for attorney fees and costs under the OML. Given the case disposition, the court of appeals rejected the request.

The Department also argued that the district court erred in finding that the APA applied to the Department referrals because they are not a “final agency action” under the APA. Subject to an exception under C.R.S. § 24-4-106(8), only final agency action is subject to review. The referrals were not final; they didn’t determine anything, and it is uncertain whether an investigation will result in a finding of a violation or any other action. The Doctors sought to enjoin the referrals under the C.R.S. § 24-4-106(8) exception, which allows interlocutory review of agency actions in which a party will suffer irreparable harm. But to fit under the exception, the referrals must be a “proceeding” under the APA, which they are not. The district court erred in granting summary judgment on the Doctors’ APA claims against the Department based on the referrals.

The Doctors further argued that the Policy itself was a final agency action that did not comply with the APA’s rulemaking requirements. Here, the Policy was not binding and did not confer any power the Department did not already have, so it fell within the APA’s exception to the notice and hearing rulemaking requirements.

The Doctors also objected to the dismissal of the APA claims against the Board. However, they developed no argument in their opening brief about how the APA applies to the Board, and their discussion of the APA in their reply brief was too late.

The Doctors next argued that the district court erred in denying an award for attorney fees and costs associated with their request to obtain access to public documents under CORA. A party requesting an order to show cause for the disclosure of public records is not entitled to attorney fees and costs if the requesting party has filed a lawsuit against a state public body and the records relate to the pending litigation and are otherwise discoverable under the rules of civil procedure, which was the case here. The district court did not err in denying attorney fees and costs under CORA.

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

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Open Meetings Law Allows Voiding of Actions Taken Without Meeting

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Wisdom Works Counseling Services, P.C. v. Colorado Department of Corrections on Thursday, August 27, 2015.

Sex Offender Treatment—Application—Denial—Colorado’s Open Meeting Law.

The Approved Treatment Provider Review Board (Board) denied two applications by plaintiff for certification as an approved provider of sex offender treatment for Colorado Department of Corrections (DOC) parolees. The Board denied both applications based on independent reviews by two of its members but without a meeting among the members of the entire Board. The trial court concluded that the Board had violated former DOC Regulation 250-23 (2011) by denying the applications without meeting. The DOC appealed.

The Board is a “state public body” and subject to the Colorado’s Open Meetings Law (OML). OML prohibits public businesses from being conducted “in secret.” Although OML does not require public bodies to meet, the remedy of voiding certain actions taken without meeting applies to a public body, even if its regulations or practices do not require a meeting. Because the Board denied the applications without meeting, the denials must be set aside. On remand, the district court shall return the proceeding to the Board for further action consistent with this opinion.

On cross-appeal, plaintiff contended that the trial court erred in holding that the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) did not apply to the Board’s actions and in denying CRCP 106 relief. Because CRS § 17-1-111 exempts the denials from the APA, the portion of the trial court’s order rejecting plaintiff’s APA claim was affirmed.

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

Colorado Court of Appeals: Day-to-Day Oversight of Personnel Exempted from Disclosure Under Open Meetings Law

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Arkansas Valley Publishing Co. v. Lake County Board of County Commissioners on Thursday, July 16, 2015.

Executive Session—Colorado Open Meetings Law—Personnel Discussions.

On February 19, 2013, the Lake County Board of County Commissioners (Board) convened an executive session to discuss a disciplinary matter involving the director of the Lake County Building and Land Use Department. An employee in the department had accused the director of criminal conduct. Plaintiff sought an order from the trial court for the Board to disclose the audio recording of its executive session after the Board had denied its request. The trial court granted the order.

On appeal, the Board contended that the district court erred by ordering the executive session recordings to be disclosed. The executive session was a meeting subject to the Colorado Open Meetings Law (OML). However, meetings involving the “day-to-day oversight of property or supervision of employees by county commissioners” are exempt from the notice requirement. Because the executive session here falls within this exception, the Board was not required to provide full and timely notice before convening the executive session to discuss the director’s employment status and record of that meeting was not subject to disclosure under the OML. Accordingly, the district court erred by granting plaintiff’s request for the Board to disclose the records of the executive session. The order was reversed and the case was remanded with directions for the district court to address plaintiff’s alternative grounds for disclosure under the Colorado Open Records Act.

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

Colorado Court of Appeals: Open Meetings Law Prohibits Use of Secret Ballots

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Weisfield v. City of Arvada on Thursday, April 9, 2015.

Lack of Standing—Secret Ballots and Open Meetings Law.

This case concerned the use of secret ballots by Arvada’s mayor and city council members to fill a vacancy on the council for Arvada District 1. Plaintiff is a resident of that district. Defendants Mayor Williams and council members Dyer, Fifer, Allard, Marriot, and McGoff participated in the vote, and defendant Marks was selected to fill the vacancy.

After proper notice, a special meeting was held by city council on January 10, 2014 to select among five candidates for the vacancy. The meeting was recorded and televised. The council conducted four rounds of secret ballot voting in which candidates were eliminated if they didn’t receive a sufficient number of votes. Total votes were reported after each round, but it was not reported who voted for which candidates. At the end of the process, Marks was the only remaining candidate. The council then held an open vote in which they unanimously elected Marks.

Plaintiff sued, alleging that the use of secret ballots violated Colorado’s Open Meetings Law. Defendants moved to dismiss. The trial court granted the motion, holding that plaintiff lacked standing because he failed to allege an injury in fact to a legally protected interest.

The Court of Appeals reversed. The Open Meetings Law explicitly prohibits the use of secret ballots and provides that “any citizen of this state” may enforce the Open Meetings Law in Colorado courts. Plaintiff had a legally protected interest in having the city council fill its vacancy in an open manner in compliance with the Open Meetings Law. He also sufficiently alleged an injury in fact to this legally protected interest. He is a citizen of Colorado and a resident of Arvada District 1. As a direct result of the alleged violation, plaintiff did not know how each council member voted during the process of selecting the new council member who now represents him. The case was remanded for further proceedings, including the district court’s consideration of the alleged grounds for dismissal asserted in defendants’ motion to dismiss under CRCP 12(b)(5).

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

Colorado Supreme Court: Quality Management Program Records Protected Since Program Had CDPHE Approval

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Simpson v. Cedar Springs Hospital, Inc. on Monday, October 13, 2014.

Quality Management Privilege.

In this original CAR 21 proceeding, the Supreme Court held that the trial court erred in finding that a hospital must have “authoritative” documentation of approval by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) for the quality management privilege under CRS §25-3-109 to apply. The Court held that because the hospital maintained a CDPHE license at all relevant times, its quality management program was necessarily approved by CDPHE, and the documents from its quality management committee meetings were therefore covered by the quality management privilege. The Court made this rule absolute, and remanded to the district court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

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