Articles Posted in Colorado Supreme Court

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Megan Parocha fled from New Jersey to Colorado to escape her abusive spouse. Her husband, who knew that she had come to join her family in Colorado, contacted her almost daily. When she expressed reservations about returning to New Jersey, the frequency and tone of his contact intensified. He called her, emailed her, and texted her repeatedly, and she felt threatened. When Megan sought a civil protection order, her husband claimed that Colorado courts had no jurisdiction to offer her this protection because he was an absent non-resident. This case presented the Colorado Supreme Court the first opportunity to address whether and when a civil protection order was available to a victim of alleged domestic abuse who comes to Colorado seeking refuge from a non-resident. The Court concluded an out-of-state party’s harassment of, threatening of, or attempt to coerce an individual known by the non-resident to be located in Colorado was a tortious act sufficient to establish personal jurisdiction under the state’s long-arm statute, section 13-1-124, C.R.S. (2017). The Court also concluded such conduct created a sufficient nexus between the out-of-state party and Colorado to satisfy the requisite minimum contacts such that the exercise of jurisdiction by a Colorado court to enter a protection order comports with traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice. View "Parocha v. Parocha" on Justia Law

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An underinsured motorist struck a car driven by Dale Fisher, causing Fisher injuries requiring over $60,000 in medical care. Fisher was not at fault, and he was covered under multiple State Farm underinsured motorist (“UIM”) insurance policies. State Farm agreed that Fisher’s medical bills were covered under the UIM policies, but it disputed other amounts Fisher sought under the policies, including lost wages. So, State Farm refused to pay Fisher’s medical bills without first resolving his entire claim. Fisher sued, alleging State Farm had unreasonably delayed paying his medical expenses. In response, State Farm argued it had no duty to make piecemeal payments, even for Fisher’s undisputed medical expenses, when it disputed the rest of Fisher’s UIM claim. A jury returned a verdict in Fisher’s favor, finding that State Farm had violated section 10-3-1115, C.R.S. (2017), which provides that an insurer “shall not unreasonably delay or deny payment of a claim for benefits owed to or on behalf of any first-party [insured] claimant.” A division of the court of appeals affirmed. The issue this case presented for the Colorado Supreme Court's review was whether auto insurers have a duty to pay undisputed portions of a UIM claim (like the medical expenses at issue here) even though other portions of the claim remain disputed. The Court held that insurers have a duty not to unreasonably delay or deny payment of covered benefits, even though other components of an insured’s claim may still be reasonably in dispute. Thus, the Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals. View "State Farm v. Fisher" on Justia Law

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In 2011, the City of Aspen adopted an ordinance which imposed a regulatory scheme designed to meet the city council’s “duty to protect the natural environment and the health of its citizens and visitors.” Under the ordinance, grocery stores within Aspen’s city limits were prohibited from providing disposable plastic bags to customers, though they could still provide paper bags to customers, but each bag is subject to a $0.20 “waste reduction fee,” unless the customer was a participant in a “Colorado Food Assistance Program.” This case presented the question of whether Aspen’s $0.20 paper bag charge was a tax subject to voter approval under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (“TABOR”). The trial court held that this charge was not subject to TABOR because it was not a tax, but a fee. The court of appeals concurred with this holding. The Colorado Supreme Court also agreed, finding the bag charge was not a tax subject to TABOR. View "Colorado Union of Taxpayers Found. v City of Aspen" on Justia Law

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Doreen Heyboer was a passenger on a motorcycle involved in an accident with an automobile in Denver and suffered catastrophic injuries. As a result of her injuries, her conservator sued the City and County of Denver, alleging that the street’s deteriorated condition contributed to the accident. Denver responded by asserting its immunity under the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act (“CGIA”). Heyboer argued Denver waived its immunity because the road was a dangerous condition that physically interfered with the movement of traffic, and thus, her suit fits an express exception found in the CGIA. After review, the Colorado Supreme Court determined her evidence did not establish that the road constituted an unreasonable risk of harm to the health and safety of the public, nor did her evidence establish that the road physically interfered with the movement of traffic. Accordingly, Denver retained its immunity under the CGIA; the Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals which held to the contrary. View "City & Cty. of Denver v. Dennis ex. rel. Heyboer" on Justia Law

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The Alamosa County Department of Human Services interviewed Mother, who admitted that she was addicted to prescription medications, although she denied selling drugs from her home. Mother had a history of prior referrals to the Department, and her older children had previously been temporarily removed from her home due to her drug use. Meanwhile, the father of the children had been incarcerated following a criminal conviction and remained in custody at the time the Department conducted its investigation. Father had a history of methamphetamine use. In light of the foregoing, the Department filed a dependency and neglect petition with regard to E.M., L.M., and E.J.M. (the “Children”). Although both Mother and Father initially denied the allegations contained in the petition, they subsequently entered admissions, and the court adjudicated the Children dependent and neglected. This case called on the Colorado Supreme Court to decide whether the State could seek to terminate a parent’s parental rights under the relinquishment provision of the Colorado Children’s Code (the “Code”), section 19-5-105, C.R.S. (2017), when the child is already subject to a dependency and neglect proceeding under Article 3 of the Code, sections 19-3-100.5 to -805, C.R.S. (2017). The Court concluded that when a dependency and neglect proceeding is pending, the State can terminate parental rights only through the procedures set forth in Article 3 of the Code and cannot use the more limited processes provided in Article 5. View "Colorado in Interest of L.M." on Justia Law

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The Arapahoe County Department of Human Services filed a petition in dependency or neglect concerning minor child R.S., and naming both parents as respondents. The mother requested a bench trial to adjudicate the dependent or neglected status of the child; the father requested a jury trial. The court held a single adjudicatory trial, with the judge serving as fact-finder with respect to the Department’s allegations against the mother, and a jury sitting as fact-finder with respect to the allegations against the father. The judge ultimately concluded that the child was dependent or neglected “in regard to” the mother. In contrast, the jury, as the father’s fact-finder, concluded there was insufficient factual basis to support a finding that the child was dependent or neglected. In light of these divergent findings, the trial court adjudicated the child dependent or neglected and continued to exercise jurisdiction over the child and the mother, but entered an order dismissing the father from the petition. The mother appealed the adjudication of the child as dependent or neglected; the Department appealed the jury’s verdict regarding the father, as well as the trial court’s denial of the Department’s motion for adjudication notwithstanding the verdict. In a unanimous, published opinion, the court of appeals dismissed the Department’s appeal for lack of jurisdiction, reasoning that the dismissal of a single parent from a petition in dependency or neglect based on a jury verdict was not a final appealable order because neither the appellate rule nor the statutory provision governing appeals from proceedings in dependency or neglect expressly permitted an appeal of a “no adjudication finding.” The Colorado Supreme Court concluded that, with limited exceptions, the Colorado Children’s Code authorized appealed in dependency and neglect cases of “any order” that qualified as a “final judgment.” Here, the trial court’s order dismissing the father from the petition was not a “final judgment,” so the court of appeal lacked jurisdiction and properly dismissed the Department’s appeal. The Court therefore affirmed the court of appeals but under different reasoning. View "Colorado in Interest of R.S." on Justia Law

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The Arapahoe County Department of Human Services filed a petition in dependency or neglect concerning minor child R.S., and naming both parents as respondents. The mother requested a bench trial to adjudicate the dependent or neglected status of the child; the father requested a jury trial. The court held a single adjudicatory trial, with the judge serving as fact-finder with respect to the Department’s allegations against the mother, and a jury sitting as fact-finder with respect to the allegations against the father. The judge ultimately concluded that the child was dependent or neglected “in regard to” the mother. In contrast, the jury, as the father’s fact-finder, concluded there was insufficient factual basis to support a finding that the child was dependent or neglected. In light of these divergent findings, the trial court adjudicated the child dependent or neglected and continued to exercise jurisdiction over the child and the mother, but entered an order dismissing the father from the petition. The mother appealed the adjudication of the child as dependent or neglected; the Department appealed the jury’s verdict regarding the father, as well as the trial court’s denial of the Department’s motion for adjudication notwithstanding the verdict. In a unanimous, published opinion, the court of appeals dismissed the Department’s appeal for lack of jurisdiction, reasoning that the dismissal of a single parent from a petition in dependency or neglect based on a jury verdict was not a final appealable order because neither the appellate rule nor the statutory provision governing appeals from proceedings in dependency or neglect expressly permitted an appeal of a “no adjudication finding.” The Colorado Supreme Court concluded that, with limited exceptions, the Colorado Children’s Code authorized appealed in dependency and neglect cases of “any order” that qualified as a “final judgment.” Here, the trial court’s order dismissing the father from the petition was not a “final judgment,” so the court of appeal lacked jurisdiction and properly dismissed the Department’s appeal. The Court therefore affirmed the court of appeals but under different reasoning. View "Colorado in Interest of R.S." on Justia Law

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The Colorado Supreme Court ruled Representative Doug Lamborn could not appear on the primary ballot in his district because of a problem with his ballot petitions. The Court ruled a petition circulator working for Lamborn’s campaign did not live in the state at the time, rendering the signatures he gathered invalid and moving Lamborn below the threshold for ballot access in his district. The Supreme Court concluded the district erred when it focused on the challenged circulator’s subjective intent to move back to Colorado, rather than the test set forth in section 1-2-102, C.R.S. (2017) when determining the circulator’s residency. In applying the correct test to the essentially undisputed facts here, the Court reversed the district court’s ruling. Furthermore, the Supreme Court held the Colorado Secretary of State could not certify Representative Lamborn to the 2018 primary ballot for Colorado’s Fifth Congressional District. View "Kuhn v. Williams" on Justia Law

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This case involved a dispute between two sisters, Shauna Sandstead-Corona (“Corona”) and Vicki Jo Sandstead (“Sandstead”), over how to divide their mother Auriel Sandstead’s (“Auriel”) estate. Prior to her death, Auriel placed proceeds from the sale of the family’s farm into a multi-party bank account (“Wells Fargo”) on which Sandstead and Corona were also signatories, with the intent that the money would transfer to Sandstead and Corona outside of probate upon Auriel’s death. With Auriel’s permission, Sandstead later moved a large portion of the funds into different bank accounts (“Citizens Bank”) that Corona could not access. Auriel subsequently died, and the court appointed Sandstead as the personal representative of Auriel’s probate estate. Corona filed a motion to surcharge Sandstead for her use of the funds removed from Wells Fargo and placed in Citizens Bank. The probate court held a hearing on Corona’s surcharge motion and determined that Sandstead’s custody of the funds prior to filing a probate proceeding was “in the nature of an implied trust,” and that Sandstead failed to account properly for the funds, thus warranting a surcharge for the unaccounted amounts. In the course of the probate proceeding, a pour-over will and related revocable trust executed by Auriel and her late husband were discovered. Corona contested the will and trust on the ground that Auriel and her husband had revoked the trust. The trial court rejected this contention, however, and further concluded that under the trust’s no-contest clause, because Corona had contested the will and trust, she forfeited all property that she would have inherited under the will. Both Sandstead and Corona appealed. The court of appeals concluded that the trial court had erred in surcharging Sandstead for her use of the farm proceeds. The division also affirmed the trial court’s determination regarding the no-contest clause. The Colorado Supreme Court granted certiorari to consider: (1) whether an implied trust could be imposed on the farm proceeds placed in Citizens Bank; (2) whether the fiduciary oversight statute in the probate code permitted the trial court to sanction Sandstead for actions taken prior to Auriel’s death and prior to appointment as personal representative of Auriel’s estate; (3) whether the trial court erred in applying the no-contest clause; and (4) whether Corona had probable cause to contest the will. The Supreme Court reversed the appellate court's ruling: (1) the trial court properly imposed an implied trust over at least a portion of the farm proceeds; (2) because an implied trust is included in the fiduciary oversight statute’s definition of an “estate,” the trial court could properly surcharge Sandstead for her malfeasance as to the funds in the implied trust; and (3) although the no-contest clause in the trust was incorporated by reference into the will, by its plain language, that clause applied only to actions contesting the trust, not challenges to the will. Accordingly, the trial court erred in enforcing the no-contest clause against Corona based on her actions contesting the will. The Court did not need to reach the final issue on which it granted certiorari. View "Sandstead-Corona v. Sandstead" on Justia Law

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Front Range Resources, LLC, a private company that owned or managed various water rights, applied for a replacement plan in the Lost Creek Designated Ground Water Basin. Under the plan, Front Range sought to divert water from its existing water rights to recharge the Lost Creek Basin’s alluvial aquifer. It then planned to withdraw the recharged water by increasing the use of its existing wells and by constructing new wells. Defendants (parties that believed their water rights would be impaired by the plan) objected to Front Range’s replacement plan, and the Ground Water Commission ultimately dismissed Front Range’s application with prejudice, allowing Front Range to appeal to the district court. Meanwhile, Front Range and the City of Aurora entered into an option contract for Aurora to purchase some or all of the replacement-plan water upon the replacement plan’s approval. On appeal, the district court rejected Front Range’s use of water rights in the South Platte River in the replacement plan. It further found the replacement plan involved new appropriations and changes of water rights, triggering the anti-speculation doctrine. In granting summary judgment against Front Range, the district court concluded Front Range’s planned use of the replacement-plan water (including its option contract with Aurora) violated the anti-speculation doctrine. Some of the Defendants then pursued attorney fees, arguing Front Range’s claims lacked substantial justification. But the district court denied their motion. After review, the Colorado Supreme Court held the anti-speculation doctrine applied to replacement plans involving new appropriations or changes to designated ground water rights. Because Front Range could not demonstrate that it or Aurora would put the replacement-plan water to beneficial use, the district court did not err in granting Defendants’ motion for summary judgment. Furthermore, the Court concluded the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Defendants’ motion for attorney fees. View "Front Range Resources, LLC v. Colorado Ground Water Commission" on Justia Law