Justia Civil Procedure Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Colorado Supreme Court
In re Edwards v. New Century Hospice
At issue before the Colorado Supreme Court in this matter was a trial court’s order denying immunity to Defendant New Century Hospice, Inc. and its subsidiaries, Defendants Legacy Hospice, LLC, d/b/a New Century Hospice of Denver, LLC, and Legacy Hospice of Colorado Springs, LLC (collectively, “New Century”). New Century argued it was entitled to immunity under four different statutes. Tana Edwards filed suit against New Century (her former employer) and Kathleen Johnson, the Director of Operations for New Century Castle Rock (collectively, “Defendants”). As part of her employment with New Century, Edwards provided in-home care to an elderly patient. In December 2019, Johnson began to suspect that Edwards was diverting pain medications from the patient. Defendants reported the suspected drug diversion to the Castle Rock Police Department and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (“CDPHE”). Defendants also lodged a complaint against Edwards’s nursing license with the Colorado Board of Nursing (“the Board”). After investigations, no criminal charges were filed and no formal disciplinary actions were taken against Edwards. Edwards subsequently brought this action against Defendants, alleging claims for negligent supervision and negligent hiring against New Century, as well as claims for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress against New Century and Johnson. Defendants moved for summary judgment. The trial court granted the motion as to Edwards’s claims for negligent hiring, defamation, and intentional infliction of emotional distress, finding that the claims were either time-barred or could not be proven. Three of the statutes New Century cited for its immunity claim, 12-20-402(1), C.R.S. (2022) (“the Professions Act”), 12-255-123(2), C.R.S. (2022) (“the Nurse Practice Act”), and 18-6.5-108(3), C.R.S. (2022) (“the Mandatory Reporter statute”), only authorized immunity for a “person.” Relying on the plain meaning of “person,” the Supreme Court held that New Century was not entitled to immunity under these three statutes because it was a corporation, not a person. The fourth statute, 18-8-115, C.R.S. (2022) (“the Duty to Report statute”), explicitly entitled corporations to immunity, but only if certain conditions were met. Applying the plain language of the statute, the Supreme Court held that New Century was not entitled to summary judgment on the issue of immunity under this statute because it did not carry its burden of demonstrating that all such conditions were met. View "In re Edwards v. New Century Hospice" on Justia Law
Killmer, Lane & Newman v. B.K.P., Inc.
The Colorado Supreme Court granted review in this case to consider whether the common law litigation privilege for party-generated publicity in pending class action litigation excluded situations in which the identities of class members were ascertainable through discovery. In 2018, two law firms, Killmer, Lane & Newman, LLP and Towards Justice (collectively, along with attorney Mari Newman of Killmer, Lane & Newman, “the attorneys”), filed on behalf of former employee and nail technician Lisa Miles and those similarly situated a federal class action lawsuit. This lawsuit named as defendants BKP, Inc.; Ella Bliss Beauty Bar LLC; Ella Bliss Beauty Bar-2, LLC; and Ella Bliss Beauty Bar-3, LLC (collectively, “the employer”), among others. The employer operated three beauty bars in the Denver metropolitan area. Pertinent here, the class action complaint alleged that the employer’s business operation was “founded on the exploitation of its workers.” The complaint alleged that the employer violated the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Colorado Wage Claim Act by not paying service technicians for hours spent performing janitorial work, electing to forgo hiring a janitorial service. The Supreme Court concluded the division erred in conditioning the applicability of the litigation privilege in pending class action litigation on whether the identities of class members were ascertainable through discovery. The Court reached this conclusion for two reasons: (1) ascertainability was generally a requirement in class action litigation, and imposing such a condition would unduly limit the privilege in this kind of case; and (2) the eventual identification of class members by way of documents obtained during discovery was not a substitute for reaching absent class members and witnesses in the beginning stages of litigation. The Court found the litigation privilege applied in this case: five allegedly defamatory statements at issue "merely repeated, summarized, or paraphrased the allegations made in the class action complaint, and which served the purpose of notifying the public, absent class members, and witnesses about the litigation, were absolutely privileged." View "Killmer, Lane & Newman v. B.K.P., Inc." on Justia Law
Colorado in interest of H.J.B.
A-J.A.B. tested positive at birth for methamphetamine. H.J.B. (“Mother”) admitted methamphetamine use during her pregnancy. In March 2020, less than a month after A-J.A.B.’s birth, the Adams County Human Services Department (“the Department”) filed a petition in dependency and neglect concerning A-J.A.B. The Department’s petition noted that it had no information indicating that A-J.A.B. was an Indian child or eligible for membership in an Indian tribe, although the petition did not identify what efforts, if any, the Department took to determine whether A-J.A.B. was an Indian child. At the shelter hearing, Mother’s counsel informed the court that Mother may have “some Cherokee and Lakota Sioux [heritage] through [A-J.A.B.’s maternal great-grandmother].” However, Mother was uncertain if anyone in her family was actually registered with a tribe and acknowledged that she “probably [wouldn’t] qualify” for any tribal membership herself. The juvenile court ordered Mother to “fill out the ICWA paperwork,” but the court did not direct the Department to exercise its due diligence obligation under section 19-1-126(3). At the next hearing, Mother, who had not filled out the ICWA paperwork, again stated that she had “Native American heritage” through A-J.A.B.’s maternal great-grandmother. Because of these assertions, the juvenile court found that the case “‘may’ be an ICWA case.” By December 2020, the Department moved to terminate Mother’s parental rights. At the pretrial conference, Mother’s attorney informed the court that she spoke with A-J.A.B.’s maternal grandmother, who stated that she “thought that the heritage may be Lakota.” Mother’s attorney told the court “it doesn’t sound like there’s a reason to believe that ICWA would apply” and acknowledged that neither Mother nor A-J.A.B. were enrolled members of any tribe. The juvenile court subsequently concluded that “there [was] no reason to believe that this case [was] governed by [ICWA].” The juvenile court terminated Mother’s parental rights. Mother appealed, arguing the juvenile court erred in finding that ICWA did not apply because the court had a reason to know that A-J.A.B. was an Indian child. The Colorado Supreme Court concluded the Department satisfied its statutory due diligence obligation under section19-1-126(3), and affirmed in different grounds. View "Colorado in interest of H.J.B." on Justia Law
Colorado v. Hill
The issue this case presented for the Colorado Supreme Court's review centered on whether Respondent Roger Hill had a legally protected interest that gave him standing to pursue his claim for a declaratory judgment “that a river segment was navigable for title at statehood and belongs to the State.” To this, the Court concluded he did not: Hill had no legally protected right independent of the State’s alleged ownership of the riverbed onto which he could hook his declaratory judgment claim. Hill's favorite fishing hole was on a riverbed along the Arkansas River. The record owners of the land abutting the river were Mark Warsewa and Linda Joseph, who had a home overlooking the fishing hole. Hill alleged that for several years, he repeatedly attempted to fish there and Warsewa and Joseph chased him off the property, sometimes with force. Hill asserted the riverbed was not in fact owned by Warsewa and Joseph, but instead public land owned by the State of Colorado and held in trust for the people. In both federal and state proceedings, the State argued that it alone could decide whether and when to pursue its property rights and that Hill did not have standing to bring these claims. Hill appealed, arguing that the riverbed was public land as a matter of federal law, and invoking the equal footing doctrine: that the segment of the Arkansas River that traversed the subject property was navigable at statehood, and therefore title to the riverbed transferred to the State by operation of law when Colorado achieved statehood in 1876. Because the federal government did not own the riverbed, it could not have transferred its title to Warsewa and Joseph’s predecessors in interest. A division of the court of appeals upheld the trial court’s dismissal of the quiet title claim, concluding that Hill could not pursue the property rights of the State because he did not himself have any claim to title. The Colorado Supreme Court concurred and affirmed dismissal. View "Colorado v. Hill" on Justia Law
Arvada Village Gardens v. Garate
Under Colorado law, the required notice period for a landlord to give to a tenant before evicting the tenant was ten days. During the COVID-19 pandemic, however, Congress passed a law requiring a thirty-day-notice period for eviction from certain rental properties. The question this case presented for the Colorado Supreme Court was whether that thirty-day-notice requirement was still in effect or whether it expired along with other aspects of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (“CARES Act”). Looking at the plain language of the CARES Act, the Supreme Court concluded the federal thirty-day-notice provision is still in effect for covered properties. View "Arvada Village Gardens v. Garate" on Justia Law
Colorado v. Center for Excellence in Higher Education
Colorado’s Attorney General and the Administrator of the Colorado Uniform Consumer Credit Code (“UCCC”) (collectively, “the State”) sought to enjoin the respondent corporate entities and individuals that made up the career school known as CollegeAmerica (collectively, “CollegeAmerica”) from engaging in conduct that the State believed to be in violation of Colorado law. Specifically, the State contended that several aspects of CollegeAmerica’s marketing and admissions operations constituted deceptive trade practices under the Colorado Consumer Protection Act (“CCPA”) and that CollegeAmerica’s institutional loan program, “EduPlan,” was unconscionable under the UCCC. The Colorado Supreme Court concluded, as did the division below, that the State’s CCPA civil penalty claims were equitable in nature and thus CollegeAmerica was not entitled to a jury trial on those claims. The Court further concluded the division erred in remanding this case for a new trial without first assessing whether CollegeAmerica had, in fact, had a full and fair opportunity to litigate the issue of significant public impact and, if so, whether the evidence sufficiently established such an impact. Finally, the Court concluded the division correctly determined that CollegeAmerica’s EduPlan loans as a whole were not unconscionable, although the Supreme Court disagreed with the division’s conclusion that individualized evidence regarding the probability of repayment was necessary to establish unconscionability. View "Colorado v. Center for Excellence in Higher Education" on Justia Law
US Bank, N.A. v. Silvernagel, et al.
In 2006, Respondent Jerome Silvernagel took out a second mortgage on a home. He agreed to make monthly payments to pay down the principal and 10% annual interest, with any remaining balance due in 2036. Silvernagel alone signed the promissory note, agreeing to repay the underlying loan. But both he and Respondent Dan Wu signed the deed of trust securing payment of the note. The deed of trust contained an acceleration clause, giving the lender the power to declare the entire loan immediately due and payable upon default. When exercised, acceleration authorized the lender to foreclose on the property to satisfy the outstanding debt and any related fees. In 2012, a bankruptcy court discharged Silvernagel’s personal liability on the mortgage under Chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code. Silvernagel had stopped making payments on the note before the discharge and made no payments since. The discharge prohibited creditors from attempting to collect the debt from Silvernagel directly, but it did not extinguish “the right to enforce a valid lien, such as a mortgage or security interest, against the debtor’s property after the bankruptcy.” In 2019, US Bank allegedly threatened to foreclose on the property if Silvernagel did not make payments on his mortgage. Silvernagel and Wu (hereinafter collectively, “Silvernagel”) filed this case in response, requesting declaratory relief to prevent US Bank’s enforcement of the deed of trust. He argued that US Bank’s interest was extinguished by the six-year statute of limitations on debt collection. Alternatively, he asserted that the doctrine of laches prevented enforcement of the agreement. The trial court dismissed the case, determining that US Bank’s claim had not accrued (meaning that the six-year limitation period hadn’t even commenced). A division of the court of appeals reversed, holding that the statute of limitations began to run upon Silvernagel’s 2012 bankruptcy discharge, barring US Bank’s claim. The Colorado Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals: when there is no evidence that the lender accelerated payment on the mortgage agreement, a claim for any future payment doesn’t accrue until that payment is missed under the agreement’s original terms. View "US Bank, N.A. v. Silvernagel, et al." on Justia Law
Antero Resources v. Airport Land Partners
This matter arose out of disputes between Antero Resources Corporation (“Antero”) and Airport Land Partners, Ltd (“Airport Land”) and other royalty owners (collectively, “Royalty Owners”) over whether Antero could deduct certain post-production costs from royalty payments under the applicable leases’ royalty clauses. Royalty Owners alleged that Antero has underpaid royalties in violation of their respective lease contracts. Royalty Owners filed individual breach-of-contract suits against Antero for dates between December 2016 and April 2017. Antero moved to dismiss the suits, arguing that the claims should have been brought before the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (“COGCC” or “the Commission”) in the first instance. Statutorily, COGCC lacked jurisdiction under section 34-60-118.5(5), C.R.S. (2022), to engage in contract interpretation to resolve a bona fide dispute between parties under an oil and gas lease. But in 2017, without any intervening change to explain the shift, two district courts changed course, asserting that COGCC had responsibility for resolving contract disputes on the theory either that the contract terms were unambiguous or that settled law compelled a certain interpretation. The Colorado Supreme Court returned to the longstanding statutory mandate that COGCC lacked jurisdiction to resolve bona fide disputes of contract interpretation and held that such a dispute exists where the parties disagree in good faith about the meaning or application of a relevant contract term. View "Antero Resources v. Airport Land Partners" on Justia Law
Colorado State Board of Education v. Brannberg
In 2019, plaintiff John Dewey Institute, Inc. (“JDI”) submitted a charter school application to the Douglas County Colorado School Board. Section 22-30.5-108 (“section 108”) of the Charter Schools Act created a four-step procedure in which a charter school applicant may potentially twice appeal an adverse decision of a local board of education to the State Board. The parties agreed that section 108 precluded judicial review of State Board decisions rendered after a second appeal under section 108(3)(d). They disagreed, however, as to whether this appeal-preclusion language also barred judicial review of final decisions of the State Board rendered after a first appeal under section 108(3)(a)—a scenario in which the State Board has affirmed the local board’s decision to deny a charter school application, thus rendering a second appeal unnecessary. Applying the plain language of section 108 and the statutory scheme as a whole, the Colorado Supreme Court concluded that section 108(3)(d)’s appeal-preclusion language applied to all final decisions of the State Board rendered under section 108, including when, as here, the State Board affirmed the local board’s denial of a charter school application during an initial appeal, thereby ending the matter and rendering a second appeal unnecessary. Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals' ruling declaring that final decisions of the State Board rendered after a first appeal were subject to judicial review. This matter was remanded with instructions that the case be returned to the district court for the dismissal of JDI’s claim for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. View "Colorado State Board of Education v. Brannberg" on Justia Law
McMichael v. Encompass PAHS Rehabilitation Hospital
Patricia and Lynette McMichael (“the McMichaels”) were the co-personal representatives for the estate of Charles McMichael (“Mr. McMichael”). The McMichaels alleged Mr. McMichael sustained injuries and died after falling on at least three occasions at a rehabilitation hospital owned by Encompass. Although Mr. McMichael was a resident and Encompass was a resident of Arapahoe County, and the alleged torts occurred at Encompass’s rehabilitation hospital in Arapahoe County, the McMichaels filed their lawsuit in Boulder County. After the McMichaels filed their complaint in May 2022, Encompass failed to file a timely response. The McMichaels moved for default judgment, which the trial court granted. Thirteen days after a response to the complaint was due, Encompass filed two separate pleadings with the court: (1) its attorneys’ entry of appearance; and (2) a motion to set aside the default judgment. In its motion, Encompass argued that the McMichaels’ counsel failed to confer with Encompass’s counsel before filing the motion for default judgment. Encompass contended the McMichaels’ lawyer had been actively engaged for months in communication with its lawyer about, among other things, the proper venue for the case. The issues this case presented for the Colorado Supreme Court's review was the trial court’s order: (1) vacating its prior default judgment against Encompass PAHS Rehabilitation Hospital, LLC d/b/a Encompass Health Rehabilitation Hospital of Littleton (“Encompass”); and (2) granting Encompass’s motion to change venue from Boulder County to Arapahoe County. To this the Supreme Court concluded the trial court did not abuse its discretion by choosing to hear this matter on the merits despite Encompass’s thirteen-day delay in responding to the complaint. Further, applying its holding in a companion case, Nelson v. Encompass PAHS Rehabilitation Hospital, LLC, 2023 CO 1, __ P.3d __, the Court concluded the trial court did not err in transferring venue from the Boulder County District Court to the Arapahoe County District Court. "Because the residence of a limited liability company (“LLC”), for venue purposes, is the residence of the LLC, rather than the residences of its members, the county designated in the complaint was not the proper county, and Encompass was entitled to a change of venue as a matter of right." View "McMichael v. Encompass PAHS Rehabilitation Hospital" on Justia Law