April 19, 2021 Court Opinions – Colorado Supreme Court

Editor’s Note: Law Week Colorado edits court opinion summaries for style and, when necessary, length.

Medina v. Williams

Delano Medina, an inmate in the Colorado Department of Corrections, filed a habeas corpus petition in Fremont County District Court challenging the legality of his confinement. After receiving the petition, the Clerk of Court for Fremont County notified Medina that his case had been assigned to a district court magistrate and that consent to the jurisdiction of the magistrate was required. The notice informed Medina that he would be deemed to have consented unless he filed a written objection.

Medina timely filed an objection, but the day he placed his objection in the prison mail system, the magistrate, without waiting for the objection period to expire, entered an order dismissing Medina’s petition for failing to state a cognizable habeas claim. Medina then filed an appeal and an opening brief to the Colorado Supreme Court.

The court asked defendant-appellee Dean Williams, executive director of the Colorado Department of Corrections, to file a response. Williams agreed that, in light of Medina’s objection, the magistrate lacked the authority to decide the habeas petition.

Because a district court magistrate is authorized to rule on a habeas corpus petition only when the parties consent to proceeding before the magistrate and Medina didn’t consent here, the Supreme Court concluded the dismissal order was entered without authority. The court reversed that order and remanded the case to the district court with instructions to assign the petition to a district court judge for further proceedings.

People v. Vidauri

Alma Vidauri was convicted of one count of theft and three counts of forgery in connection with filings she made with the Garfield County Department of Human Services between 2009 and 2016 for medical assistance benefits. She submitted, and the department approved, three applications for Medicaid benefits, one for each of her three children. In the two applications submitted in 2011, she reported that her husband worked for an electrical company and she worked for “Norma,” and that their average monthly household income was about $2,600 to $2,900. She later submitted two statements to the department in 2012 explaining that her husband was no longer employed and that her income was approximately $720 per month.

Every year thereafter, from 2013 to 2016, the department sent Vidauri redetermination notices to see if her family was still eligible for medical benefits. Despite being instructed that she needed to report any changes or missing information, Vidauri never updated her household income even though she reported more than four times that income on her federal income tax returns.

She also never disclosed to the department that she and her husband were self-employed, even though she had owned a housecleaning business since 2006 and her husband had owned an electrical business since 2012. The fraud investigator created a spreadsheet of the two businesses’ incomes and expenditures, based on her interviews with Vidauri, records Vidauri provided to her, and Vidauri’s tax returns. The spreadsheet, which was admitted into evidence at trial, shows that the housecleaning business generated between $17,000 and $37,000 in profit each year during this time. Although the electrical business lost money in its first year, it generated between $5,600 and $19,600 in profit each year between 2013 and 2015. The investigator also testified that not all deductions permitted for federal income tax purposes are permitted for benefit eligibility determination purposes.

Vidauri also failed to disclose that she and her husband owned multiple income-producing properties, several of which they sold between 2011 and 2016. Based on Vidauri’s incomplete and inaccurate reporting, the Department continued to re-enroll Vidauri’s children in Medicaid from 2013 to 2016. It’s undisputed that Vidauri and her children received over $20,000 in benefits between 2009 and 2016. Vidauri appealed her convictions.

She contended the evidence was insufficient to support the felony theft conviction because there was evidence that she might have been eligible to at least receive some lesser amount of benefits had she accurately reported her income. The division agreed and reversed her felony theft conviction and remanded the case for the trial court to enter a conviction for class1 petty theft, the lowest level conviction for theft. The Colorado Supreme Court granted the prosecution’s petition for certiorari review.

The Supreme Court reversed the division’s decision. The theft statute places no burden on the prosecution to establish that Vidauri would have been ineligible for any of the benefits she received. The court noted “eligibility is not entitlement” and because an applicant is not entitled to any benefits until they have submitted accurate information demonstrating as much, the court concluded that all the benefits Vidauri received by submitting false information were obtained by deception.

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