Court Opinion: Colorado Court of Appeals Opinions for Sep. 14

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

Colorado Workers for Innovative and New Solutions v. Gherardin et al.

The Colorado Court of Appeals unanimously reversed a previous judgment by a district court concerning state employees.

The plaintiff, Colorado Workers for Innovative and New Solutions (WINS), appealed the district court’s judgment affirming the decision of a hearing officer for the defendant, the Division of Labor Standards and Statistics (Division). The hearing officer determined that state employee Marc Morgan was not a covered employee under the Colorado Partnership for Quality Jobs and Services Act. WINS contended the district court erred by concluding the hearing officer’s decision was a final agency action subject to judicial review under Colorado Revised Statute 24-4-106 of the State Administrative Procedure Act (APA), rather than an initial decision subject to further agency review under CRS 24-4-105(14)(a)(II) of the APA.

The Colorado Court of Appeals agreed with WINS and concluded the hearing officer’s decision was an “initial decision” that should have been appealable to the agency under CRS 24-4-105(14)(a)(II) and wasn’t the final decision of the division subject only to judicial review under CRS 24-4-106 and 24-50-1115(1). 

In reaching this conclusion, they declared void Division Rule 5.7, 7 Code of Colorado Regulations 1103-12, which provides the hearing officer’s decision “constitutes a final agency action” under 24-4-106, and that “[a] party may seek judicial review” of the hearing officer’s decision under section 24-50-1115(1). 

Gomez v. Walker

The Colorado Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed an order and judgment and remanded a case involving a car crash. 

Carmelita Gomez and Ryan Walker were involved in a car crash June 15, 2016. Gomez filed her complaint June 17, 2019, alleging Walker negligently collided with her, causing her to suffer injuries. 

Walker moved to dismiss Gomez’s complaint under Colorado Rule of Civil Procedure  12(b)(5) because it was filed beyond the applicable three-year statute of limitations period prescribed by CRS 13-80-101(1)(n)(I), according to the opinion. 

Because the June 15, 2019 limitations deadline fell on a Saturday, Gomez maintained that the court should accept her June 17, 2019 filing because that day was the next business day that the court was open.

Initially, the district court agreed with Gomez, concluding that the limitations period ended on June 17, 2019, and it denied Walker’s motion to dismiss. However, in April 2021, a division of the Colorado Court of Appeals  published Morin v. ISS Facility Services, which had a similar fact pattern. In Morin, the appeals court held that C.R.C.P. 6(a)(1) — which provides for the extension of a time period when the period ends on a Saturday, Sunday or legal holiday — doesn’t extend a statutory limitations period that expires on a weekend. 

Based on Morin, Walker filed a “renewed motion to dismiss.” Gomez opposed the motion, asserting that CRS 2-4-108(2) extended the applicable statute of limitations and that Morin didn’t address that statute. Relying on Morin, the district court granted the renewed motion and dismissed Gomez’s claims as untimely. Gomez moved for reconsideration, which the district court denied. Walker moved for, and was granted, attorney fees and costs.

Gomez appealed. She contended that the district court erred by dismissing her complaint as untimely and awarding Walker his attorney fees and costs. Because the appeals court determined 2-4-108(2) doesn’t operate to extend the statute of limitations period in this case, it affirmed the judgment. The appeals court also affirmed the order awarding Walker attorney fees and costs. The case was remanded for proceedings consistent with the opinion.

People in Interest of J.R.M.

The Colorado Court of Appeals unanimously reversed a judgment and remanded a case involving a dependency and neglect proceeding.

In this dependency and neglect proceeding, D.R.P. (mother) appealed the juvenile court’s judgment adjudicating J.R.M. and L.P-S. (the children) were dependent and neglected. D.R.P. argued that the juvenile court erred when it determined she waived her right to a jury trial because she failed to appear in person at a pretrial conference. The appeals court agreed and reversed the judgment and remanded for further proceedings. 

The Adams County Human Services Department initially filed a petition in dependency and neglect regarding the children. D.R.P. then requested an adjudicatory jury trial. The trial was delayed because of concerns regarding the high number of COVID-19 cases in Adams County. Meanwhile, about six months after the original petition was filed, the department amended the petition to include additional allegations. The court continued D.R.P.’s jury trial to give her and her counsel more time to prepare in light of the additional allegations. 

The court required D.R.P.  to appear in person at several pretrial conferences. When D.R.P. failed to appear at the last scheduled pretrial conference, the court converted her jury trial to a court trial, also referred to as a bench trial or a trial to the court. D.R.P. didn’t appear at the adjudicatory court trial. After hearing testimony, the juvenile court adjudicated the children were dependent and neglected.

D.R.P. argued the juvenile court erred when it found she waived her right to a jury trial. She contended that no authority allowed the juvenile court to find a waiver of a jury trial because she failed to appear at a pretrial conference.

The appeals court agreed and concluded D.R.P. didn’t subsequently waive her right to a jury trial when she didn’t appear at the court trial The appeals court reversed the judgment and remand the case for further proceedings.

People v. Woodyard

The Colorado Court of Appeals recently addressed a number of issues arising from convictions on numerous drug-distribution related charges against an individual, reversing several convictions.

Jacob Woodyard was suspected of purchasing substantial quantities of various kinds of illegal drugs and reselling them using a number of underlings in a law enforcement investigation. A jury found Woodyard guilty of two counts of violating the Colorado Organized Crime Control Act (COCCA), CRS 18-17-104(3), (4); 14 counts of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance; five counts of conspiring to commit money laundering; five counts of money laundering; one count of possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance (methamphetamine); and one count of possession of a controlled substance (cocaine). The district court later adjudicated Woodyard a habitual offender on six habitual offender counts, each involving a different prior felony conviction.

The court sentenced Woodyard to 96 years in the custody of the Department of Corrections on each of the COCCA convictions after applying the habitual offender multiplier. One of the COCCA convictions was for engaging in a pattern of racketeering activity,  18-17-104(3), and the other was for conspiring to engage in a pattern of racketeering activity, 18-17-104(4). Woodyard received sentences ranging from 64 years to six months on the other convictions. The court ordered all the sentences to run concurrently. 

According to the appeals court opinion, on appeal Woodyard attacked his convictions in total or in part on several separate grounds. He also challenged the constitutionality of his 96-year sentences on his COCCA convictions. The Colorado Court of Appeals concluded, applying the Colorado Supreme Court’s 2021 intervening decision in McDonald v. People, that the prosecution failed to prove, and the jury didn’t find, a statutory element of the offense — an “enterprise.” This is because the prosecution failed to present sufficient evidence that Woodyard was part of “an ongoing organization of associates, functioning as a continuing unit, that exist[ed] separate and apart from the pattern of racketeering activity in which it engage[d],” and the district court didn’t instruct the jury on that concept. 

But because the evidence was sufficient to convict Woodyard on the COCCA charges under the previously controlling formulation of the “enterprise” element, the prosecution may retry Woodyard on those charges, the appeals court explained. 

The appeals court also concluded the evidence was insufficient to convict Woodyard of eight of the money laundering charges because there was no evidence that he transferred money to someone else, so the appeals court needed to vacate those convictions. Certain of Woodyard’s conspiracy convictions merge with other conspiracy convictions because the merged convictions are based on the same agreement. But the appeals court rejected Woodyard’s contentions based on the admission of evidence and, because of the appeals court’s resolution of his challenge to his COCCA convictions, the appeals court didn’t address the merits of his remaining contentions. 

The Colorado Court of Appeals reversed Woodyard’s COCCA convictions, reversed the sentences on those two convictions and remanded the case for a new trial on the COCCA charges. The appeals court opted to vacate eight of the 10 money laundering convictions, and reversed three of the conspiracy convictions, which merged with other conspiracy convictions. In all other respects, the appeals court affirmed. 

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