Court Opinions- Jun 10, 2019

McCoy v. People


The Colorado Supreme Court granted certiorari to review the decision of a division of the Court of Appeals affirming David McCoy’s convictions for two counts of unlawful sexual contact while engaged in the treatment or examination of a victim for other than bona fide medical purposes, a class four felony. 

The Supreme Court was required to determine the appropriate standard of review for unpreserved claims of insufficient evidence and to apply that standard to decide whether legally sufficient evidence supported McCoy’s convictions.

The court initially concluded that sufficiency of the evidence claims may be raised for the first time on appeal and are not subject to plain error review. Appellate courts should review unpreserved insufficiency claims de  novo, and not under a plain error standard of review, the court wrote. 

Such a rule is consistent with criminal procedure rules, long-standing precedent and the nature of sufficiency claims, including the settled principle that a conviction that is based on legally insufficient evidence cannot stand.

On the merits of McCoy’s sufficiency claims, the court reviewed section 18-3-404(1)(g), of the Colorado Revised Statutes, which bars sexual contact committed during treatment or examination for other than bona fide medical purposes or in a manner substantially inconsistent with reasonable medical practices. 

After determining that provision is ambiguous, the court employed settled tools of statutory construction and concluded that the provision applies to a doctor or other individual who is, or holds himself or herself out to be, a health treatment provider of any kind, and who knowingly subjects the victim to sexual contact while examining, treating or purporting to examine or treat the victim for other than a bona fide medical purpose or in a manner substantially inconsistent with reasonable medical practices.

By applying that construction here, the court concluded that the provision is neither facially overbroad nor unconstitutionally vague and that the prosecution presented sufficient evidence to support McCoy’s convictions.

The court affirmed the lower appellate court’s judgment. Justice Richard Gabriel delivered the opinion of the court with Justices Carlos Samour, Brian Boatright and Chief Justice Nathan Coats concurring in the judgment only. 

Maestas v. People

The Supreme Court granted certiorari to review the Court of Appeals division’s opinion affirming Bob Maestas’s conviction for second degree burglary. For the reasons discussed in McCoy v. People, the court concluded that sufficiency of the evidence claims may be raised for the first time on appeal and are not subject to plain error review. 

Because the division reviewed Maestas’ sufficiency claim for plain error and affirmed the trial court’s ruling without considering the merits of Maestas’s assertion that insufficient evidence supported his conviction for second degree burglary, the court reversed the portion of the judgment concerning that count and remanded the case with instructions that the division perform a de novo review of Maestas’s sufficiency claim

As in McCoy, Justice Richard Gabriel delivered the opinion with justices Carlos Samour, Brian Boatright and Chief Justice Nathan Coats concurring in the judgment only.

Klun v. Klun

Defendant Michael Klun appealed the Water Court’s order denying his motion for attorney fees after he prevailed on all claims brought against him in an action brought by Thomas Klun and Joseph Klun Jr. 

Michael Klun asserted that he is entitled to recover his attorney fees pursuant to a fee-shifting provision of a prior settlement agreement between him and the plaintiffs.

The fee-shifting clause at issue provided that the prevailing party in an action to enforce, by any means, any of the terms of the settlement agreement shall be awarded all costs of the action, including reasonable attorney fees. 

Here, the plaintiffs’ claims sought relief based on allegations that defendant had breached the terms of the settlement agreement, and Michael Klun responded by arguing that it was the plaintiffs’ claims that were inconsistent with that agreement. 

In these circumstances, the Supreme Court concluded that plaintiffs’ claims constituted an effort to enforce the terms of the settlement agreement. 

The court held that Michael Klun, as the prevailing party on all claims, is entitled to recover his attorney fees pursuant to the settlement agreement’s fee-shifting clause, and reversed the Water Court’s order denying an award of such fees and remanded the case for a determination of the trial and appellate fees to be awarded to Michael Klun.

Colorado Department of Labor and Employment v. Dami Hospitality

This case required the Supreme Court to consider whether the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on the government imposition of “excessive fines” applies to fines levied on corporations. 

The court concluded that the purpose of the Excessive Fines Clause is to prevent the government from abusing its power to punish by imposing fines, and nothing in that purpose or in the text of the Eighth Amendment limits its reach to fines imposed on individuals. 

The court further concluded that the proper test to assess the constitutionality of government fines under the Eighth Amendment is that set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court in U.S. v. Bajakajian, which required an assessment of whether the fine is grossly disproportional to the offense for which it is imposed. The Colorado Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals’ ruling and remanded to that court for return to the Division of Workers’ Compensation with instructions to, as appropriate and necessary, develop an evidentiary record sufficient to determine whether the $250–$500 fine that a business was required to pay for each day that it was out of compliance with Colorado’s workers’ compensation law is proportional to the harm or risk of harm caused by each day of noncompliance. Justice Carlos Samour dissented in part, writing that he disagreed that the proportionality analysis must be conducted with regard to each individual per diem fine, as opposed to a total fine. 

Justice William Hood did not participate. 

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