Court Opinions- Jun 17, 2019

People v. Morehead

The People petitioned for review of the Court of Appeals’ judgment reversing Mikel Morehead’s convictions for possession and possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance, as well as seven gambling-related charges. 

As pertinent to the issue before the Supreme Court, the trial court denied the defendant’s motion to suppress evidence discovered in his home, ruling that the officers’ initial entry of the home with the permission of the defendant’s former girlfriend was lawful and that the evidence seized in a subsequent search was conducted pursuant to a warrant that was supported by probable cause and was not misleading. By contrast, the intermediate appellate court found that the defendant’s former girlfriend lacked either actual or apparent authority to consent to the officers’ initial entry of the defendant’s home, during which they observed gambling machines. It also declined, however, to either entertain arguments on appeal that the evidence seized in the subsequent warranted search was not the fruit of the initial entry or that its seizure at least came within an exception to the exclusionary rule, or to remand for findings concerning those issues, reasoning that the prosecution was barred from raising any such arguments for not having asserted them at any of the numerous suppression hearings. 

Instead, the appellate court ordered all the evidence seized from the defendant’s residence suppressed, and it reversed his convictions; but in addition, after supplemental briefing, it mandated that the trial court be barred from considering new arguments for admission of that evidence on retrial. 

Because the Court of Appeals erred in restricting the trial court’s discretion to entertain additional evidence or consider additional arguments concerning the seizure of this evidence on retrial, that portion of the judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed.

Justice Richard Gabriel, joined by Justice William Hood, dissented.

Ruybalid v. Board of County Commissioners

Frank Ruybalid was accused of numerous ethical violations arising out of cases that he either prosecuted or supervised while he was the District Attorney for the 3rd Judicial District of Colorado. Ultimately, Ruybalid admitted to 26 violations in exchange for another 138 alleged violations being dismissed. As a result of initially contesting the allegations of misconduct, Ruybalid incurred substantial attorney’s fees and costs during the disciplinary proceeding. The counties of the 3rd Judicial District refused to reimburse Ruybalid for these expenses. 

The Colorado Supreme Court was asked to determine whether the counties were obligated to reimburse Ruybalid for these attorney’s fees and costs under section 20-1-303, C.R.S. (2018), which directs a county to reimburse a district attorney for “expenses necessarily incurred in the discharge of his official duties for the benefit of [the] county.”

The Supreme Court concluded that because Ruybalid’s ethical violations were at times committed recklessly or knowingly, his attorney’s fees and costs were not necessarily incurred in the discharge of his official duties. The court held that Ruybalid is not entitled to reimbursement for the attorney’s fees and costs that he incurred in defending the disciplinary proceeding against him, and therefore he failed to state a claim for relief in his original complaint. The court affirmed the Court of Appeals’ decision on different grounds.

People v. Brown

After being charged with first-degree murder as an adult in district court, Brandon Brown exercised his statutory right to request a “reverse transfer” to juvenile court. In doing so, he asked the Supreme Court to address whether he may temporarily waive privilege as to certain information at the reverse-transfer hearing without suffering a continued waiver at trial.

The court held that he may not. Nothing in the reverse-transfer statute gives Brown the ability to make such a limited waiver. And, neither common law scope-of-waiver limitations nor constitutional principles regarding impermissibly burdening rights changes that result. 

By disclosing otherwise privileged information in open court during a reverse-transfer hearing, Brown would waive privilege as to any such information at trial. Because the Supreme Court agreed with the trial court’s ruling to the same effect, it discharged its rule to show cause.

Chief Justice Nathan Coats did not participate in the decision.

Carousel Farms v. Woodcrest Homes

Before the 2007-2008 economic downturn, Woodcrest Homes was poised to construct a new development adjacent to the town of Parker. But with the economy in dire straits, Woodcrest secured only a small parcel — known as Parcel C — stuck between two larger parcels that were necessary for completion of the project. More than a decade after the failed development, a special metropolitan district controlled by a competitor, Century Communities, sought to condemn Parcel C and finish what Woodcrest started.

Woodcrest objected. It claimed that the entire condemnation proceeding was a sham designed to benefit Century. Woodcrest maintained that the condemnation violates both the public use protections of the Colorado Constitution and the statutory prohibition on economic development takings. According to Woodcrest, the purpose of the taking, at the time it occurred, was to satisfy contractual obligations between Century and Parker. Because the public would not be the beneficiary at the time of the taking, Woodcrest contended that this condemnation violates the Colorado Constitution. Moreover, it argued, the taking effectively transfers the condemned land to Century, which violates section 38-1-101(1)(b)(I), C.R.S. (2018), the state’s anti-economic development takings statute. The Supreme Court disagreed. A taking must, at its core, benefit the public. The condemnation of Parcel C will do just that, the court wrote, with the intended construction of various utilities, public rights of way and sidewalks.  There is nothing in the Colorado Constitution that prohibits private parties from incidentally benefiting from any particular condemnation. Additionally, Colorado’s prohibition on economic development takings has no bearing on the condemnation at issue: The plain language of section 38-1-101(1)(b)(I) prevents public entities from transferring condemned land to private entities. But there was no transfer, and the only entity involved was a public one, the special district.

Before reaching any of those issues, however, the parties asked the court to clarify whether clear error or de novo review applies to a trial court’s public use determination. Because public use is ultimately a legal question, the court reviewed it de novo, while deferring to the trial court on underlying historical facts. The Supreme Court held that, first, takings questions present mixed issues of law and fact, with public use being a question of law that is reviewed de novo. Second, takings that essentially benefit the public will survive constitutional scrutiny, even if, at the time of the taking, there is an incidental private benefit. As a result, the taking here is valid. Third, the plain language of section 38-1-101(1)(b) only limits the transfer of condemned land to a private entity and, because there was no transfer and no private entity involved here, that section is inapplicable.

In the Marriage of January

Following the entry of final orders in her dissolution of marriage case, Tiffany January sought remedial sanctions against Jeffrey January for, among other things, not paying his share of their daughter’s tutoring expenses. The magistrate found Jeffrey in remedial contempt and imposed sanctions consisting of the tutoring expenses and Tiffany’s attorney fees incurred in connection with the contempt proceeding. Jeffrey objected to the amount of attorney fees awarded to Tiffany. The magistrate has yet to rule on the objection.

The district court agreed with and adopted the magistrate’s order awarding the tutoring expenses to Tiffany. Jeffrey appealed the district court’s ruling.

In light of the procedural posture of father’s appeal, the Court of Appeals considered whether a contempt order is final and appealable during the pendency of an objection to the amount of attorney fees ordered “in connection with” the remedial contempt sanction. Because the court concluded the answer is no, it dismissed Jeffrey’s appeal, without prejudice.

In doing so, the court disagreed with the holding in Madison Capital Co. v. Star Acquisition VIII, and sided with the line of authority holding that “reasonable attorney’s fees in connection with the contempt proceeding” are a component of remedial sanctions under C.R.C.P. 107(d)(2).

Ryser v. Shelter Mutual Insurance

In this uninsured/underinsured motorist benefits case, Kent Ryser appealed the summary judgment entered in favor of Shelter Mutual Insurance Company based on the exclusivity provision of the Workers’ Compensation Act of Colorado and the related co-employee immunity rule. 

The case required the Court of Appeals to decide whether this immunity bars a person who was injured in the course and scope of employment by a co-employee’s negligence in driving a car from receiving UM/UIM benefits under an insurance policy maintained by another co-employee who owned the car.

Because of the tortfeasor’s coworker immunity, the Court of Appeals concluded that Ryser cannot satisfy the UM/UIM statutory requirement of being “legally entitled to recover.” 

The Court of Appeals affirmed the summary judgment.

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