Court Opinions: Colorado Court of Appeals Opinions for Dec. 1

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

People v. Ryan

The Colorado Court of Appeals unanimously reversed a judgment and order and remanded a case involving the habitual domestic violence offender statute.

Sheldon Ryan appealed his misdemeanor convictions of third-degree assault and criminal mischief and their enhancement to felonies under the habitual domestic violence offender statute. Ryan contended the trial court erroneously instructed the jury on unanimity, denied his right to have a jury decide the HDVO counts and denied his request for a restitution hearing.

The appeals court concluded the HDVO statute requires the merits fact-finder (in this case the jury) to determine whether a defendant has previously been convicted of a domestic violence offense, unless the defendant previously admitted the domestic violence finding as part of a plea or a jury made the domestic violence finding. The appeals court found the trial court incorrectly denied Ryan’s request for a jury determination of his HDVO status.

The appeals court rejected Ryan’s unanimity argument. Ryan also contended, and the prosecution conceded, the trial court erred by failing to have a hearing on Ryan’s objection to the prosecution’s restitution request and the case should also be remanded for that hearing. The appeals court agreed.

Ryan’s conviction was reversed and the case remanded for entry of misdemeanor convictions on the jury’s verdicts or for the prosecution to retry Ryan on the HDVO counts. The restitution order was also reversed and the case remanded for the trial court to determine restitution.

Mother Doe et al. v. Wellbridge Club Management LLC

The Colorado Court of Appeals unanimously reversed a judgment, vacated an order and remanded a case involving an exculpatory provision in a membership agreement.

Mother Doe and Jane Doe appealed a judgment entered in favor of Wellbridge Club Management LLC, which does business as Colorado Athletic Club-Monaco, concerning Mother Doe’s negligence claims and Premises Liability Act claim. The Does also appealed the order requiring Mother Doe to pay costs.

According to court records, Jane Doe was a minor at all relevant times for the case. In July 2014, Jane Doe became a member of the club when her grandfather signed a membership agreement on her behalf. In the fall of 2015, Jane Doe (who joined Mother Doe’s notice of appeal and appellate briefs) began taking tennis lessons with an employee of the club. From August 2016 to February 2017 the employee was accused of sexually abusing Jane Doe. Mother Doe alleged the abuse happened both at the club and away from it. The club terminated the employee in February 2017 and he later pleaded guilty to charges of child abuse and sexual exploitation of a child.

Mother Doe sued the club asserting liability under the Premises Liability Act, negligent hiring and retention, negligent supervision, negligence, negligent infliction of emotional distress and respondeat superior liability. On the club’s motion, the district court dismissed the PLA claim insofar as it alleged abuse off club premises. The district court dismissed the negligence-based claims insofar as they alleged abuse that occurred on the club’s premises. The court also dismissed the negligent hiring and respondeat superior claims.

The club moved for summary judgment on the other claims making two arguments: the exculpatory provision in the membership agreement barred the claims and no evidence showed the club knew or should have known the employee was sexually abusing Jane Doe. 

The district court decided the exculpatory provision of the agreement barred Mother Doe’s claims, concluding the plaintiff waived all injuries in connection with the club’s facilities and separately waived all negligence claims against the club. The court granted summary judgment in the club’s favor without addressing its second argument.

Mother Doe filed two motions for reconsideration. The first one argued the sexual grooming and sexual assault of a child isn’t contemplated by the membership agreement. In the second motion, Mother Doe argued new law, Colorado Revised Statute section 13-20-1204, voided the exculpatory provision at issue. The court denied both motions. The court also directed the Does to pay the club costs incurred. 

On appeal, the Does contended the district court erred because there isn’t evidence the Does understood or intended the waiver would extinguish the club’s responsibility for an employee grooming and sexually assaulting Jane Doe. The Does contended reversal was required because 13-20-1204 voided the exculpatory clause as contrary to public policy. The Does also asked the appeals court to vacate the court’s costs order if it reversed the summary judgment.

The appeals court considered whether an exculpatory provision in a membership agreement is valid when applied to negligence-related claims against an athletic club based on sexual abuse of a minor on and off the club’s premises by a club employee. 

The appeals court held the provision isn’t valid in this case because it doesn’t express the parties’ intention to waive such claims in clear, unambiguous and unequivocal language. The appeals court didn’t address the arguments based on 13-20-1204.

The appeals court found the provision doesn’t bar the plaintiff’s negligence and PLA claims. The appeals court reversed the summary judgment and vacated the order requiring Mother Doe to pay costs. The case was remanded for further proceedings consistent with the opinion.

Del Valle v. California Casualty Indemnity Exchange

The Colorado Court of Appeals affirmed a judgment and order in a case involving automobile insurance policy coverage.

Daniel Del Valle appealed a district court’s order that dismissed his complaint for failure to state a claim against California Casualty Indemnity Exchange. According to Del Valle’s complaint, he was injured in a car accident when acting in the course of his employment. Del Valle filed a workers’ compensation claim and got workers’ compensation medical benefits. Del Valle and his employer also settled the workers’ compensation claim.

When the accident occurred, Del Valle had personal auto insurance with CCIE. The policy included medical payments coverage for reasonable expenses incurred for necessary medical services for bodily injuries that were caused by an accident. The coverage had multiple exclusions including not providing medical payments coverage for any insured for bodily injury occurring during the course of employment if workers’ compensation benefits are required or available for bodily injury.

After settling his workers’ compensation claim, Del Valle continued getting medical treatment. He later filed a claim for medical payment benefits under the CCIE policy to cover more medical expenses. Based on the workers’ compensation exclusion, CCIE denied that claim. 

After not being able to resolve the dispute Del Valle filed an action asserting breach of insurance contract, common law bad faith breach on insurance contract, statutory bad faith and declaratory relief. Del Valle asked the court to declare the workers’ compensation exclusion invalid arguing it violates public policy. 

CCIE moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim and argued the workers’ compensation exclusion is valid. The district court agreed and concluded Del Valle wasn’t entitled to medical payment benefits under his auto insurance. CCIE also moved for attorney fees and costs. The district court denied the motion.

The appeals court concluded the workers’ compensation exclusion in the auto policy is valid, enforceable and doesn’t violate public policy. The appeals court also rejected CCIE’s cross-appeal for attorney fees on multiple grounds. 

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