Court Opinions: Colorado Court of Appeals Opinions for Jan. 26

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

Scardina v. Masterpiece Cakeshop, Inc. et al.

The Colorado Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed a judgment in a case involving a bakery that’s made waves all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Autumn Scardina contended she was denied service by the bakery Masterpiece Cakeshop, Inc. because of her identity as a trans woman. Masterpiece Cakeshop and its proprietor Jack Phillips contended their decision not to make the cake for Scardina was based on their religious beliefs and a right to be free from compelled speech that would violate those beliefs. 

In 2017, Scardina called Masterpiece and said she wanted to purchase a custom birthday cake with pink cake and blue frosting and didn’t request the cake contain any words, symbols or details. Co-owner Debra Phillips, Jack’s wife, confirmed Masterpiece could make the cake. Scardina told Debra Phillips the cake was of special significance celebrating her birthday and Scardina’s transition from male to female. Debra Phillips replied she didn’t think the shop could make the cake because of the message and that she would need to get Jack Phillips on the phone. Before he could speak to Scardina, the call was disconnected.

Scardina called back and again requested the cake as the Phillips’ daughter Lisa Eldfrick answered. Eldfrick explained the shop couldn’t make the cake. Jack Phillips never spoke to Scardina regarding the cake, but he testified he wouldn’t design a cake that conflicts with his Bible teachings. Jack Phillips had agreed, more generally, the pink cake with blue frosting doesn’t express any message.

Scardina subsequently brought an action against Masterpiece Cakeshop and Jack Phillips under the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act and asserted she was illegally denied service based on her transgender status. A trial court ruled in favor of Scardina and assessed a $500 fine against the defendants. 

The defendants appealed arguing on multiple grounds including the trial court erred by finding their conduct violated CADA, and the trial court’s ruling violated their rights to be free from compelled speech and to exercise their religious faith freely.

The appeals court concluded baking a pink cake with blue frosting doesn’t constitute protected speech under the First Amendment. The appeals court also rejected “the defendants’ argument that the enforcement of CADA against them in this case is an application of an unconstitutional ‘offensiveness rule,’ which they contend permits proprietors to refuse to provide services that they find offensive based on secular views, while prohibiting others from declining to provide goods or services based on religious views.”

The appeals court also found CADA’s prohibition against discrimination based on a person’s transgender status doesn’t violate a proprietor’s right to exercise their religion freely.

People v. Randolph

The Colorado Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed a judgment involving mens rea in a child solicitation case.

Deshawn Randolph was charged with multiple counts including two under Colorado Revised Statute 18-7-402: one count of soliciting another for the purpose of child prostitution (1)(a) and one count of arranging or offering to arrange a meeting for the purpose of child prostitution (1)(b). 

According to court records prior to and during the trial, the parties disagreed about what mental state applied for the two soliciting charges. Randolph argued it was “intentionally” or “with intent” while prosecutors argued it was “knowingly.” In an order, the district court concluded the proper mental state was “knowingly” and instructed the jury accordingly.

Randolph was convicted of both soliciting charges. Randolph contended multiple issues on appeal including the district court erred by instructing the jury the mental state for both types of soliciting for child prostitution was “knowingly” which lowered the state’s burden of proof. 

The appeals court rejected each contention. The appeals court disagreed with Randolph and agreed with the district court the requisite mens rea is “knowingly.”

According to the appeals court, a person acts intentionally when their conscious objective is to cause a specific result proscribed by the statute defining the offense, and it’s immaterial to the issue of specific intent whether or not the result actually happened. A person acts knowingly when they are aware their conduct is practically certain to cause the result.

The appeals court affirmed the judgment after discussing previous rulings and looking at statutory language.

Pinnacol Assurance v. Laughlin

The Colorado Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed an order connected to Social Security benefits and garnishment.

Todd Wilson was injured in 2015 while working and received temporary workers’ compensation benefits from Pinnacol Assurance. Years later, the Social Security Administration determined Wilson was entitled to disability benefits from July 2016 onward. Wilson received payments from the SSA for more than $8,500 in December 2019 and more than $48,000 in January 2020. Since the back payments accounted for a period in which Wilson also received benefits from Pinnacol, that business wanted to recover the overpayment.

In July 2020, an administrative law judge determined Wilson owed Pinnacol nearly $23,000 as an overpayment. A district court converted the ALJ’s order into a judgment. In June 2021, with no amount of the judgment being paid, Pinnacol began garnishment proceedings against Wilson. Wilson filed a claim of exemption and asserted about $18,000 of the money being withheld from the bank accounts was exempt from garnishment under 42 U.S. Code 407(a), which provided social security benefits cannot be garnished. 

Wilson later argued that other funds were exempt from garnishment under Colorado Revised Statute 13-54-102(1)(u) which shielded court-ordered child support payments from garnishment. A district court held a hearing on the matter. During the hearing, Wilson’s mother Patricia Laughlin testified she was the representative payee for Wilson and handled the distribution of SSA payments and his other banking affairs generally.

Laughlin said the back payments from the SSA were first deposited into Wilson’s checking account before she transferred the bulk of it into his savings account. Subsequent SSA payments, Laughlin testified, were deposited into the checking account and left there for Wilson to live on. 

Laughlin also testified, in addition to the ongoing SSA payments, Wilson received monthly maintenance payments from his ex-wife which were deposited into the checking account and monthly child support payments, which were routinely deposited into a third account that was created just for the child support money.

When the maintenance and SSA payments were insufficient to cover Wilson’s expenses, Laughlin said she would transfer funds from the savings account into the checking account. Laughlin also disclosed a third source of money coming into the checking account, which were gifts from her. Laughlin admitted she transferred thousands of dollars from her own checking account into Wilson’s after the ALJ’s order.

Wilson’s attorney also argued all the money garnished from Wilson’s savings account and the child support account were exempt from garnishment because the money in the former was exclusively SSA money and the money in the latter was solely for child support. No money was garnished from his checking account, as it contained a nominal balance at the time. 

The court found Wilson’s SSA payments had been commingled with other nonexempt funds, so much of the money that was garnished from his accounts weren’t traceable as exempt property. Instead of denying Wilson’s exemption claim outright, the court left it up to Pinnacol’s counsel to go through Wilson’s bank records for deposits, like the gifts from Laughlin, that were made after the ALJ’s order and weren’t traceable as exempt property. Eventually, the court entered a written order directing Wilson to pay Pinnacol nearly $23,000.

Wilson appealed and contended the court’s order was erroneous. When the appeal was pending, Wilson died, and Laughlin was substituted as the appellant. The appeals court held that even if a recipient of social security benefits commingles the benefits with other funds, the person can get protection from garnishment for those funds that are traceable to the Social Security income. If the funds are not reasonably traceable, the appeals court wrote, they are not exempt from garnishment. The order was affirmed.

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