Court Opinions: Colorado Court of Appeals Opinions for May 18

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

Marriage of Medeiros

The Colorado Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed a judgment in part, reversed in part and remanded a case involving an inheritance and the dissolution of a marriage. 

Matthew Medeiros appealed a district court’s judgment dissolving his marriage with Kirsten Scheig (formerly Kirsten Medeiros). 

In 2019, Scheig petitioned a Jefferson County district court to dissolve the parties’ 25-year marriage. The court held a two-day permanent orders hearing June 30 and July 1, 2020. At the hearing, the parties contested the characterization, valuation and division of property, as well as Scheig’s request for maintenance and award of attorney fees.

After the close of evidence, the court took the case under advisement and informed the parties, given the extensive evidence and numerous upcoming trials on the court’s docket, it would be a while before the court entered a final order. In March 2021, before the court issued its final orders dissolving the marriage, Medeiros filed a motion to reopen evidence. He asserted in February 2021, Scheig’s father died and Medeiros alleged Scheig was an heir to her father’s estate and entitled to a substantial inheritance.

In the motion to reopen, Medeiros requested the court direct Scheig to provide more information on her inheritance and hold a hearing to consider the evidence of Scheig’s changed economic circumstances. The court concluded it lacked authority to reopen the evidence and denied Medeiros’ motion.

In May 2021, about three weeks after denying Medeiros’ motion to reopen, the district court issued a decree dissolving the marriage and entered permanent orders. The court divided the parties’ marital estate by allocating each party net equity worth more than $1 million.

In doing so, the court awarded Medeiros his ownership interest in Institute for Wealth Management Holdings, Inc., a financial investment services company he operated and which he owned an interest in. Medeiros’ interest at IWH was valued at $1,451,500. 

The court also found Medeiros was involved in a car accident a few months before Scheig filed the dissolution petition. The court determined, although Medeiros hadn’t yet filed a personal injury lawsuit, any judgment or settlement from the potential claim was marital property and awarded Scheig 25% of any future damages. 

Moving to maintenance, the district court found Scheig’s income as a real estate agent had recently decreased, but her earning ability rebounded. The court found Scheig could earn a gross income of $100,000 a year, or $8,333 per month. The court deducted her business expenses and calculated a $5,333 monthly income for the purpose of maintenance. 

The court found that Medeiros had an income of $19,538 per month, and it ordered him to pay Scheig maintenance of $4,200 a month for 15 years. The court denied Scheig’s request for attorney fees.

Medeiros appealed. He contended the district court erred in denying his motion to reopen the evidence to consider a change in Scheig’s economic circumstances, which occurred after the permanent orders hearing but before the court issued the decree and final orders. 

The appeals court agreed and concluded the district court had the power at its discretion to reopen the evidence. The appeals court noted a court doesn’t always have to reopen the evidence after a permanent orders hearing based on allegations of changed economic circumstances, but the court must use its discretion to decide based on multiple factors. 

Medeiros also contended the district court’s maintenance award should be reversed, arguing the court improperly determined Scheig’s income of $5,333 a month. The appeals court agreed, finding under the maintenance statute, gross income for a self-employed party is defined as a party’s gross receipts minus their ordinary and necessary business expenses. 

The district court found Scheig’s gross income was $8,333 per month and, by definition, the appeals court wrote, that finding accounted for her reasonable business expenses. The appeals court contended the lower court went on to deduct another $3,000 per month from that, improperly accounting for her business expenses twice. 

The judgment was affirmed in part, reversed in part and remanded for further proceedings. 

On remand, the district court needs to first consider Medeiros’ motion to reopen in light of the guidance provided by the appeals court’s opinion, the Colorado Court of Appeals wrote.

If the lower court grants Medeiros’ motion, it needs to direct the parties to make updated disclosures and allow them to present additional evidence on their present economic circumstances. Based on any new evidence concerning the parties’ current economic circumstances, along with relevant evidence from the previous permanent orders hearing, the court could reallocate the marital estate, the appeals court wrote.

The court also needs to redetermine maintenance and Scheig’s request for attorney fees based on the potential new property division and the parties’ economic circumstances at the time of the hearing on remand.

On the other hand, if the district court denies Medeiros’ motion to reopen, it should make findings regarding its decision and the court could re-enter its permanent orders concerning the division of the marital estate, the court of appeals noted. 

If, on remand, the court re-enters its permanent orders, it should clarify its findings on the total value of the marital estate and values it has allocated to each party, as there’s some minor inconsistency in values between the narrative portion of the court’s order and spreadsheet incorporated into the order, according to the appeals court. The court then needs to reconsider maintenance and attorney fees in accordance with the opinion.

The portions of the judgment not challenged on appeal remain undisturbed. 

Heidel et al. v. Rio Blanco County Sheriff’s Office et al.

The Colorado Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed an order involving a wrongful death suit.

In August 2015, Catherine Rowell was arrested and charged with third-degree assault of her common law husband Gary Heidel, whom she shared a home with. The following day, a court entered a mandatory protection order under Colorado Revised Statute 18-1-1001(1) requiring Rowell to vacate the home and prohibiting her from contacting Heidel.

Around six weeks later, Rowell pleaded guilty to harassment and the assault charge was dismissed. The county court sentenced Rowell to one year of probation. The mandatory protection order remained in effect for the probationary period.

On Feb. 12, 2016, authorities responded to Heidel’s home on a report he assaulted a third party. Rowell was there. Police arrested Rowell and charged her with violation of a protection order. The booking form showed Rowell’s status as “pre-dispo.” Three days later, Rowell died by suicide at the Rio Blanco County Jail.

In April 2020, Heidel and heirs of Rowell sued the Rio Blanco Sheriff’s Office, along with the sheriff and several officers in state court asserting wrongful death claims. According to a footnote, the family initially filed suit in federal court, asserting both federal and state claims. That court granted summary judgment for the RBSO on the federal claims based on qualified immunity and declined to exercise pendent jurisdiction over the remaining state claims.

RBSO moved to dismiss the state complaint arguing the claims were barred by the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act and not subject to any statutory waiver of immunity. They contended the immunity waiver for negligent operation of a jail didn’t apply because at the time of her death Rowell was convicted of the crime of harassment which was why she was in jail.

The trial court denied the motion. The lower court concluded Rowell had been convicted of harassment in 2015 but she was detained in February 2016 on a separate offense that she was presumed innocent of until proven guilty..

The lower court determined that because Rowell was incarcerated, but not yet convicted of the crime she was incarcerated for, the waiver of immunity applied and CGIA didn’t bar the family’s claims. 

On appeal, the defendants contended the trial court erred in finding Rowell wasn’t incarcerated on her harassment conviction. 

The appeals court disagreed. The appeals court affirmed the lower court’s order after looking at the plain language of the statute and applicable case law. It concluded at the time of her death, Rowell was incarcerated for an alleged violation of a protection order, which hadn’t been adjudicated and she wasn’t yet convicted of the offense she was incarcerated for. Therefore the waiver of immunity applied, the court held.

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