Court Opinions: Colorado Court of Appeals Opinions for Oct. 28

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

Garcia v. Colorado Cab Co.

Jose Garcia sued Colorado Cab Company LLC for negligence and unjust enrichment when Curt Glinton, who was a passenger in one of Colorado Cab’s taxis, assaulted him, first by hitting him while they were standing outside the cab and then by running him over with the cab, which Glinton had stolen.

Colorado Cab first challenged whether it owed a duty to Garcia. The district court ruled that it did on three bases: (1) Colorado Cab committed an act of misfeasance (the driver’s calling out for help) that increased the risk of harm to Garcia; (2) there was a common carrier/passenger relationship between them; and (3) Garcia was a “rescuer,” which meant that the duty Colorado Cab owed to its driver, Ali Yusuf, to protect him from assaults by passengers extended to Garcia.

Garcia argued to the jury that Colorado Cab breached the duty of care by failing to install partitions separating the front and back seats and interior cameras in its cabs. After Colorado Cab unsuccessfully moved for a directed verdict on the issues of duty and causation, the jury found that Colorado Cab breached its duty of care and awarded Garcia $1.6 million in damages.

Later, the court held a hearing on Garcia’s unjust enrichment claim and dismissed it. Colorado Cab filed post-verdict motions for judgment notwithstanding the verdict and to reduce the verdict by the amount Medicaid had paid toward Garcia’s medical bills. The district court denied both motions and Colorado Cab appealed. Garcia cross-appealed the district court’s judgment on his unjust enrichment claim.

A division of the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled that Colorado Cab didn’t owe a duty of care to Garcia under any of the three theories advanced by the district court. The division reversed the judgment and remanded the case for entry of judgment for Colorado Cab.

Garcia sought certiorari review by the Colorado Supreme Court. The Supreme Court held that Garcia was indeed a rescuer within the meaning of the rescue doctrine, and therefore Colorado Cab’s duty to Yusuf extended to him. The court reversed and remanded the case to the Colorado Court of Appeals with directions to address Colorado Cab’s remaining contentions.

The Court of Appeals ordered the parties to submit supplemental briefs addressing whether Colorado Cab had argued in its opening brief filed in this court that it didn’t owe a duty to Yusuf, and how the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Rocky Mountain Planned Parenthood v. Wagner affects the analysis of whether Colorado Cab’s breach of the duty of care was the proximate cause of Garcia’s injuries. 

A division of the Colorado Court of Appeals held that the negligent actor is liable to the rescuer only for the harm resulting from a risk that is reasonably to be expected from the rescue attempt. The division concluded that while the cab company can be liable to the rescuer for the passenger’s assault of the rescuer when the rescuer approached the cab to intervene in the passenger’s assault on the driver, it cannot be liable for the passenger’s subsequent use of the cab as a weapon to run down the driver after the passenger had driven away and returned. That injury was not caused by a risk — use of the cab as a weapon after stealing the cab — that was inherent in the rescue attempt. The division remanded the case for a new trial on damages. 

People in the Interest of O.S-H.

In this dependency and neglect proceeding, M.S.C., the biological father, appealed the juvenile court’s judgment adjudicating S.W., the stepfather, to be the legal father of O.S-H. To resolve M.S.C.’s appeal, the Colorado Court of Appeals needed to decide an unanswered question in Colorado: Does a paternity adjudication within a dependency and neglect proceeding constitute a child-custody proceeding under the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978? 

In 2017, the Washington County Department of Human Services obtained temporary custody of O.S-H. and initiated a dependency and neglect case. The department asserted that the child’s mother was deceased, M.S.C. was in prison and S.W. didn’t have appropriate housing.

The juvenile court adjudicated the child dependent and neglected as to S.W. and it granted the department’s request for genetic testing to determine whether M.S.C. was the child’s biological parent. It also adopted a treatment plan for S.W. and placed O.S-H. in his care.

M.S.C. was served with notice of the proceeding and promptly asserted that he was the biological parent and was named as the father on the child’s birth certificate. Testing later confirmed this genetic relationship. After a hearing, the court adjudicated S.W. the child’s parent and dismissed M.S.C. from the case.

A division of the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled that a paternity adjudication within a dependency and neglect proceeding constitutes a child-custody proceeding under the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 and concluded that the record does not show compliance with ICWA’s inquiry provisions. The court reversed remanded to the juvenile court.

People v. Delfeld 

The parties in this case agree that Brian Delfeld’s sentence to imprisonment and probation on different counts in the same case was illegal under Allman v. People. But Delfeld has already served that sentence. Instead, he challenged his conviction for violation of the mandatory protection order that was in effect until he completed his earlier, illegal sentence. Specifically, he contended that his illegal sentence — and, with it, the section protection order — should have ended when he completed his term of prison and parole, lopping off the probation portion of the sentence. He contended the protection order was no longer in place on the day he was found to have violated it. So we must determine what impact, if any, the illegality of his earlier sentence had on the protection order.

A division of the Colorado Court of Appeals concluded that where a defendant is serving an illegal sentence but hasn’t obtained a court order reversing or vacating the judgment of conviction, entering a new sentence or modifying or dismissing the mandatory protection order, and where the illegal portion of the sentence can’t be severed, the protection order remains in effect through the entire sentence and any violation of the order is punishable. The division affirmed the judgment of conviction entered after a jury found Delfeld guilty of violation of a protection order and harassment. 

Brannberg v. Colorado State Board of Education

Judy Brannberg and her proposed charter school, John Dewey Institute, Inc., appealed the district court’s judgment concluding that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction to review the rejection of their charter school application by the Douglas County School District RE-1 and the Colorado State Board of Education. 

This case presented the question of whether the General Assembly has precluded the courts’ authority to hear and decide a given class of cases under the Charter Schools Act. The act allows individuals or groups to apply to a local school board to create a charter. In the event of an adverse decision, applicants may appeal the local board’s decision to the Colorado State Board of Education. When the initial appeal of the local board’s decision — known as the first appeal — occurs, the act instructs the state board either to affirm the decision or to remand the proceeding to the local board. If, on remand, the local board again renders a decision adverse to the applicant, the applicant may take a second appeal to the state board. 

Resolving a question of statutory interpretation, a division of the Colorado Court of Appeals concluded that the appeal-preclusion language in the act doesn’t apply to state board decisions rendered after a first appeal. The act also doesn’t revoke courts’ subject matter jurisdiction to review such decisions. Because the trial court ruled otherwise, the division reversed and remanded for further proceedings.

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