Court Opinions- Jan 28, 2019

Colorado Supreme Court Opinions for January 21

People v. Wood

Patrick Wood was convicted of second-degree murder and four other charges after killing the assistant manager during a pizza restaurant robbery in 1986. He was given a life sentence in prison. Wood argued that he was the victim of double jeopardy claiming he was tried for the same murder charge twice on first-degree and second-degree murder. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit decided that Wood’s first charge of first-degree murder be dropped and the charge of second-degree murder remain in place. 

The 10th Circuit of Appeals misinterpreted the original mittimus and there was no double jeopardy. The Colorado Supreme Court reversed the decision.  

Allen v. State of Colorado

This case was brought after Sam Allen, former owner of a 140-acre plot of land in Mesa County and shares of capital stock in Big Creek Reservoir Company, sold the land to a third party but excluded the company shares. Mesa County Land Conservancy claimed that this was a violation of the easement that stated all shares in the company will remain with the ownership of the land and demanded that the shares remain with land ownership. Allen filed a claim for compensation because of a loss of property rights. 

The Colorado Supreme Court dismissed the case on grounds of lack of jurisdiction after ruling unanimously that cases regarding water ownership and shares of a mutual ditch company cannot be heard by a water cort, since the court primarily rules over the resource’s use instead of corporate matters.

Colorado Court of Appeals Opinions for January 24

People v. Coahran

April Jo Coahran was convicted of criminal mischief arising from damage she caused to her ex-boyfriend’s car door after he grabbed her wrist and wouldn’t let go. But according to Coahran, she kicked the car door to distract the ex-boyfriend and also to gain enough leverage to free herself and get away. She argued she acted in self-defense and was entitled to an affirmative defense instruction. 

The prosecution responded that Colorado’s self-defense statute applies only to situations involving the use of physical force against other persons, not against property, and so it didn’t apply to Coahran’s situation. The trial court agreed. 

On appeal, Coahran challenged her conviction because of this alleged instructional error. She also appealed the trial court’s restitution order.

The Court of Appeals, as a matter of first impression in Colorado, found that a defendant charged with criminal mischief may be entitled to a jury instruction on self-defense as an affirmative defense. The court reversed Coahran’s conviction, vacated the restitution order and remanded for a new trial.

Security Credit Services v. Hulterstrom

Can a judgment creditor obtain a judgment lien against real property when more than six years have passed since the entry of the judgment? If so, what must the creditor do to obtain such a lien?

The Court of Appeals held that a judgment creditor may obtain a judgment lien at any time during the remaining life of the judgment, but if more than six years have passed since the entry of the judgment, the creditor must first revive the judgment and record the transcript of the revived judgment. This is true whether or not the judgment creditor previously obtained a judgment lien.

The Court Appeals reversed the district court error, saying the district court erroneously concluded that revival of the judgment was not required and denied the creditor’s request to revive the judgment.

Roybal v. City and County of Denver

Robert Roybal contended that the district court erred in affirming a decision and order of the City and County of Denver’s Career Service Authority Board, which affirmed the termination of his employment with the Denver Sheriff’s Department.

The Colorado Court of Appeals considered whether the authority to hire, discipline and terminate Denver Sheriff Department employees limited solely to the safety manager and the deputy safety manager under sections 2.6.2 and 2.6.4 of the Charter of the City and County of Denver. 

The court concluded the answer to that question is no, based on the plain language in the charter. Under the facts of this case, the court also concluded that the board did not improperly promulgate and retroactively apply a career service rule to this case. The court affirmed the judgment of the district court. 

People v. Terry

Andrew Terry appealed the district court’s denial of his Crim. P. 35(c) motion for postconviction relief. He alleged that the court procedurally erred in denying five of his six claims for relief before ordering the prosecution to respond to the only remaining claim. 

He also contended that he sufficiently pleaded ineffective assistance of counsel; thus, the district court erred in denying his postconviction motion. The Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court.

Stiles v. Department of Corrections

Matthew Stiles, a Department of Corrections employee tested positive for THC on a drug test after he used marijuana to treat stress and insomnia. In response to the drug test, he was given a notice for a Rule 6-10 meeting, which “is not a formal hearing but rather an opportunity for the parties to exchange information. The appointing authority must consider any written or oral information that the employee provides before making a final decision.” 

On Oct. 19, Stiles met with the appointing authority Warden David Johnson and provided an explanation for the positive test result. He was accompanied and supported by his immediate supervisor, Lieutenant James DeTello, who confirmed that Stiles was a valuable employee. On Nov. 2, Stiles was issued a notice of disciplinary action immediately terminating him. 

Stiles appealed his termination to the Colorado State Personnel Board, and an administrative law judge conducted a hearing and issued an initial decision. 

That decision rescinded Stiles’ termination, modified the discipline to a 10 percent pay reduction for six months and ordered back pay and benefits. 

In reaching his decision, the ALJ found that Johnson’s decision was arbitrary, capricious, and contrary to rule or law. DOC appealed that decision and contended that the ALJ was required to defer to Johnson’s findings and that such deference supports Stiles’ termination. 

The Court of Appeals disagreed, finding the Rule 6-10 meeting is informal and does not sufficiently protect the property interests of a state-certified employee accused of misconduct. Second, section 24-50-125(4), C.R.S. 2018, provides for an adversarial proceeding at which the employee is entitled to representation by counsel of choice, and it requires the board to make written findings of fact and conclusions of law — a hearing our supreme court has described as de novo. 

The court concluded that the ALJ’s decision was supported by the record.

Brown v. American Standard Insurance Company

This insurance dispute arises from plaintiff Michael Brown’s motorcycle accident, and the purported cancellation of his motorcycle insurance policy by American Standard Insurance Company of Wisconsin.

After Brown sued for benefits under the policy, the trial court granted American Standard’s summary judgment motion, concluding that no coverage was in effect on the date of the accident because American Standard had previously given written notice of cancellation on the ground that Brown did not have a valid driver’s license. Brown contested that fact, and offered admissible evidence that he had a valid driver’s license at the time of the cancellation and on the date of the accident.

The Court of Appeals concluded, as a matter of first impression in Colorado, that when an insurer notifies an insured that it is cancelling an automobile insurance policy and specifies the reason for the cancellation, the validity of the cancellation turns on the accuracy of the information underlying the cancellation. Under these circumstances, a policy cancellation based on inaccurate information is no cancellation at all. 

The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s summary judgment.

Tallman v. Aune

Michael Tallman obtained a default judgment in 1996 against Richard Aune. Twenty years after the judgment entered, and after the court file had been destroyed, the district court granted Aune’s motion to vacate the default judgment under C.R.C.P. 60(b)(3), finding that Tallman failed to establish by clear and convincing evidence that Aune was ever properly served in this case. 

Tallman asked the court to reverse that ruling because, in his view, the district court erred in declining to apply the presumption of regularity to the default judgment and presume it was entered with jurisdiction and Aune’s unsworn statements in his motion to vacate the default judgment were not sufficient to overcome the presumption of regularity or meet his threshold burden to establish that the default judgment was void 

The court agreed with Tallman, reversed the district court’s judgment and remanded the case for reinstatement of the default judgment.

Marriage of Thorstad

Colorado statutes establish how courts set, modify and terminate maintenance orders. 

The decision to modify or to terminate a maintenance order is often governed by the effect of changed circumstances on the payor spouse’s ability to pay. 

This case examines the statutory structure that courts apply when dealing with the effect of a payor’s decision to retire on a maintenance order. The court recognized that, in some cases, there could be ulterior motives behind this decision. 

The division surveyed decisions from other states, and it discovered a majority rule stating reduced income due to a spouse’s good faith decision to retire should be recognized as a basis for modifying maintenance. 

In this case, Ronald Thorstad suffered from some health problems, which contributed to his decision to retire from his job. He therefore asked a magistrate to terminate his maintenance obligation to his former wife, Randie Thorstad, who is now known as Randie Randell. The magistrate granted Ronald’s request; Randie sought the district court’s review; and the district court denied her petition. 

The court concluded that the magistrate’s order, as affirmed by the district court, partially misapplied legislative guidance and reversed the court’s order and remanded the case for further proceedings.

People v. Rieger

Pursuant to section 16-12-102(1), C.R.S. 2018, the People appealed the district court’s order dismissing, after a preliminary hearing, the case charging the defendant, Justin Rieger, with solicitation to commit tampering with physical evidence. The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded with directions.

Garrou v. Shovelton

John and Denice Garrou brought a medical malpractice action against Lawrence Shovelton as well as Monarch Anesthesia and Salida Hospital District.Shovelton moved to stay the proceedings based on a South Carolina state court order commencing liquidation proceedings and granting an injunction and automatic stay of all proceedings against his malpractice carrier, Oceanus Insurance Company, and any of Oceanus’ policyholders. 

The Court of Appeals granted Shovelton’s petition for interlocutory review because the appealed order involves controlling and unresolved questions of law and its immediate review will promote a more orderly disposition of this litigation.

Resolution of the petition required the court to answer a novel question: Must a Colorado court recognize and give effect to a South Carolina court’s liquidation order concerning a South Carolina risk retention insurance group and its policyholders when one of those policyholders is sued in Colorado? 

The court answered “yes,” finding for two reasons that  granting the petition will promote a more orderly disposition of the litigation. 

The court concluded that Colorado must recognize and give effect to South Carolina’s order, reversed the district court’s order denying Shovelton’s motion for a stay and remanded the case with directions to stay the proceedings as to Shovelton, and for the district court to determine, in its discretion, whether the Garrous may proceed against Monarch and the hospital without Shovelton.

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