Court Opinions- Jun 11, 2018

Mason v. Farm Credit of Southern Colorado

From 2008 to 2011, Zachary Mason took out several loans through Farm Credit of Southern Colorado for land he farmed in Otero County. Those loans gave Farm Credit a security interest in some of his crops, farm equipment and some personal property. He defaulted on his loans in 2012, and Farm Credit sued him in pursuit of personal property collateral, conversion of insurance proceeds, civil theft, breach of contract and fraud.

In 2013, Farm Credit amended its complaint to say James Mason, Zachary Mason’s father, converted Zachary Mason’s property to his own and to request an accounting. Farm Credit wanted the return of crop collateral and any proceeds from its sale. James Mason was also a farmer, but his operations did not overlap with his son’s, nor was he involved with any of his son’s loans. James Mason demanded a jury trial.

The case before the court looked at whether an amended complaint is grounds to allow a case to be tried before a jury when the nature of the original complaint was primarily equitable and did not require a jury. The court held that James Mason was entitled to a jury trial under Rule 38 of the Colorado Rules of Civil Procedure.

The People v. Austin

Ilyias Austin was charged with second-degree assault, a class four felony. He filed a motion for a preliminary hearing and was denied by the district court. The only way he could be given a preliminary hearing was if the crime required mandatory sentencing or was a crime of violence, and the district court felt it met neither. This was because the two parts of the test were equated and the sentencing for a crime of violence was interpreted as a form of mandatory sentencing. Since second-degree assault does not carry a mandatory sentence otherwise, it also does not carry one in the form of a sentence for a crime of violence.

The Supreme Court held that Austin was charged with a crime of violence and therefore was entitled to a preliminary hearing.

Gessler v. Smith

In 2012, then-Secretary of State Scott Gessler used funds from his discretionary budget to go to an election law seminar held by the Republican National Lawyers Association and then to go to the Republican National Convention. As part of this, he also requested “any remaining funds” as reimbursement without giving documentation of expenses. 

Colorado Ethics Watch reported this to the Independent Ethics Commission, which found Gessler had breached the public trust by using state funds for partisan and personal purposes. It ordered Gessler to pay a penalty. Gessler appealed the case through the courts saying the ethics commission did not have the jurisdiction in this case as their jurisdiction is limited to “gifts, influence peddling, and standards of conduct and reporting requirements that expressly delegate enforcement to the IEC.”

The court stated that under Amendment 41 to the Colorado Constitution, the ethics commission is enabled to regulate government workers who obtain improper personal financial benefit through their public employment. Gessler is to pay the penalty initially ordered by the IEC.

Renfandt v. New York Life Insurance Company

While under the influence of prescription medication, alcohol and marijuana, Mark Renfandt committed suicide. When his wife tried to collect on his life insurance, she was denied it based on the provision that the insurance could not be collected in case of suicide while sane or insane.

Renfandt sued New York Life Insurance, arguing that the death was not suicide because Mark was so intoxicated that he was unable to have suicidal intent when he shot himself. New York Life argued that the phrasing of “while sane or insane” keeps the concept of whether the suicide was intended out of the conversation. The meaning of “suicide … while sane or insane” is unclear in Colorado courts.

Different concepts of the word “suicide” are partly at fault. The question is if suicide requires self-destruction or being aware of the consequences of the act and intending to kill oneself — in other words, intentional self-destruction. The court sided with the latter definition. It felt that the phrase “while sane or insane” does not negate that “suicide” has intent behind it.

With that in mind the court rules that in Colorado law, the phrasing used by New York Life only excludes coverage only when those insured committed the act with intent. By doing so they answer the question brought to them by lower courts.

State Farm v. Griggs

Gary Griggs got into an automobile accident that injured several other people. State Farm was his insurer at the time of the accident. 

While State Farm was deciding how to split the insurance money between the many injured persons, it relied on information from Exempla (a hospital network) that a medical lien of $264,075 existed for services provided. The State Farm adjuster testified to this. It later came out that the actual lien was $264.75, an error attributed to Exempla.

One of State Farm’s attorneys, Franklin Patterson, was disqualified as he at one point had a connection to the law firm representing Susan Goddard, an injured victim. Later, State Farm’s new counsel disclosed the correct lien amount to Goddard.

Goddard argued that State Farm intentionally withheld the correct lien amount, which State Farm denied. Goddard also argued that State Farm waived attorney-client privilege by using Patterson as a witness during the trial that involved information that would otherwise be privileged.

The court decided that State Farm did not waive its attorney-client privilege and the district court was wrong to say the company did. 

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