Court Opinions- Oct 22, 2018

Ybarra v. Greenberg & Sada

Francis Ybarra petitioned for review of the Court of Appeals’ judgment affirming the dismissal of her Colorado Fair Debt Collection Practices Act action against Greenberg & Sada. 

The district court dismissed for failure to state a claim, finding that damages arising from a subrogated tort claim do not qualify as a debt within the contemplation of the act. The Court of Appeals agreed, reasoning that the undefined term “transaction,” which it considered integral to the act’s definition of “debt,” can only be understood to require some kind of business dealing, as distinguished from the commission of a tort; and to the extent an insurance contract providing for the subrogation of the rights of an insured constitutes a transaction in and of itself, that transaction is not one obligating the debtor to pay money, as required by the act.

Because a tort, as distinguished from a judgment awarding damages for its commission, does not obligate the tortfeasor to pay damages, it cannot be a transaction giving rise to an obligation to pay money, as required in order to constitute a debt within the contemplation of the act; and because an insurance contract providing for the subrogation of the rights of a damaged insured is not a transaction giving rise to an obligation of the tortfeasor to pay money, but merely changes the person to whom the tortfeasor’s obligation to pay is owed, it also cannot constitute a transaction creating debt within the contemplation of the act. The judgment of the Court of Appeals was therefore affirmed.

Zapata v. People

Nicholas Zapata and Jose Murillo entered a Littleton convenience store, and Murillo attacked the clerk with a knife. The victim quickly managed to subdue Murillo with a hammer, however. With that unexpected turn of events, Zapata fled.

Prosecutors charged Zapata with attempted first-degree murder and other crimes.

At trial, the state asserted that Zapata orchestrated the attack on behalf of his ex-girlfriend, S.M.

S.M. worked in the convenience store and had confided in Zapata several weeks earlier that her boss, the store owner and father of the victim, had sexually harassed her. Prosecutors argued that Zapata convinced Murillo to do his dirty work in seeking revenge, but at the store, they confused the son for his father. The jury convicted Zapata of attempted second-degree murder and first-degree assault.

Zapata sought a new trial because the trial court declined to give him access to, or to review in camera, certain competency reports regarding Murillo (who suffered brain damage as a result of the hammer blows). Zapata alleged the reports might contain exculpatory information about the criminal offenses. He also argued that the trial court committed reversible error when it admitted “res gestae” evidence of Zapata’s earlier threatening behavior toward S.M.

A division of the Court of Appeals affirmed Zapata’s convictions, concluding Murillo’s competency reports were privileged and no waiver justified disclosure in Zapata’s case; Zapata failed to make a particularized showing that the reports contained exculpatory information; and any error in admitting the res gestae evidence was harmless. 

The Supreme Court held that Murillo’s competency reports are protected by the physician-patient or psychologist-client privilege and Murillo did not waive the privilege as to Zapata when he put his competency in dispute in his own case. 

The court further concluded that Zapata did not make a sufficient showing that the competency reports contained exculpatory evidence to justify their release to him or review by the trial court. Finally, the court concluded that any error in the admission of res gestae evidence was harmless given the strong evidence of Zapata’s guilt.

Thus, the court affirmed the judgment of the Court of Appeals. Justice William Samour and Chief Justice Nathan Coats dissented with the opinion; Justices Melissa Hart and Richard Gabriel specially concurred with the majority opinion.

People v. DeGreat

This case required the Supreme Court to decide whether a division of the Court of Appeals erred in concluding that the statutory right to self-defense can apply to justify a defendant’s robbery of taxi cab services. Prosecutors charged respondent Edward Kevin DeGreat with attempted second-degree murder, first-degree assault, and aggravated robbery arising out of an incident in which DeGreat did not pay his taxi fare after an altercation with a taxi driver. 

According to DeGreat, he initially intended to pay the fare but then realized that he was a few dollars short and offered to go into his apartment to retrieve the rest of the money. DeGreat claims that the driver then attacked him, the two began fighting, and when DeGreat believed he saw the driver brandish a weapon, he stabbed the driver in self-defense. Thereafter, the driver fled and DeGreat left the scene. On these unique facts, the Supreme Court concluded that the division correctly determined that DeGreat was entitled to a self-defense instruction as to the aggravated robbery charge, although its reasoning differed from that on which the division relied. 

The court said that in its view, DeGreat presented some credible evidence to allow a reasonable jury to conclude that the robbery of services that DeGreat allegedly committed was committed in self-defense. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the division’s judgment, albeit based on different reasoning. Chief Justice Nathan Coats and Justices Brian Boatright and William Samour dissented.

People v. Bailey

The state sought an interlocutory review of the trial court’s pretrial order granting defendant Edwin Bailey’s motion to suppress evidence gathered during a search of his car. The trial court found that placing Mason, a certified narcotics-detecting dog, in Bailey’s car was a search that was not supported by probable cause.

The Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s suppression order. The Supreme Court held that the totality of the circumstances, including Mason’s alert to the odor of narcotics while sniffing the exterior of Bailey’s car, provided state troopers with probable cause to search the car. 

The fact that Mason’s alert was not a final indication did not render it irrelevant to the troopers’ probable cause determination. 

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