Oral Arguments Resume Sept. 20 in Colorado Supreme Court

The Colorado Supreme Court building has four pillars in front of it and steps. A flag pole can be seen.
Oral arguments begin in the Colorado Supreme Court Sept. 20 as it hears five cases. / Law Week file.

After taking a break over the summer, the Colorado Supreme Court will begin hearing oral arguments again for five cases Sept. 20-21.

The cases range from issues with gas and oil to Miranda rights and even a situation involving a judicial board of review.

Oil and Gas

One case involves an Oklahoma police pension fund and an energy company. The Colorado Supreme Court will look into the Securities Act of 1933. The court will ask the question of whether the court of appeals departed from the act when it held immaterial puffery statements could become material due to nearby historical or measurable information and allowed a plaintiff to plead claims using hindsight. It also asks if the court of appeals erred by reversing a district decision based on a theory a plaintiff hadn’t raised.

Jagged Peak Energy is an oil and natural gas exploration and production company in Denver. Jagged conducted an initial public offering and filed a registration statement with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The Oklahoma pension group acquired Jagged stock connected with the IPO. 

Jagged’s stock dropped below the initial offering price after the IPO, which caused big losses for the pension fund and other Jagged investors. Later, the pension fund filed a class action lawsuit alleging Jagged made material misstatements and omissions in its registration statement, and incorporated offering materials in violation of the act.

The district court dismissed the pension funds claims with prejudice, while the appeals court affirmed in part, reversed in part and remanded for further proceedings. The appeals court found the pension fund had plausibly pleaded that some statements from Jagged were misleading leading to a partial reversal.

The Colorado Supreme Court will take on another case involving oil and gas involving the Boulder County Board and Crestone Peak Resources Operating LLC. The high court will determine whether the appeals court erred by adopting and applying the commercial discovery rule in interpreting oil and gas leases.

The case goes back to the 1980s when two oil and gas leases were negotiated. In a press release, Boulder County alleges two county-owned oil and gas leases expired due to a gap in oil and gas production.

Boulder County noted in the release that the courts applied the commercial discovery rule which means oil and gas production occurs when resources are discovered and a well is capable of producing them, regardless if anything is extracted. The county argues the actual production rule should be used, meaning the operator should extract minerals from the ground in order for a well to be called producing, to hold the lease. 

In a gas royalties case, the high court will look at whether the appeals court erred finding either the mere existence of a disagreement over royalty owners’ legal entitlements to further payments under the royalty agreements or the existence of terms subject to a legal debate, lead to a bona fide dispute over the interpretation of a payment contract under Colorado Revised Statute 34-60-118.5(5).

From 2016 to 2017, royalty owners sued Antero Resources Corporation and Ursa Operating Company in Garfield County District Court alleging the operators failed to pay them royalties they were due under gas and oil leases. 

Eventually, it went in front of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission which declined jurisdiction over the matter after determining there were bona fide disputes over the leases. After judicial review, the district court remanded the matter back to the COGCC arguing none of the leases required legal interpretation. 

The appeals court concluded the disputes are not all factual and the COGCC was correct that it lacked jurisdiction. The appeals court reversed and remanded the case for each case on its own merits to the district court.

Confidentiality Waiver/Miranda Rights

The high court will also look at whether the Colorado Court of Appeals erred in expanding the waiver of confidentiality or privilege in Colorado Revised Statute 16-8-103.6(2)(a), beyond what is provided by the language of the statute. 

The case is connected to Ari Liggett, who was found guilty of first-degree murder in the death of his mother. The appeals court affirmed Liggett’s conviction. But the case raised a unique interpretation of 16-8-103.6(2)(a) which waives confidentiality of some statements and records of a defendant when a defendant pleads not guilty by reason of insanity. 

When the appeals court affirmed the judgment, it held that a psychiatric nurse and licensed professional counselor, who are not designated in the waiver statute, are encompassed by the statutory waiver of confidentiality for a physician or psychologist. 

The high court will also look at whether the Court of Appeals erred in ruling a defendant’s voluntary statement to law enforcement that was obtained in violation of Miranda v. Arizona was admissible if the suspect presented any evidence that he was insane at the time of the alleged offense. 

Board of Review

The Colorado Supreme Court will look at whether the Judicial Department Personnel Board of Review is a governmental body or lower judicial body within the Colorado Rule of Civil Procedure 106(a)(4). The high court will also surmise whether the Colorado Judicial System Personnel Rules preclude district courts from reviewing final decisions by the Judicial Department Personnel Board of Review.

It’s connected to a case where probation officer Abbey Dickerson was fired from the 18th Judicial District after being accused of violating the department’s confidentiality and social media policies. She appealed her termination to the Judicial Department Personnel Board of Review. At the hearing, the personnel board found Dickerson violated policies, but her firing was arbitrary and it recommended a 90-day unpaid suspension instead. The Judicial Board of Review affirmed the decision on appeal.

The 18th Judicial District filed a complaint in district court against the review board arguing it abused its discretion under 106(a)(4). Dickerson and the review board moved for dismissal arguing the application and judicial department personnel rules are only in the jurisdiction of the state’s high court. The district court concluded it lacked subject matter jurisdiction. The appeals court affirmed.

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