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Cases of Note

Courts presume that the General Assembly is aware of court decisions that construe state statutes or the constitution. The OLLS will update this web page quarterly to notify the General Assembly of such court decisions. Cases that may be of particular interest because they meet certain criteria have been summarized and are listed below in chronological order. Summaries for cases older than a year are available in an archive.

 

 

Lewis v. Taylor, Colorado Supreme Court No. 17SC241 (September 17, 2018)

Holding: The time value of money does not constitute reasonably equivalent value in an equity-type Ponzi scheme.

Case Summary: Taylor invested money in a Ponzi scheme run by Mueller. Their agreement did not provide any guaranteed rate of return or interest; rather, Taylor was to receive merely a portion of whatever profits might accrue. Taylor received several transfers of "profits" (in reality, merely subsequent investors' principal) from Mueller and later withdrew his entire principal, plus nearly half a million dollars profit. Then the enterprise was exposed as a scam. The trial court appointed Lewis as receiver, who sued to void the profit portion of the transfers to Taylor in order to return the money to investors who lost all of their principal.

Taylor argued that, under the "Colorado Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act" (CUFTA), he had given "reasonably equivalent value" to Mueller in the form of the time-value of the invested money, and therefore the transfers to him were not voidable. The trial court held for the receiver, and the court of appeals reversed.

The supreme court reversed again, observing that this is an issue of first impression in Colorado. The supreme court found that under CUFTA, the time value of money does not constitute reasonably equivalent value in an equity-type Ponzi scheme. The court contrasted a Ponzi scheme in which an investor has been guaranteed a minimum rate of return or interest; in these situations, a transfer of "profits" or interest satisfies an antecedent debt, which makes the investment of principal a reasonably equivalent value. In these types of Ponzi schemes, a transfer of "profits" or interest is a dollar-for-dollar forgiveness of a contractual debt; such transfers are not voidable. But in an equity-type Ponzi scheme, the innocent investor who profits can point to nothing under CUFTA that ties the false profit to "value" that was provided to the debtor. Because Taylor did not provide any reasonably equivalent value, Mueller's transfers to him of "profits" were voidable. (For more information, contact Thomas Morris.)

 

 

Guarantee Trust Life Ins. Co. v. Estate of Casper, Colorado Supreme Court No. 17SC2 (May 29, 2018)

Holding: The statute that limits the survivability of a claim for punitive damages or penalties applies only after the death of the person against whom the punitive damages or penalties are claimed.

Case Summary: The plaintiff, Casper, sued his insurance company for the unreasonable delay or denial of insurance benefits. The jury awarded him compensatory and punitive damages. Casper died before the court entered a written and signed order, which also included an award of Casper's attorney fees and costs in the judgment. The insurance company argued that the attorney fees and costs could not be included in the computation of punitive damages and that the punitive damages claim did not survive Casper's death. The trial judge disagreed; the insurance company appealed, and the court of appeals affirmed. The insurance company sought review in the supreme court.

Previous case law, Kruse v. McKenna, 178 P.3d 1198 (Colo. 2008), held that the determination of whether a claim is assignable depends upon whether it survives the death of the person originally entitled to assert the claim. Kruse therefore intimated that the survival statute's limitation on penalties and punitive damages applies when either party dies. But the Supreme Court in Casper held that Kruse effectively ignored the plain meaning of survival statute's text, which states that punitive damages and penalties are only not available after the death of the person "against whom such punitive damages or penalties are claimed". Because it was the insurance company against whom the punitive damages were claimed but it was Casper who died, the survival statute did not apply, and to the extent that the Kruse decision failed to give meaning to the plain language of the survival statute, that decision was overruled. (For more information, contact Thomas Morris.)

 

 

Maralex Res., Inc. v. Colo. Oil and Gas Conservation Comm’n, Colorado Court of Appeals No. 17CA0051 (March 22, 2018)

Holding: The court of appeals upheld the district court's determination that the Colorado oil and gas conservation commission's (COGCC) rule authorizing COGCC staff to inspect oil and gas properties without a warrant met the administrative search exemption to the constitutional warrant requirement.

Case Summary: The COGCC obtained and executed a warrant to search two oil and gas locations and, two weeks later, reinspected the locations without a warrant. The inspections revealed a number of violations of the COGCC's rules, and the COGCC issued an order finding violation against the oil and gas operator. The oil and gas operator and the surface property owner sought judicial review in district court, asserting a facial challenge to the constitutionality of the COGCC's rule authorizing warrantless searches as a violation of the constitutional protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. The district court concluded that the inspection rule did not violate either the United States or the Colorado Constitution. 

The court of appeals analyzed whether the COGCC's inspection rule met the administrative search exception to the constitutional warrant requirement. Applying a three-part test, the court of appeals determined that the COGCC's regulatory scheme provided a "constitutionally adequate substitute for a warrant" based on findings that: (1) Oil and gas development is a closely regulated industry; (2) a requirement that the COGCC obtain a warrant for every inspection performed would frustrate the state's substantial interest in regulating oil and gas development; and (3) the COGCC enforced its inspection rule with sufficient certainty and regularity that members of the regulated community had a reduced expectation of privacy in the commercial premises inspected. The court of appeals concluded that the COGCC's inspection rule met the administrative search exemption to the constitutional warrant requirement.

The court of appeals also reviewed the surface property owner's separate constitutional challenge to the COGCC's inspection rule on grounds that the rule as applied to the surface property owner violated the constitutional warrant requirement and constituted a governmental taking. The court of appeals rejected the as-applied challenge to the warrantless search because the surface property owner did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the property where the surface property owner granted the operator an unlimited easement to the surface estate. The court declined to address the surface property owner's takings claim because it was raised in a perfunctory manner. (For more information, contact Jennifer Berman.)

 

 

City of Arvada v. Denver Health & Hosp., Colorado Supreme Court No. 16SC184 (October 10, 2017)

Holding: Section 16-3-401 (2) does not create a private right of action against a governmental entity for a health care provider who treats a person in custody.

Case Summary: Arvada police arrested a severely injured man and transported him to Denver Health for treatment. After the man and his estate were unable to pay the costs of treatment, Denver Health sued Arvada to recover the costs. Denver Health argued that section 16-3-401, C.R.S., which requires law enforcement agencies to provide medical treatment to persons in custody if necessary, also requires such agencies to pay for such treatment. The Colorado supreme court held that section 16-3-401 does not create a private cause of action for a medical care provider. However, the court also held that any remedy for Denver Health's claim lies in contract law rather than tort law, and therefore the claim is not barred by the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act. Because Denver Health may yet prevail on a claim of unjust enrichment, the court remanded the case for further proceedings. In the majority opinion, Justice Hood stated that the issues in the case "cry out for resolution" by the General Assembly. (For more information, contact Jeremiah Barry.)

 

 

Fuentes-Espinoza v. People, Colorado Supreme Court No. 13SC128 (October 10, 2017)

Holding: The court holds that section 18-13-128, C.R.S., is preempted by federal law under the doctrines of both field and conflict preemption and, accordingly, reverses the defendant's convictions.

Case Summary: In 2007, petitioner Fuentes-Espinoza was arrested in Wheat Ridge, Colorado, with a van full of people whom he was transporting from Arizona to Kansas. He was charged with, and later convicted of, seven counts of human smuggling in violation of section 18-13-128, C.R.S. He appealed his convictions, arguing that the statute is preempted by the federal "Immigration and Nationality Act", 8 U.S.C. sec. 1101-1537 (2017) (INA).

The court of appeals rejected Fuentes-Espinoza's preemption argument, concluding that he could not raise the argument on appeal because he did not assert it before the trial court. However, the Colorado Supreme Court chose to exercise its discretion to review the argument, and the supreme court agreed with Fuentes-Espinoza that section 18-13-128, C.R.S., is preempted by the INA. Accordingly, the court reversed his convictions on all counts.

The U.S. Supreme Court has recognized three forms of federal preemption: express, field, and conflict preemption. In Fuentes-Espinoza's case, the Colorado Supreme Court found that Colorado's human smuggling statute is preempted under the doctrines of both field and conflict preemption.

As to field preemption, the court found that the comprehensive nature of the INA demonstrates Congress's intent to "maintain a uniform, federally regulated framework for criminalizing and regulating the transportation, concealment, and inducement of unlawfully present aliens, and this framework is so pervasive that it has left no room for the states to supplement it."

As to conflict preemption, the court found that Colorado's human smuggling statute "stands as an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of Congress's purposes and objectives in enacting the INA" because the statute (1) conflicts with the "careful calibration" of the INA's penalty scheme and (2) "sweeps more broadly" than the INA by criminalizing a wider range of conduct. "In doing so," said the court, "the Colorado statute disrupts Congress's objective of creating a uniform scheme of punishment because some human smuggling activities . . . are punishable in Colorado but not elsewhere." (For more information, contact Richard Sweetman.)