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.
Holding: Article V, section 1 (6) of the Colorado constitution requires initiative petition signatures to be executed in person in the presence of a petition circulator, and the Governor cannot issue an executive order suspending that requirement.
Case Summary: Article V, section 1 (6) of the Colorado constitution states in relevant part that a petition to place an initiative on the ballot "shall be signed by registered electors in their own proper persons only" and that each petition must include "an affidavit of some registered elector that each signature thereon is the signature of the person whose name it purports to be and that, to the best of the knowledge and belief of the affiant, each of the persons signing said petition was, at the time of signing, a registered elector." In accordance with this constitutional provision, initiative petitions have always been signed in person by registered electors while in the physical presence of a petition circulator.
The Colorado Disaster Emergency Act, §§ 24-33.5-701 to 24-33.5-717, C.R.S., (CDEA), authorizes the Governor to declare a disaster emergency during which the Governor may "suspend the provisions of any regulatory statute prescribing the procedures for conduct of state business or the orders, rules, or regulations of any state agency" if strict compliance with the statutory or regulatory provisions would impair response to the disaster emergency. §24-33.5-704 (7)(a), C.R.S. On March 10, 2020, the Governor declared a disaster emergency as a result of the COVID-19 global pandemic. On May 15, 2020, the Governor issued Executive Order D 2020 065 (“EO 65”), which: (1) suspended the operation of certain statutes governing the ballot initiative process that require initiative petition signature collection to take place in person; and (2) authorized the Secretary of State to create temporary rules to permit signature gathering by mail and email. Petitioners filed a lawsuit in Denver District Court against the Governor and the Secretary of State seeking a preliminary injunction against enforcement of EO 65 and a declaratory judgment finding EO 65 unconstitutional under the Colorado constitution and unauthorized under the CDEA. The district court denied the injunction and declaratory judgment. Petitioners appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court.
The supreme court reversed the district court, unanimously holding that article V, section 1 (6) of the Colorado constitution requires initiative petition signatures to be executed in person in the presence of a petition circulator and that the Governor cannot issue an executive order that suspends that requirement. The supreme court concluded that, by adopting the phrase "in their own proper persons," the voters who approved article V, section 1 (6) intended that petition signatories sign for themselves rather than permitting someone else to sign for them. The supreme court further concluded that this requirement, read together with the additional article V section 1 (6) requirement that a registered elector attest to the validity of petition signatures, also requires that the in-person signing occur in the presence of the person circulating the petition. The supreme court supported these conclusions by observing, as the U.S. Supreme Court in Meyer v. Grant, 486 U.S. 414 (1988), had observed, that Colorado's initiative process is interactive and involves direct engagement.
In light of its holding that article V, section 1 (6) requires in-person collection of initiative petition signatures, the supreme court did not determine whether EO 65 complied with the requirements of the CDEA. Instead it simply concluded that while the CDEA authorizes the Governor to suspend certain types of statutes, rules, and regulations during a declared disaster emergency, it does not authorize the suspension of constitutional provisions. (For more information, contact Jason Gelender.)
Holding: House Bill 13-1224, which prohibits the sale, transfer, or possession of large-capacity magazines, does not violate article II, section 13 of the Colorado Constitution because it is a reasonable exercise of the state's police power and it does not nullify the right to bear arms in defense of home, person, or property.
Case Summary: In 2013, the Colorado General Assembly enacted several bills addressing the possession and transfer of firearms. Shortly after the bills were signed into law, plaintiffs filed a complaint challenging the constitutionality of HB13-1224.
HB13-1224 prohibits the sale, transfer, or possession of large-capacity magazines and defines "large capacity magazine" to include a magazine "designed to be readily converted to accept" more than fifteen rounds. The plaintiffs alleged that a “very large majority” of magazines, contain a removable floor plate or base pad that allows them to be converted to accept more than fifteen rounds and thus would be prohibited under the bill. The plaintiffs claimed that prohibiting such a large number of weapons effectively denies plaintiffs their right to bear arms for self-defense under article II, section 13 of the Colorado Constitution.
The district court concluded that the plaintiffs did not meet their burden to prove HB13-1224 unconstitutional in violation of article II, section 13. The district court found that HB13-1224 sought to address a specific and valid governmental concern regarding the health, safety, and welfare of Coloradans, namely, reducing the number of victims in mass shootings by limiting the number of rounds that can be fired before a shooter has to reload. The district court also concluded that the fifteen-round limit is reasonable and does not impair the constitutionally protected right to keep and bear arms for self-defense or defense of home and property. The court of appeals affirmed the district court's decision and the plaintiffs appealed to the state Supreme Court.
The Colorado Supreme Court first addressed the plaintiff's contention that recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions construing the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution should bind the Colorado Supreme Court in its analysis of the right to bear arms in article II, section 13 of the Colorado Constitution. The Colorado Supreme Court held that the U.S. Supreme Court's decisions were not binding on a state court construing a state constitutional provision when the state constitution's text and constitutional tradition is different than that of the federal constitution, as is the case with the Second Amendment and article II, section 13 of the Colorado Constitution. Because the plaintiffs raised claims under the Colorado Constitution and not the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the Colorado Supreme Court declined to apply U.S. Supreme Court decisions.
Second, the Colorado Supreme Court reaffirmed its holding that it is unnecessary to determine whether the right to bear arms described in article II, section 13 is a fundamental right and expressly disapproved of prior Colorado courts of appeals decisions making such declarations.. The Court then stated that the government may regulate firearms consistent with article II, section 13 so long as the enactment is (1) a reasonable exercise of the police power that (2) does not work a nullity of the right to bear arms in defense of home, person, or property. The Court explained that this test, known as the "reasonable exercise" test, differs from the rational basis review used by the courts in other contexts in that it requires an actual, not just conceivable, legitimate purpose related to health, safety, and welfare, and the test establishes that nullifying the right to bear arms in self-defense is neither a legitimate purpose nor tolerable result.
Returning to the law at issue, and applying the reasonable exercise test, the Supreme Court held that HB12-1224 did not violate article II, section 13. Concerning the first prong of the test, the Court held that HB13-1224 is a reasonable exercise of the state's police power because the discrete legislative purpose in enacting the bill, to reduce the number of people who are killed or shot in mass shootings, lies within the state's police power and the legislation is reasonably related to the legitimate governmental purpose of reducing deaths from mass shootings.
As to the second prong of the reasonable exercise test, the Supreme Court held that limiting magazine size to fifteen rounds of ammunition is not a nullity of the right to bear arms in defense of home, person, or property. The court examined the plain meaning of the definition of "large capacity magazine" that includes magazines "designed to be readily converted to accept" more than fifteen rounds, and found that the definition is limited to magazines that would be objectively understood as purposely created or intended for the purpose of being converted to accept more than fifteen rounds. The court explained that the phrase "designed to be" must mean something other than merely "capable of." A magazine "designed" to be readily converted to accept more than fifteen rounds requires an intent or purpose that a magazine merely "capable" of being so converted does not. That interpretation does not make the definition apply to vast majority of magazines, and leaves ample weapons available for plaintiffs to exercise their right to self-defense.
Because HB13-1224 satisfies both prongs of the reasonable exercise test, the Supreme Court upheld the law as a valid regulation of firearms that does not violate article II, section 13 of the Colorado Constitution. (For more information, contact Conrad Imel.)
Holding: The open meetings law requirement of section 24-6-402 (4), C.R.S., that the particular matters to be discussed in an executive session of a local public body be "identified in as much detail as possible without compromising the purpose for which the executive session is authorized" is violated when a town council's public notice of an executive session references only the general statutory categories of legal advice and personnel matters without providing any information as to what legal advice or personnel matters will be discussed. To comply with the requirement, the notice must include at least the general subject on which legal advice is sought and identify the subject employee or employees for the personnel matters.
Case Summary: Section 24-6-402 (4), C.R.S., requires the particular matters to be discussed in an executive session of a local public body to be "identified in as much detail as possible without compromising the purpose for which the executive session is authorized." During four public meetings, the Basalt town council went into executive sessions to discuss matters related to property interests, receive legal advice on specific legal questions, determine negotiating positions, and address personnel matters. In its required public notices of the executive sessions (notices), the town council simply cited the appropriate statutory authority for the executive sessions without providing any information about what property interests, legal advice, negotiations, or personnel matters would be discussed.
Plaintiff applied to the district court for an order declaring that the notices failed to adequately identify the particular matters to be discussed as required by section 24-6-402 (4), C.R.S., and requiring disclosure of the records of the executive sessions. The district court granted plaintiff the requested relief with respect to the matters relating to property interests and negotiations but concluded that the notices were not required to include any specific information about the legal and personnel matters because of the nature of the attorney-client privilege and the subject employee's privacy interests. Plaintiff appealed.
The Colorado Court of Appeals reversed the district court and held that the notices had not provided adequate notice of the legal and personnel matters. With respect to the legal matters, the court of appeals concluded that it was possible, and therefore legally required, for the notices to identify at least the subject matter of the legal matters to be discussed because the attorney-client privilege does not ordinarily encompass mere identification of the subject matter of an attorney-client communication. With respect to the personnel matters, the court of appeals concluded that the notices were required to at least identify the subject employee because: (1) a public employee has a narrower expectation of privacy than other citizens; and (2) the town's argument that disclosure could violate the terms of its employment contract with the employee was not relevant because a town may not, by contract, evade its statutory obligations.
The case is of particular interest to the General Assembly because section 24-6-402 (3)(a), C.R.S., establishes for a state public body, as section 24-6-402 (4), C.R.S., does for a local public body, the requirement that the particular matters to be discussed in an executive session be "identified in as much detail as possible without compromising the purpose for which the executive session is authorized." (For more information, contact Jason Gelender.)
Holding: A true threat is a statement that, considered in context and under the totality of the circumstances, an intended or foreseeable recipient would reasonably perceive as a serious expression of intent to commit an act of unlawful violence. In determining whether a statement is a true threat, a reviewing court must examine the words used, but it must also consider the context in which the statement was made. Particularly, if the alleged threat is communicated online, the contextual factors courts should consider include, but are not limited to (1) the statement's role in a broader exchange, if any, including surrounding events; (2) the medium or platform through which the statement was communicated, including any distinctive conventions or architectural features; (3) the manner in which the statement was conveyed (e.g. anonymously or not, privately or publicly); (4) the relationship between the speaker and recipient; and (5) the subjective reaction of the statements intended or foreseeable recipient.
Case Summary: In 2013, a deadly shooting occurred at Arapahoe High School. A few days after the shooting, a conversation began on social media regarding the shooting. The conversation turned contentious between students from two schools. After some back-and-forth, R.D., a juvenile engaged in the conversation, posted a picture of a handgun with a message referencing the Arapahoe High School shooting, and directed the post at another student. Further back-and-forth ensued.
The People filed petition in delinquency, charging R.D. with harassment under section 18-9-111 (1)(e), C.R.S. R.D. moved to dismiss the charge, arguing the statements were protected free speech. The juvenile court adjudicated R.D. delinquent, acknowledging that while the students involved in the conversation exchanged words online similar to those that would occur in a school yard fight, R.D. crossed a line when the picture of the gun was posted, similar to when a person would show a gun during a school yard fight.
R.D. appealed, arguing the adjudication violated the right to free speech. The People responded that statements were true threats and consequently unprotected speech. The Court of Appeals concluded that R.D.'s statements were not true threats because they did not constitute a serious expression of intent to commit an act of unlawful violence to a particular individual or group of individuals. The Court of Appeals relied on contextual factors in its decision, specifically that R.D. did not personally know the recipient of the statements, R.D. sent the messages publically instead of privately, and the recipient's reactions to the picture of the gun did not suggest the recipient viewed the the statement as a true threat.
The Supreme Court reviewed whether the Court of Appeals erred in determining that R.D.'s online statements were protected by the First Amendment. After reviewing precedent regarding the true threats exception to free speech protection, the Supreme Court held that a true threat is a statement that, considered in context and under the totality of the circumstances, an intended and foreseeable recipient would reasonably perceive as a serious expression of intent to commit an act of unlawful violence. The Supreme Court emphasized that in addition to examining the words, the examining court must consider the context the statement was made, especially if made online. The Supreme Court then outlined various contextual factors to consider when the statement is made online.
The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals' decision, and remanded the case to the juvenile court to reconsider the case under the standard and new test. (For more information, contact Jacob Baus.)
Holding: The general assembly may not delegate to an interstate administrative agency the authority to adopt regulations that effectively override Colorado statutory law; such action amounts to the improper delegation of legislative authority.
Case Summary: This case required the Colorado supreme court to answer the following certified question from the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals: May the Colorado General Assembly delegate power to an interstate administrative commission to approve insurance policies sold in Colorado under a standard that differs from Colorado statute?
The certified question arose from a dispute in which plaintiff Amica Life Insurance Company (Amica) sought a declaratory judgment that it was not required to pay defendant Wertz benefits under a life insurance policy naming Wertz as the beneficiary. The policy, which was issued in compliance with a standard enacted by the Interstate Insurance Product Regulation Commission (the "Commission"), contained a two-year suicide exclusion, and the insured committed suicide more than one year but less than two years after Amica had issued the life insurance policy to him.
Wertz contended that the Amica policy’s two-year suicide exclusion was unenforceable because it conflicts with section 10-7-109, C.R.S., which provides that the suicide of a policyholder after the first year of any life insurance policy is not a defense against the payment of a policy. Wertz argued that the General Assembly could not properly delegate to the Commission the authority to enact a standard that effectively overrides this statute.
The court agreed with Wertz and declared that in the context of an interstate compact that has not been approved by Congress, the General Assembly may not delegate to an interstate administrative agency the authority to adopt regulations that effectively override Colorado law. Such action would amount to the improper delegation of legislative authority. (For more information, contact Richard Sweetman.)
Holding: In a case of first impression, the court of appeals holds that while piercing the corporate veil is possible between sister companies (horizontal piercing), a prerequisite is piercing the corporate veils between the sister companies and their common parents (vertical piercing).
Case Summary: The defendant, a corporation, owed money to the plaintiff, an individual; the debt was subordinated to a senior debt. Entities that share common shareholders, owners, or parents are sister companies. When a sister entity of the defendant, a limited liability company, acquired the senior debt, the plaintiff sued to collect his debt from the defendant, arguing, under principles of horizontal piercing of the corporate veil, that the transfer extinguished the senior debt because the defendant and the LLC were alter egos of each other.
The district court held for the plaintiff. The defendant appealed and the LLC intervened in the appeal. The court of appeals reversed.
To pierce the corporate veil in Colorado, a court must conduct a three-part inquiry. First, it must determine whether the corporate entity is the alter ego of the person or entity in issue. Second, upon finding that an entity is the alter ego of its owners, a court must determine whether the corporate fiction was used to perpetrate a fraud or defeat a rightful claim. Third, a court must consider whether disregarding the corporate form would achieve an equitable result. If it finds that the moving party has satisfied this three-part test by a preponderance of the evidence, then it may disregard the corporate identity and impute liability.
Some jurisdictions categorically bar piercing the corporate veil between entities that are not in vertical, or parent-subsidiary, relationships. Current Colorado caselaw does not extend piercing the corporate veil horizontally to sister companies. In jurisdictions where horizontal piercing is recognized, a plaintiff seeking to disregard the corporate formalities separating horizontal affiliates must first pierce the veils separating each entity from their shared corporate parent.
Reverse piercing occurs when a claimant seeks to hold a corporation liable for the obligations of an individual shareholder. Because our supreme court has not explicitly barred horizontal piercing to find that sister entities are alter egos, and it recognizes the doctrine of reverse veil piercing, the court of appeals rejected the defendants' contention that Colorado courts may never pierce the veil to reach sister entities.
However, the court of appeals agreed with the defendants that horizontal veil piercing between sister entities may occur only if (1) the entities share a parent or common owners in the ownership chain and (2) the veils separating each entity from the parent or common owners are first pierced to find that each sister entity is the alter ego of its owners. But here, the plaintiff failed to present any evidence to support the multiple piercings required to disregard the separate corporate identities of the sister entities. Therefore, the trial court erred in allowing horizontal piercing between the defendants. (For more information, contact Thomas Morris.)
Goodall v. Griswold, United States District Court for the District of Colorado No. 18-CV-00980-PAB-KMT (March 21, 2019)
Holding: The United States District Court for the District of Colorado held that § 1-4-905 (1), as that section existed before being amended by House Bill 19-1278, violated the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution because the requirement that petition circulators be registered voters and residents of the state is not narrowly tailored to protect the integrity of the petition process.
Case Summary: In January 2018, U.S. Representative Douglas Lamborn announced his intent to seek the Republican party nomination in the primary election for Colorado's fifth congressional district. Pursuant to § 1-4-801, which allows for designation of party candidates by petition, various volunteer and professional circulators circulated nominating petitions on Representative Lamborn's behalf. Representative Lamborn was required to obtain 1,000 verified signatures from registered Republicans in the fifth congressional district to gain access to the primary election ballot.
Five voters from the congressional district filed a petition in the District Court for the City and County of Denver claiming that seven individuals who had circulated nominating petitions in support of Representative Lamborn's placement on the primary ballot did not live within the state, in violation of the residency requirement of § 1-4-905 (1), as that section existed before being amended by House Bill 19-1278 (former § 1-4-905 (1)).
The Denver district court concluded that only one of the circulators, Jeffrey Carter, failed to meet the residency requirements. The Colorado Supreme Court reversed, holding that another circulator, Ryan Tipple, also was not a state resident at the time that he collected signatures on behalf of Representative Lamborn. The supreme court invalidated the 269 signatures collected by Tipple, causing Representative Lamborn to have collected fewer than the 1,000 signatures needed to qualify him for the primary ballot. As a result, the supreme court prohibited the Secretary of State (Secretary) from certifying Representative Lamborn for the 2018 primary ballot.
Registered voters in the fifth congressional district, Tipple, Representative Lamborn, and Lamborn for Congress (plaintiffs) filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the District of Colorado on April 25, 2018. Plaintiffs challenged the constitutionality of the circulator residency and voter registration requirements of former § 1-4-905 (1).
Because the plaintiffs sought to participate in core political speech — petition signing and circulation — but the residency requirement in § 1-4-905 (1) operated to reduce the pool of available circulators and limit the quantum of speech in the election process, the district court determined that strict scrutiny is the appropriate standard to apply. Under this standard, when a state law or regulation imposes severe restrictions on First Amendment rights, the law or regulation must be narrowly drawn to advance a state interest of compelling importance.
The Secretary asserted that the state has a compelling interest in protecting the integrity and reliability of the state's election processes. The district court agreed, but concluded that former § 1-4-905 (1)'s residency requirement was not narrowly tailored to serve that interest.
The Secretary argued that the residency requirement helps to reduce circulator fraud, but that argument failed because the district court determined that courts have found that similar frequency of fraud by in-state and out-of-state circulators. The court also found that the concerns about circulator fraud are largely obviated by the process for verifying signatures on candidate petitions under § 1-4-908 (1.5)(a).
Finally, the Secretary argued that the residency requirement ensures that the state can subpoena a circulator and compel the circulator to travel to and attend a hearing within a short time frame if there is a contest over a petition's sufficiency. The district court rejected the argument because courts have routinely found that requiring circulators to sign affidavits or enter into agreements in which they provide their relevant contact information and agree to return in the event of a protest is a more narrowly tailored means of ensuring a state's ability to locate circulators than a residency requirement is.
On May 1, 2018, after holding an evidentiary hearing, the district court issued a preliminary injunction that prohibited the Secretary from enforcing the portion of former § 1-4-905 (1) that required petition circulators to be state residents. The district court also ordered the Secretary to certify Representative Lamborn to the 2018 Republican primary ballot for the fifth congressional district unless, for reasons other than the residency requirement, he did not qualify.
On July 30, 2018, the parties filed a joint motion seeking: (1) a declaration that the residency requirement of former § 1-4-905 (1) is unconstitutional under the First Amendment; (2) a declaration that the voter registration requirement of former § 1-4-905 (1) is unconstitutional under the First Amendment; and (3) a permanent injunction prohibiting the Secretary from enforcing those portions of former § 1-4-905 (1) that require petition circulators to be registered voters and residents of the state. On March 21, 2019, the district court issued an order granting the joint motion and permanently enjoing the Secretary "from enforcing those portions of [former] §1-4-905 (1) that require petition circulators to be registered voters and residents of the State of Colorado." Thereafter, the General Assembly enacted and the Governor approved House Bill 19-1278, which, among many other things, amended former § 1-4-905 (1) to remove the requirements that circulators be registered voters and Colorado residents. (For more information, contact Michele Brown.)
Holding: The sentencing provisions in the juvenile transfer and direct file statutes do not create an equal protection issue as it relates to the possibility of a probation sentence.
Case Summary: A juvenile can be prosecuted in adult court in two ways: One, by a transfer hearing in juvenile court in which the district attorney petitions the juvenile court to transfer the case to adult court; and two, by direct file in which the district attorney files the case directly in adult court. The circumstances that allow a transfer hearing are limited and the circumstances that allow a direct file are even more limited.
A 16 year-old was convicted of first-degree assault, a crime of violence, and first-degree criminal trespass after his case was transferred from juvenile court to adult court. During the sentencing hearing, the juvenile argued that he was subject to a more severe penalty for a crime of violence conviction under the transfer statute than he would be if his were a direct-file case. The direct file statute states that a juvenile convicted of a crime of violence is not subject to the mandatory minimum provisions in section 18-1.3-406, but the transfer statute does not contain similar language. The juvenile claimed that a direct file juvenile could get probation but a transfer juvenile could not and thus his equal protection rights were violated.
The Supreme Court found the difference between the transfer statute and direct file statute immaterial to the issue of whether probation is a possible sentence. The direct file provision does not permit a probation sentence for a direct file juvenile, it only excludes the juvenile from the mandatory minimum sentence that begins at least at the midpoint of the presumptive range. The court can sentence the juvenile below the midpoint of the presumptive range but still has to sentence the juvenile to incarceration. In a transfer case, the court must sentence the juvenile to incarceration starting at the midpoint of the presumptive range. So, a juvenile convicted of a crime of violence in adult court either as result of a transfer or direct file must be sentenced to incarceration and thus is not eligible for probation, so there is no equal protection violation.
Although there was no equal protection violation related to a possible probation sentence, there is a difference in incarceration sentencing for a juvenile convicted of a crime of violence in adult court depending on whether the juvenile is transferred or direct filed. The Court noted that a transfer juvenile is subject to the mandatory minimum sentence of at least the midpoint of the presumptive range while a direct file juvenile can be sentenced below the midpoint of the presumptive range, which could create a equal protection issue. There was no equal protection violation in this juvenile's case because the sentencing court in the juvenile's case declined to apply the mandatory minimum provision to the juvenile's sentence. However, a court that applies the mandatory minimum to a transfer juvenile's crime of violence sentence could violate the juvenile's equal protection rights. (For more information, contact Michael Dohr.)
Holding: A school district may not restrict a teacher's ability to exercise the right of nonprobationary portability through the use a of a job application and form employment contract that require a teacher to relinquish the right to nonprobationary portability as a condition of employment.
Case Summary: A teacher with nonprobationary status through employment at one school district applied for a position at another school district. Section 22-63-203.5, C.R.S., allows a teacher with nonprobationary status to transfer that status to a new school district (nonprobationary portability). The online application form required the teacher to waive the statute granting nonprobationary portability by clicking on "I agree" before the application could be filed. Also, the second school district's employment agreement stated that the teacher voluntarily waived the teacher's right to assert nonprobationary portability status. After working for the school district for a year, the teacher was not retained and was not offered the procedural dismissal protections of a nonprobationary teacher. The second school district argued that section 22-63-203.5, C.R.S., violated the district's prerogative of local control to offer employment on the terms and conditions that it deems appropriate. The court of appeals held that the second district could not ignore section 22-63-203.5, C.R.S. The second district should have followed the statute or sought a waiver of the statute from the state board of education. (For more information, contact Jeremiah Barry.)
Korean New Life Methodist Church v. Korean Methodist Church of the Americas, Jin Hi Cha, Colorado Court of Appeals No. 18CA1149 (February 6, 2020)
Holding: Neutral principles of law, rather than the polity approach, should be used to resolve whether a local church submitted to the authority of its national denomination and thus whether the local church or the national denomination can control disposition of church property.
Case Summary: A local church incorporated as an independent, nonprofit corporation. Later, the board of directors passed a resolution stating that the church "shall join" a national denomination. The denomination's rules required church property to be registered with the denomination and prohibited property transfers without prior approval. But the local church never amended its articles of incorporation to submit to the control of the denomination or its rules and never registered its property with the denomination.
Eventually, the local church sold its original property and purchased new property without the denomination's permission or approval; the deeds conveying the property did not mention the denomination and the property was titled in the name of the local church. A faction of the local church's board filed a declaration judgment action to require the local church to submit to the denomination's authority, including regarding disposition of the property.
Applicable United States Supreme Court case law construing the first amendment to the United States constitution indicates that courts should not attempt to resolve disputes concerning church doctrine (the so-called "polity" approach), including internal church governance. On the other hand, courts should apply so-called "neutral principles" of law to resolve non-doctrinal issues, even those that require a determination regarding whether a local church has submitted to the authority of a denomination. The issue before the trial court was whether the "polity" approach or the "neutral principles" of law should be applied to the question of whether a local church submitted to the authority of church denomination.
The Colorado Supreme Court, in Bishop & Diocese of Colo. v. Mote, 716 P.2d 85 (Colo. 1986), upheld application of the neutral principles approach in holding that a local church had submitted to a denomination, and thus that the denomination controlled the property in question. The Court of Appeals upheld the trial court's application of the neutral principle approach in finding that the local church never submitted to the denomination and thus continued to be able to control disposition of the local church's property. (For more information, contact Thomas Morris.)
Holding: Prior convictions are elements of felony DUI that must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.
Case Summary: Police arrested Viburg for suspected DUI. He was charged with felony DUI based on the allegation that he had three or more previous convictions for driving while ability impaired (DWAI) or DUI.
Before trial, Viburg moved for a ruling that his alleged prior convictions were elements of the offense that the prosecutor must prove to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. The trial court denied the motion, concluding that the prosecutor needed only to prove the prior convictions to the judge by a preponderance of the evidence.
At trial, a jury convicted Viburg of DUI and careless driving. The judge found by a preponderance of the evidence that Viburg had three prior convictions for DWAI or DUI. Based on that finding, the court elevated Viburg’s misdemeanor DUI conviction to a class 4 felony.
The appeals court explicitly repudiates People v. Gwinn, 2018 COA 130, and People v. Quezada-Caro, 2019 COA 155. The court held that prior convictions are elements of felony DUI, and therefore, must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. A felony is a much more serious matter than a misdemeanor, with more procedural requirements and more serious legal collateral consequences. Therefore, a statute that changes a misdemeanor to a felony does more than increase the penalty for a crime, so it does not fit within any exception to the constitutional requirement that each element of a crime must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. And the statute requires prosecutors to plead the prior offenses, so the General Assembly intended the prior offense to be an element of felony DUI. (For more information, contact Jery Payne.)
Holding: A plaintiff claiming age discrimination under the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act (CADA) may not seek compensatory damages because section 24-34-405 (2) and (3)(g), C.R.S., limits the remedies for age discrimination to reinstatement, hiring, back pay, front pay, and other equitable relief only. Such a plaintiff may seek front pay because front pay is an equitable remedy and is not barred by the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act (CGIA). A plaintiff claiming retaliation under the CADA may seek both front pay and compensatory damages because both remedies are equitable remedies that are not barred by the CGIA and because section 24-32-405 (8)(g), C.R.S., exempts CADA claims for compensatory damages from the CGIA whether the claims are made against the state itself, a state agency, or a political subdivision of the state.
Case Summary: A former employee of the El Paso County Sheriff's Office (EPSO) filed CADA claims against EPSO for age discrimination and retaliation and sought front pay and compensatory damages for both claims. EPSO filed a motion to dismiss the claims on the grounds that compensatory damages and front pay are legal remedies that lie or could lie in tort and are barred by the CGIA. The district court denied the motion to dismiss, concluding that front pay is an equitable remedy not barred by the CGIA and that amendments made to the CADA in 2013 clarified that CADA claims for compensatory damages are not barred by the CGIA.
On appeal, a division of the Colorado Court of Appeals first held that the plain language of CADA, specifically section 24-34-405 (2) and (3)(g), C.R.S., limits the remedies for age discrimination to reinstatement, hiring, back pay, front pay, and other equitable relief only and that plaintiff therefore could seek front pay, but not compensatory damages, for his age discrimination claim. Turning to the plaintiff's retaliation claim, the court of appeals first acknowledged that another division of the court of appeals had, in Houchin v. Denver Health, 2019 COA 50M, held that the CGIA bars CADA claims for compensatory damages asserted against political subdvisions of the state because: (1) compensatory damages are not an equitable remedy and (2) Section 24-34-405 (8)(g), C.R.S. exempts a CADA claim for compensatory damages from the CGIA only when the claim is made against "the state", meaning the state of Colorado or an agency of the state of Colorado, and not when the claim is made against a political subdivision of the state.
The court of appeals disagreed with the Houchin court, holding that the CGIA does not bar the plaintiff from seeking compensatory damages for retaliation because: (1) the compensatory damages allowed under the CADA do not relieve tort-like personal injuries, are merely incidental to the CADA's primary purpose of ending discrimination, and therefore do not lie in tort and are not subject to the CGIA and (2) the word "state", as used in section 24-34-405 (8)(g), C.R.S., refers to all state entities able to seek immunity under the CGIA, including political subdivisions of the state. The decision creates a conflict in the court of appeals as to whether a CADA claim for compensatory damages that is made against a political subdivision of the state is barred by the CGIA. (For more information, contact Megan Waples.)
Holding: A defendant has a right to be present at a restitution hearing.
Case Summary: Defendant was convicted of first degree assault for stabbing the victim. The trial court imposed a sentence to the custody of the Department of Corrections and gave the prosecutor sixty days to file a notice of restitution. The prosecutor timely sought restitution to compensate the Crime Victim Compensation Fund. Defense counsel appeared at the restitution hearing without defendant. The hearing went forward and the trial court awarded the amount requested. Defendant appealed the decision arguing the trial court erred by proceeding with the restitution hearing in his absence. The Court of Appeals reasoned that Colorado Rule of Criminal Procedure 43(a) and both the United States and Colorado Constitutions guarentee the right of a criminal defendant to be present at all critical stages of the proceeding. Sentencing is considered a critical stage of a criminal proceeding and since restitution is a part of the sentencing process, the Court of Appeals held the defendant had a right to be present at the restitution hearing. The Court vacated the restitution order and remanded the case. (For more information, contact Shelby Ross.)
Holding: The statute and rules governing plea agreements require the trial court to exercise its independent judgment in deciding whether to accept or reject sentence concessions in the agreement and allow the defendant, but not the prosecution, to withdraw from a plea agreement when the trial court rejects a sentence concession after the defendant has pled guilty.
Case Summary: The People (prosecution) charged defendant Christopher Mazzarelli with knowing or reckless child abuse resulting in serious bodily injury to his infant son, a class 3 felony. Defendant and the prosecution agreed to a plea agreement under which defendant pled guilty to criminally negligent child abuse resulting in serious bodily injury, a class 4 felony, and the prosecution agreed to dismiss the original charge. The plea agreement also included a sentence stipulation that the defendant would receive a prison sentence within the extraordinary risk crime range of 2 to 8 years.
The trial court accepted the defendant's guilty plea but rejected the stipulated 2 to 8 year prison sentence and instead sentenced defendant to supervised probation. The trial court also rejected the prosecution's request to withdraw from the plea agreement. The prosecution appealed, arguing that it should have been allowed to withdraw from the plea agreement because the trial court had substantially modified the terms of the agreement, and the Colorado Court of Appeals (court of appeals) affirmed. The Colorado Supreme Court (supreme court) granted certiorari to determine whether "the court of appeals erred in upholding the trial court's actions as a matter of law and finding that it could sentence the defendant outside the stipulated sentencing range contained in a plea agreement and accepted by all parties."
The supreme court vacated the court of appeals' decision in its entirety because it did not agree with its reasoning, but, like the court of appeals, upheld the trial court's decision not to allow the prosecution to withdraw from the plea agreement. The supreme court held that "the statute and rules [governing plea agreements in Colorado] (1) require the trial court to exercise its independent judgment in deciding whether to accept or reject sentence concessions in a plea agreement, and (2) allow the defendant, but not the People, to withdraw from a plea agreement when the trial court rejects a sentence concession after the defendant has pled guilty." In support of its holding, the supreme court quoted both language in section 16-7-302 (3), C.R.S., and Colorado Rule of Criminal Procedure 11 (f)(5) stating that [n]otwithstanding the reaching of a plea agreement between the district attorney and defense counsel or defendant, the judge in every case should exercise an independent judgment in deciding whether to grant charge and sentence concessions[,]" and language in Colorado Rule of Criminal Procedure 32 (d) (rule 32 (d)) stating that when a court rejects a sentence concession it "shall so advise the defendant and the district attorney and then call upon the defendant to either affirm or withdraw the plea of guilty." The supreme court clarified that in the context of plea agreements, "sentence stipulations," "sentence agreements," "sentence concessions," and other similar terms are "nothing more than sentence recommendations that the trial court is free to accept or reject, including after the defendant's guilty plea," and that the statute and rules prohibit the prosecution and a defendant from entering into a plea agreement limiting this sentencing discretion of the trial court.
The supreme court also rejected the argument that the doctrine of separation of powers, under which an executive branch prosecutor has sole discretion to make criminal charging decisions, prohibits a trial court from accepting a guilty plea, but not the punishment stipulated in the plea agreement, without allowing the prosecution an opportunity to withdraw from the agreement. The supreme court observed that defendant pled guilty to an offense chosen as part of the prosecution's charging decision to offer a plea agreement and that the court then made a separate sentencing decision that was within its judicial purview under the applicable statute and rules. Finally, the supreme court acknowledged that its holding is inconsistent with the current practice in many trial courts and indicated that if the applicable statute and rules were amended in the future, it would apply them as amended. (For more information, contact Michael Dohr.)
Holding: The warrant requirement of section 13-45-101 (1), C.R.S., is not a jurisdictional requirement requiring summary dismissal for noncompliance.
Case Summary: Petitioner Richard Jones filed a habeas corpus petition in district court challenging the department of corrections' (DOC) calculation of his parole eligibility date. Petitioner argued that the DOC erred in calculating the date using his 2008 conviction and that the DOC instead should use his 1991 convictions to calculate his parole eligibility date. The petitioner claimed that if the DOC used his 1991 convictions to calculated his parole eligibility date, then he was already being held unlawfully past his parole eligibility date. The petitioner included the warrant for his 2008 conviction with the petition but not the warrant for the 1991 convictions. Section 13-45-101 (1), C.R.S., requires that a habeas corpus petition include the applicable warrants.
Four previous Colorado Supreme Court cases held that the warrant requirement is jurisdictional. Butler v. Zavaras, 924 P.2d 1060 (Colo. 1996), Evans v. District Court, 572 P.2d 811(Colo. 1977), Garrett v. Knight, 480 P.2d 569 (Colo. 1971), and McNamara v. People, 410 P.2d 517 (Colo. 1966). Based on those decisions, the trial court dismissed the petitioner's habeas corpus petition.
The Colorado Supreme Court reversed the trial court and overruled the previous supreme court decisions that had held the warrant requirement to be jurisdictional. The supreme court determined that the language of section 13-45-101 (1), C.R.S., does not limit a court's jurisdiction to hear habeas corpus cases and that the warrant requirement is instead simply a statutory procedural requirement. (For more information, contact Michael Dohr.)
Holding: A proposed one-sentence initiative to repeal the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, article X, section 20 of the Colorado constitution (TABOR) in its entirety has a single subject.
Case Summary: Article V, section 1 (5.5) of the Colorado constitution requires every proposed initiative to have a single subject, which must be clearly expressed in its title. Before setting a title for a proposed initiative, the title board must first find that the proposed initiative has a single subject.
Initiative proponents proposed an initiative, 2019-20 #3 (initiative #3), to repeal the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights (TABOR) in its entirety. The full text of the initiative simply states: "In the constitution of the state of Colorado, repeal section 20 of article X". The title board concluded that the initiative does not have a single subject and that it therefore lacked jurisdiction to set a title because prior Colorado supreme court cases had indicated that TABOR includes multiple subjects and that a proposed initiative to repeal a constitutional provision that includes multiple subjects itself includes multiple subjects. Proponents filed a motion for rehearing, but the title board denied the motion and again declined to set a title. Proponents appealed.
The Colorado supreme court reversed the title board, holding that initiative #3 contains a single subject, the repeal of TABOR. The supreme court first noted that the single subject requirement serves the functions of (1) forbidding the treatment of incongruous subject in the same measure, especially the practice of putting together in one measure subjects having no necessary or proper connection, for the purpose of enlisting in support of the measure the advocates of each measure, and thus securing the enactment of measures that could not be carried upon their own individual merits (i.e., preventing "logrolling") and (2) preventing surreptitious measures and apprising the people of the subject of each measure by the title, that is, to prevent surprise and fraud from being practiced upon voters. The court then concluded that the initiative satisfies both functions and therefore has a single subject because it "effectuates one and only one general objective or purpose, namely the repeal of TABOR ... and could not be written more simply or directly. It essentially asks voters a single question: should TABOR be repealed in full?"
In support of its decision, the Colorado supreme court acknowledged that it had stated in multiple prior cases that if a constitutional provision contains multiple subjects, then a proposed initiative to repeal the entire provision also contains multiple subjects. But the court characterized those statements as nonbinding dicta that lacked underlying analysis. The court specifically distinguished In re Proposed Initiative 1996-4, 916 P.2d 528 (Colo. 1996), a case in which the court had concluded that a proposed initiative that would have repealed and reenacted certain individual provisions of TABOR had multiple subjects, from the total repeal of TABOR, without reenactment of any provisions, proposed by initiative #3. The court then declined to adopt the "dicta" for the following reasons: (1) "a one-sentence initiative asking voters to decide if a constitutional provision should be repealed meets all of the requirements of a single subject;" (2) there is "no basis for creating ... a unique single subject rule for efforts to repeal constitutional provisions;" and (3) "concluding that an initiative contains multiple subjects merely because the targeted provision contained multiple subjects effectively makes the original provision impervious to challenge." Having declined to adopt the "dicta", the court concluded that initiative #3 satisfied the single subject requirement.
In a dissenting opinion, two justices rejected the majority's characterization as "dicta" of prior Colorado Supreme court statements that TABOR includes multiple subjects and that an initiative proposing to repeal a constitutional provision that includes multiple subjects itself includes multiple subjects. The dissenters concluded that initiative #3 includes multiple subjects for the following reasons: (1) the single subject requirement applies to all initiatives, including those that only repeal existing constitutional provisions; (2) TABOR includes multiple subjects; (3) the constitutional single subject requirement for initiatives was adopted in 1994 in response to the adoption of TABOR for the purpose of preventing multiple-subject initiatives like TABOR from being placed on the ballot in the future, and allowing initiative #3 to appear on the ballot is thus "directly contrary to the intent of the single subject requirement;" and (4) case law has consistently held that a proposed initiative to repeal a multiple-subject constitutional provision violates the single subject requirement, and the majority had no justification to overrule that case law. (For more information, contact Jason Gelender.)