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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.

 

 

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.)

 

 

Pineda-Liberato v. People, Colorado Supreme Court No. 15SC374 (October 2, 2017)

Holding: A court does not have the authority to collect unpaid fees and court costs after the completion of a deferred judgment and dismissal of the case.

Case Summary: This case involves the district court's authority to collect unpaid restitution and court costs and fees ordered as part of a deferred sentence after the completion of the deferred sentence. The prosecution moved to terminate defendant's deferred judgment while the defendant still owed restitution and court costs and fees. After the court granted the prosecution's motion to terminate defendant's deferred judgment, the court raised the issue, on its own, whether it still had the authority to collect restitution from the defendant. The court ruled that it did not. After that ruling, the defendant asked the court to consider whether the court had the authority to collect unpaid court-ordered fees and costs after completion of the deferred judgment and the court ruled it did not and vacated the court costs and fees. Shortly thereafter, the General Assembly passed HB14-1035, An Act Concerning Collection of Restitution Ordered Pursuant to a Deferred Judgment. The act amended the restitution statute to make it clear that restitution orders remain in effect after the termination of deferred judgment or deferred adjudication.

The Colorado Supreme Court ruled that a restitution order remains in effect after the termination of a deferred sentence. On the question of whether the district court could still collect the unpaid court costs and fees, the supreme court looked at each of the statutes that authorized the particular fee or court cost and found that none of the statutes contained similar language to the language in the restitution statute added by HB 14-1035 that makes it clear that the obligation to pay that fee or court cost continues after the completion of a deferred judgment and dismissal of the charges. So, the supreme court ruled that a district court does not have the authority to collect unpaid fees and court costs after the completion of a deferred judgment and dismissal of the case. (For more information, contact Michael Dohr.)

 

 

People v. Stanley, Colorado Court of Appeals No. 16CA1612 (September 7, 2017)

Holding: Court should hold a hearing to determine the amount of settlement proceeds to be offset against restitution order at which the defendant bears the burden of establishing the amount of any offset and the victim has the opportunity to rebut by proving how settlement proceeds were used.

Case Summary: The trial court ordered the defendant to pay $30,000 in restitution as a result of a traffic accident. The victim received $25,000, the full policy limits, from the defendant's auto insurer in settlement of all claims for personal injuries, loss of services, and property damage resulting from the accident.. The trial court offset the full $25,000 against the defendant's restitution order. The court of appeals found that the trial court should have held a hearing to allow the victim to rebut the inference of having received a double recovery by proving that she applied the settlement proceeds to costs that were not covered by the defendant's restitution. One judge found that the victim has all of the evidence and therefore a defendant may never be able to bear the burden of establishing that an amount paid in settlement of claims covers the same costs paid for by restitution and should therefore be offset. He suggested that the General Assembly should clarify what must be proven and by whom to trigger a trial court's discretion to order an offset. (For more information, contact Jeremiah Barry.)

 

 

Keim v. Douglas County Sch. Dist., Colorado Supreme Court No. 15SC502 (July 3, 2017)

Holding: A school district did not make a prohibited contribution in a school board election campaign under section 1-45-117 (1)(a) of the Fair Campaign Practices Act and the definition of "contribution" in article XXVIII, section 2(5)(a)(IV) of the state constitution.

Case Summary: In this case, the matter is of significant policy interest to members of the General Assembly and other major participants in the state's political process who regularly seek guidance in knowing whether and to what extent governmental bodies and their elected leaders may advocate for, and undertake action in support of, policy objectives without violating the provisions of section 1-45-117 (1)(a)(I) of the Fair Campaign Practices Act ("FCPA"). In relevant part, section 1-45-117 (1)(a)(I), C.R.S., prohibits the state and its political subdivisions from making contributions in election campaigns.

In February 2013, using public money, the Douglas County School District ("District") commissioned and paid for a "white paper" report that was prepared by a national public policy think tank supportive of the District's educational reform agenda. The report ultimately became known as the "Hess Report" after one of its two co-authors. In September of that year, the District emailed its weekly newsletter to approximately 85,000 residents of Douglas County. The newsletter provided a link through which readers could download and access the Hess Report. Shortly thereafter, Julie Keim, a candidate in the 2013 District school board elections, filed a campaign finance complaint against the District alleging that the Hess Report was a prohibited "indirect contribution" because it provided an indirect benefit to four school board candidates who were associated with a "reform slate." An administrative law judge ("ALJ") concluded that the District violated the FCPA by contracting for and disseminating the Hess Report. The District appealed and the Court of Appeals reversed in a divided opinion. Ms. Keim filed a petition for certiorari with the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court granted certiorari review and affirmed the Court of Appeals. 

The Supreme Court initially held that under article XXVIII, section 2(5)(a)(IV) of the state constitution, a "contribution" requires that 1) something of value 2) be given to a candidate, directly or indirectly, (3) for the purpose of promoting the candidate's nomination, retention, recall, or election. Here, the District did not make a prohibited contribution to a campaign under article XXVIII, section 2(5)(a)(IV) of the state constitution and section 1-45-117(1)(a)(I), C.R.S., when it broadly disseminated an email of the report to county residents. The Court assumed that the Hess Report constituted a "thing of value" for purposes of the definition of "contribution." However, the District did not give the Hess Report, directly or indirectly, to any school board candidate, as required by the applicable definition of "contribution," when it distributed the email to county residents. The Supreme Court rejected the notion that something of value can be "given to" a candidate when it is publicly distributed, even if the candidate happens to be among the public to which the thing of value has become available. The definition of "contribution" cannot be construed so broadly to encompass anything of value that might "indirectly benefit" a candidate's nomination, retention, recall, or election. Accordingly, the ALJ erred in concluding that the District violated section 1-45-117(1)(a)(I), C.R.S., by contracting for and disseminating the Hess Report to Douglas County residents. (For more information, contact Bob Lackner.)

 

 

Nicholls v. People, Colorado Supreme Court No. 13SC68 (June 19, 2017)

Holding: In light of the U.S. Supreme Court's holding in Davis v. Washington, 547, U.S. 813 (2006), the court rules that Colorado's confrontation clause applies only to testimonial statements.

Case Summary: Defendant's husband set fire to the couple's home while defendant was at work, killing the couple's three children and destroying the home. Defendant and her husband were charged and tried separately for multiple counts of murder, arson, and other crimes. While awaiting trial, the husband confessed to his cellmate that he and the defendant had acted together to burn down the house and kill their children to collect insurance proceeds. The defendant and her husband were convicted separately of multiple offenses, including the murders.

Defendant appealed her convictions, arguing that her husband's statements to his cellmate were inadmissible hearsay and the trial court's admission of the statements violated her right to confront her accusers. ("Hearsay" is an out-of-court statement that is offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted.) The court upheld the defendant's conviction, holding that the husband's statements were admissible.

In rejecting her arguments, the Colorado supreme court noted that in Davis v. Washington, 547 U.S. 813 (2006), the U.S. Supreme Court held that the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment  to the U.S. Constitution, under which an accused has the right to confront his or her accuser, applies only to "testimonial" statements, or statements made in the course of formal testimony or interrogation, and not to "nontestimonial" statements. The Davis court relied upon the Court's own prior reasoning in Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36 (2004), where it declined to offer a precise definition of "testimony" but stated that it typically means "a solemn declaration or affirmation made for the purpose of establishing or proving some fact". (Crawford, at 51.)

Relying on Davis, the Colorado supreme court held that nontestimonial statements similarly do not implicate the confrontation clause (i.e., section 16 of article II) of the Colorado state constitution. Thus, the court overruled Compan v. People, 121 P.3d 876 (Colo. 2005), in which the court had held otherwise.

Because the husband's statements were undisputedly nontestimonial, the court next examined whether his statements fit under an existing exception to the general rule prohibiting the admission of hearsay. In determining that the husband's statements qualified as a statement against his own interest and were therefore admissible, the court revisited its standards for the admission of statements against interest that are offered to inculpate the accused. Specifically, the court reconsidered whether corroborating circumstances must exist that demonstrate the trustworthiness of the statement. The court concluded that, in light of its holding that nontestimonial statements do not implicate Colorado's confrontation clause, such corroborating circumstances are not required for the admission of nontestimonial statements against interest. Thus, the court overruled People v. Newton, 966 P.2d 563 (Colo. 1998), in which it had held otherwise. (For more information, contact Richard Sweetman.)

 

 

People v. Lente, Colorado Supreme Court No. 15SA331 (June 19, 2017)

Holding: Hash-oil extraction is manufacturing, not processing, and is protected by Amendment 64 only for licensed individuals or entities.

Case Summary: Austin Lente was trying to extract hash oil from marijuana using butane. The butane exploded and burned down his laundry room. Mr. Lente was charged with illegally processing or manufacturing marijuana. Mr. Lente argued that Amendment 64 amended the constitution to make processing marijuana legal, and he argued that extracting hash oil is a form of processing. The district court agreed and dismissed the charge. The state appealed to the Supreme Court, which held that Mr. Lente was engaged in manufacturing, not processing, which is legal under Amendment 64 only if the manufacturer holds a license. Mr. Lente did not hold a license. To give effect to the voters' intent in adopting Amendment 64, the Court looked to the definitions of "processing" and "manufacturing" that were in place when Amendment 64 passed. Because Amendment 64 did not separately define manufacturing and processing, the voters are presumed to have adopted the accepted meanings existing at the time. There was no definition for processing, but there was one for manufacturing, which the Court found included extracting hash oil. The Court reversed the district court's holding and remanded the case to the district court for further proceedings. (For more information, contact Jeremiah Barry.)

 

 

Vallagio at Inverness v. Metro. Homes, Colorado Supreme Court No. 15SC508 (June 5, 2017)

Holding: In this case involving construction defect claims raised by the Vallagio at Inverness Residential Condominium Association, against Metropolitan Homes, Inc., the Colorado Supreme Court affirmed the Colorado Court of Appeals' decision that provisions of a common interest community's declaration that require all construction defect claims to be submitted to binding arbitration and specify that the binding arbitration provision may only be amended with the declarant's consent do not violate the Colorado Common Interest Ownership Act (CCIOA) or the Colorado Consumer Protection Act (CCPA).

Case Summary: A provision of a common interest community's original declaration required all construction defect claims to go through binding arbitration. Another provision prohibited the unit owners of the common interest community from amending the provision establishing the binding arbitration requirement without the declarant's consent. After a construction defect dispute arose, at least 67% of the unit owners, in accordance with section 38-33.3-217, C.R.S., which establishes a 67% voting threshold for amending a declaration, voted to amend the declaration to remove the binding arbitration requirement. Thereafter, the unit owner's association, the Vallagio at Inverness Residential Condominium Association (association) filed a civil complaint against Metropolitan Homes, Inc. (declarant) in district court asserting the construction defect claims. The declarant moved to compel arbitration, arguing that the amendment removing the binding arbitration requirement was invalid because the unit owners had not obtained the declarant's consent to the amendment. The association argued that the declarant consent requirement violated the CCIOA and that the binding arbitration requirement violated the CCPA. The district court denied the declarant's motion to compel arbitration, and the declarant filed an interlocutory appeal. The Colorado Court of Appeals reversed the district court's determination, concluding that the amendment consent and binding arbitration provisions did not violate either the CCIOA or the CCPA and were therefore valid and enforceable. The Colorado Supreme Court granted the association's petition for certiorari and affirmed the court of appeals' decision.

The supreme court held that the provision of the declaration requiring the declarant's consent to any amendment to the binding arbitration provision of the declaration did not violate the CCIOA's provision requiring a 67% vote of unit owners to amend the declaration. The court rejected the association's argument that the CCIOA provision set forth the exclusive procedure for amending a declaration and concluded that the statutory language in the CCIOA was clear and unambiguous in establishing a percentage threshold only; it did not prohibit additional requirements that did not affect the percentage of unit owners required to affirmatively vote for or agree to an amendment of the declaration. The court further held that the amendment consent requirement did not violate the CCIOA's prohibition against restricting an association's dealings with the declarant more stringently than its dealings with a third party because the amendment consent requirement affected a power held by the unit owners and not the association. Finally, the court held that the CCPA's right to a civil action, i.e. a court proceeding, is waivable because the general assembly did not elect to make the rights afforded by the CCPA non-waivable and that CCPA claims therefore may be adjudicated through binding arbitration. Having held that the binding arbitration provision and provision requiring the consent of the declarant to amend that provision requirements of the declaration were valid, the supreme court remanded the case so that the construction defect claims could proceed through binding arbitration.

Two justices dissented, concluding that the legislative intent of section 38-33.3.-217, C.R.S., is to require no more than 67% of unit owners' votes to amend a declaration and that the declarant consent requirement of the declaration at issue contravened this legislative intent by "effectively allowing the Declarant to grant itself permanent veto power over a supermajority of unit owners and thus unilaterally control the Association's ability to amend the declaration." (For more information, contact Jennifer Berman.)