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Colorado Supreme Court Opinions
December 12, 2011

No. 10SA191. Concerning the Application for Water Rights of LoPresti in Custer County: LoPresti v. Brandenburg.
Beardsley Decree—Settlement Agreement—Rotational No-Call Agreement.

The Supreme Court reversed an order of the district court for Water Division No. 2, holding that the Beardsley Decree, a settlement agreement, is a valid rotational no-call agreement because its plain language does not sanction a change in water rights. Opposers–appellees argued that the Beardsley Decree constitutes an illegal change of water rights because it permits the applicants to divert and use “all of said waters” in the stream system at any “point or points” as they desire when the call rotates to them. The Court rejected this argument because the plain language of the Beardsley Decree only permits the applicants to call for water to satisfy their ditches in priority when the call rotates to them. This call is limited to the maximum amount decreed, “severally and respectively,” to each individual ditch pursuant to the 1896 adjudication. Furthermore, the Beardsley Decree is not an illegal water loan agreement that violates CRS § 37-83-105(1), because it neither changes a junior right holder’s priority on the stream system nor permits diversion of more water than is decreed to a point of diversion. Accordingly, the Court reversed the water court’s holding that the Beardsley Decree was void because it sanctioned a change of water rights.

No. 10SC281. Vickery v. Evans.
Exemplary Damages—Compensatory Damages—CRS §§ 13-21-101 and -102—Pre-judgment Interest.

Monica Vickery sought review of the court of appeals’ judgment affirming the district court’s reduction of exemplary damages in her defamation suit against the mother and sister of her deceased husband. Both the district court and court of appeals understood CRS § 13-21-102 to limit Vickery’s exemplary damages to an amount equal to the compensatory damages figure returned by the jury, before any adjustment for prejudgment interest.

The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals, disapproving of its interpretation of CRS § 13-21-102. The court held that the amount of the actual damages awarded, to which reasonable exemplary damages are statutorily limited, refers not to the jury’s assessment of total compensatory damages but to the compensatory damages awarded against the defendant as the direct result of that assessment, which necessarily include statutorily mandated prejudgment interest.

No. 10SC711. Steward Software Company, LLC v. Kopcho.
Civil Theft—Jury Instructions.

The Supreme Court held that federal copyright law governs ownership of a copyright in software code, not ownership of a material embodiment of the code. Because Steward Software Company, LLC alleged that Richard Kopcho committed civil theft of a material embodiment of the code, ownership of a copyright in the code was irrelevant. Accordingly, the trial court correctly refused to instruct the jury on principles of federal copyright law. The judgment of the court of appeals was reversed.

No. 11SA231. People v. Coates.
Suppression of Evidence.

The People brought an interlocutory appeal pursuant to CRS § 16-12-102(2) and C.A.R. 4.1, challenging the district court’s suppression of evidence seized from the trunk of defendant’s vehicle. On discovering a bindle and single prescription pill in the driver’s pants pocket, the police arrested him, placed him in their patrol car, and searched the vehicle. The district court found that the police lacked any reasonable and articulable basis to search defendant’s trunk incident to the arrest of the driver, in accordance with Arizona v. Gant, 556 U.S. 332 (2009), and that they therefore also lacked probable cause for a warrantless search of the vehicle’s trunk pursuant to the automobile exception.

The Supreme Court affirmed. It held, however, that because the evidence for which suppression was sought was not seized from the passenger compartment of defendant’s vehicle, the search-incident-to-arrest exception could not justify its seizure under any circumstances. Instead, the Court affirmed on the ground that it was able to determine from the district court’s findings of fact that the police lacked probable cause to search defendant’s vehicle, whether or not they would have been justified in searching the passenger compartment on less than probable cause.

Nos. 10SA379 & 11SA197. Concerning the Application for Water Rights of Cherokee Metropolitan Dist. in El Paso County: Cherokee Metropolitan Dist. v. Meridian Service Metropolitan Dist.
Civil Procedure—Intervention as of Right Under C.R.C.P. 24(a).

The Supreme Court held that the Meridian Service Metropolitan District (Meridian) had a right to intervene under C.R.C.P. 24(a) and that the declaratory judgment proceedings must be reopened to give Meridian an opportunity to be heard. The Court therefore reversed the water court’s denial of Meridian’s motion to intervene in Case No. 10SA379, vacated the grant of declaratory relief in Case No. 11SA197, and remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Colorado Supreme Court Opinions