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Colorado Supreme Court Opinions
June 6, 2011

No. 09SC1011. Build It and They Will Drink, Inc. v. Strauch.
Dram-Shop Liability.

In this case involving an unprovoked stabbing by an intoxicated nightclub patron, the Supreme Court granted certiorari to determine whether the court of appeals erred in holding that reasonable foreseeability, an element derived from a traditional common law negligence action, may not be considered in determining whether a vendor of alcohol is liable for injuries caused by intoxicated patrons under Colorado’s dram-shop statute, CRS § 12-47-801. The statute expressly abolishes any common law action against a vendor of alcoholic beverages, adopting a general rule that the consumption of alcohol, rather than the sale, service, or provision of alcohol, is the proximate cause of injuries inflicted on another by an intoxicated person. Nevertheless, the statute also creates liability for liquor licensees by describing the limited circumstances under which there are exceptions to the rule that consumption is the proximate cause of injuries inflicted by an intoxicated person.

CRS § 12-47-801 replaces the common law proximate cause determination with specific statutory elements, eliminating civil liability for liquor licensees except when there is a willful and knowing sale of alcohol to a visibly intoxicated person and injury resulting from the intoxication. Under these circumstances, the sale or service of alcohol is the proximate cause of a plaintiff’s injuries, and a vendor of alcohol is liable for limited damages.

Because the plain language of the statute defines the criteria for proximate cause and liability without mention of foreseeability, the Court held that liability under § 12-47-801 does not require that plaintiff’s injury be a foreseeable consequence of the sale or service of alcohol. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals.

No. 09SC375. Pellman II v. People.
Sexual Assault on a Child by One in a Position of Trust—Supervisory Relationship.

The Supreme Court affirmed the court of appeals’ holding that there was sufficient evidence that defendant was in a position of trust when he had unlawful sexual contact with the child victim. According to CRS § 18-3-410(3.5), a person in a position of trust is “any person who is a parent or acting in the place of a parent and charged with any of the parent’s rights, duties, or responsibilities concerning the child . . . or a person who is charged with any duty or responsibility . . . no matter how brief, at the time of the unlawful act.” A defendant may be in a position of trust through an ongoing and continuous supervisory relationship with the victim, regardless of whether the defendant was performing a specific supervisory task at the time of the unlawful contact. Here, there is sufficient evidence that defendant had a supervisory relationship with the child at the time of the unlawful sexual contact.

No. 09SC963. Gognat v. Ellsworth.
Uniform Trade Secrets Act—Statute of Limitations—Definition of Trade Secret.

Timothy Gognat sought review of the court of appeals’ decision affirming the district court’s summary judgment in favor of defendant Stephen Smith. The district court ruled that Gognat’s trade secret misappropriation claim was barred by the statute of limitations. The court of appeals affirmed, holding that the various acts of misappropriation alleged in the complaint constituted multiple misappropriations of either a single trade secret or related trade secrets, the limitations period for which accrued at the time Gognat acquired knowledge of defendant’s first act of misappropriation. 

The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals, finding both that the term “trade secret” as used in the Colorado’s Uniform Trade Secrets Act is a matter of law, to be determined by the court, and that undisputed facts demonstrate that all of the proprietary information alleged to have been misappropriated constituted a single trade secret, the misappropriation of which was known to Gognat more than three years before filing his complaint. 

No. 10SA234. In re Thomas v. Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.
Statutory Interpretation—Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act—Receivership—Administrative Exhaustion.
In this original proceeding pursuant to C.A.R. 21, the Supreme Court held that a claimant who has filed an action in state court against a bank that is later placed in receivership must exhaust the administrative remedies established by Congress in the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act of 1989 (FIRREA) before continuing the action in state court. Where, as here, a claimant receives proper notice of the required administrative procedures yet fails to comply with them, FIRREA withdraws jurisdiction over a pre-receivership claim. Accordingly, the Court made the rule absolute and remanded the case to the trial court with directions to dismiss the claims against the receiver for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

No. 10SA396. People v. Smith.
Criminal Law—Express Consent—Interlocutory and Original Jurisdiction.

The Supreme Court reversed the order of the trial court suppressing the results of tests performed on blood drawn from defendant by police officers without requesting his consent following a car accident. The Court held that interlocutory review of the order was inappropriate, but nevertheless exercised original jurisdiction and held that Colorado’s express consent statute does not require officers to request a driver’s consent to conduct a constitutional involuntary blood draw.

Nos. 11SA21 & 11SA42. People v. Hughes; People v. Meza-Reyes.
Suppression of Evidence—Custody Under Miranda—Fourth Amendment Seizure.

The Supreme Court determined that two trial courts suppressing defendants’ statements because of police noncompliance with Miranda did so by applying an incorrect standard, conflating the standard for Fourth Amendment seizures with the standard governing custody under Miranda. Accordingly, the Court reversed the trial court orders suppressing the evidence.

Colorado Supreme Court Opinions