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Colorado Supreme Court Opinions
September 10, 2012

2012 CO 54. No 11SC25. Churchill v. University of Colorado at Boulder.
Unlawful Termination Violating Free Speech Rights—42 USC § 1983—Absolute and Qualified Immunity—Quasi-Judicial Proceedings—Equitable Relief.

The Supreme Court affirmed the court of appeals and the trial court, both of which held that Professor Ward Churchill was not entitled to any of the remedies he sought. Churchill brought a claim under 42 USC § 1983, claiming that the University of Colorado at Boulder (CU) Board of Regents (Regents) opened an investigation into his academic integrity in retaliation for the publication of a controversial essay, and that the investigation and resulting termination of his employment violated his free speech rights.

The proceedings against Churchill took more than two years and included several opportunities for Churchill to present witnesses, cross-examine adverse witnesses, and argue his positions. The Court held that the Regents’ termination of Churchill’s employment was a quasi-judicial proceeding, and that the Regents are entitled to absolute immunity.

The Court also affirmed the trial court’s ruling denying Churchill's request to be reinstated and to receive front pay. The trial court accepted as fact that the Regents’ investigation found that Churchill had plagiarized his academic writings, fabricated evidence, and violated the school’s academic standards. The trial court ruled that reinstating Churchill would not be appropriate because the relationship between Churchill and CU was irreparably damaged. Reinstating Churchill, the trial court ruled, would harm CU’s ability to enforce its standards of academic integrity and could impair CU’s ability to attract good students and faculty. The trial court’s rulings and findings did not constitute an abuse of its discretion and the rulings were affirmed.

2012 CO 55. No. 12SA101. People v. Pittman.
Suppression—Miranda—Custodial Interrogation—Totality of the Circumstances.

The Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s order suppressing statements made by Dianeth Pittman in response to police interrogation without a Miranda advisement. Specifically, the trial court failed to consider and properly apply the totality of the circumstances factors and make proper findings regarding those factors as required by People v. Thiret, 685 P.2d 193, 203 (Colo. 1984), and People v. Algien, 180 Colo. 1, 7, 501 P.2d 468, 471 (1972). Accordingly, the trial court erred by suppressing Pittman’s statements.

2012 CO 56. No. 10SC159. Koenig v. PurCo Fleet Services, Inc.
Calculation of Damages.

The dispute in this case arose out of a rental car contract between petitioner Judith Koenig and National Car Rental at the Durango Airport (National). Koenig hit a deer while driving a rental vehicle. After the accident, National assigned its damage claim to PurCo Fleet Services, Inc. (PurCo). PurCo sued Koenig to collect damages related to the incident, including damages for loss of the vehicle’s use during the time it was being repaired. PurCo sought to measure loss of use damages by using the reasonable rental value of a substitute vehicle. Koenig filed a motion for summary judgment, which the trial court granted, holding that PurCo could prevail on its loss of use damages claim only if it suffered actual lost profits. The court of appeals reversed the trial court’s summary judgment and remanded the case. It agreed with the trial court’s conclusion that, in general, the appropriate measure of loss of use damages in a commercial setting is actual lost profits, but concluded that the rental agreement in this case altered the measure of loss of use damages. Accordingly, PurCo was required to show certain loss prerequisites.

The Supreme Court affirmed the court of appeals’ judgment on different grounds. The Court held that under Denver Building & Construction Trades Council v. Shore, 287 P.2d 267 (Colo. 1955), loss of use damages in a commercial setting may be measured either by actual lost profits or by reasonable rental value. PurCo is entitled to recover loss of use damages regardless of its actual lost profits. The Court vacated the court of appeals’ judgment with respect to loss of use damages and loss prerequisites. Because the trial court granted summary judgment in Koenig’s favor, it did not reach the question of how reasonable rental value would be calculated in this case. Accordingly, the case was remanded for calculation of the reasonable rental value of a substitute vehicle.

2012 CO 57. No. 11SA343. In the Matter of Attorney F.
Attorney and Client—Office of Attorney Regulation—Discipline—Public Censure.

The Supreme Court reversed the Hearing Board’s (Board) sanction in this attorney discipline proceeding because the Board erroneously concluded that it lacked discretion in choosing a sanction and was compelled by the Court’s case law to impose a public censure. The Court remanded the case for a redetermination of the appropriate sanction so that the Board may exercise its discretion. The Court affirmed the Presiding Disciplinary Judge’s order denying respondent attorney’s motion to compel removal of the publication of the Board’s disposition posted on the Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel’s website, because the information posted complied with the Court’s rules of procedure regarding attorney discipline proceedings.

Colorado Supreme Court Opinions