Colorado Court of Appeals Opinions

October 18, 2018


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2018 COA 150. No. 17CA1504. Garrett v. Credit Bureau of Carbon County.

Credit Bureau of Carbon County (Credit Bureau) is an agency that collects or attempts to collect debts owed, due, or asserted to be owed or due to another. It sent Garrett two collection notices demanding payment on a consumer debt. Garrett sued Credit Bureau, asserting that the language of its communications overshadowed and contradicted the statutory requirements of the Colorado Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (the Act). The district court concluded that Credit Bureau’s notices had not violated the Act and denied Garrett’s motion for judgment on the pleadings, granted Credit Bureau’s motion for summary judgment, and dismissed the case.

On appeal, Garrett contended that the district court wrongly concluded that Credit Bureau did not violate the Act because the format and content of Credit Bureau’s notices overshadowed or contradicted the statutorily required disclosures. The Act requires debt collectors to provide a debt validation notice describing the debt. It prohibits debt collectors from using false, deceptive, or misleading representations when collecting a debt. Overshadowing occurs when a collection letter contains the requisite validation notice, but that information is obscured or diminished by the letter’s presentation or format. Contradiction occurs when language accompanying the validation notice is inconsistent with the substance of the rights and duties that the statute imposes. In Flood v. Mercantile Adjustment Bureau, LLC, 176 P.3d 769 (Colo. 2008), the Supreme Court adopted the “least sophisticated consumer” test to determine whether a collection agency’s notice was confusing with respect to the statutorily required disclosures. Here, Credit Bureau’s use of the bold and capitalized phrase “WE CANNOT HELP YOU UNLESS YOU CALL” in the second notice would confuse the least sophisticated consumer because it was capable of being reasonably interpreted as changing the manner in which the consumer was required by law to dispute the debt or its amount. As a matter of law, the notice was deceptive or misleading in violation of the Act.

The judgment was reversed and the case was remanded for the district court to enter judgment for Garrett and award her statutory damages, costs, and a reasonable amount of attorney fees incurred on appeal. 
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2018 COA 151. No. 17CA2064. Hernandez v. City and County of Denver.

Hernandez sustained injuries while a pretrial detainee at the Denver Detention Center. She sued six of the jail’s employees, including Deputy Sheriff Dodson, alleging, as relevant to this appeal, willful and wanton conduct. Following an evidentiary hearing pursuant to Trinity Broadcasting of Denver, Inc. v. City of Westminster, 848 P.2d 916 (Colo. 1993), and pursuant to CRCP 12(b)(1), the district court found that Dodson and another defendant had not engaged in willful and wanton conduct and therefore enjoyed immunity from suit on those allegations.

On appeal, Hernandez alleged that the district court erred in finding Dodson was entitled to immunity. The Colorado Governmental Immunity Act provides that a public employee may not assert immunity in an action for injuries resulting from the negligent operation of a jail, regardless of whether the employee engaged in willful and wanton conduct. Because the allegations of willful and wanton conduct here do not raise an issue of sovereign immunity, the district court erred in dismissing them before trial via Rule 12(b)(1) and a Trinity hearing.

The order was vacated and the case was remanded for further proceedings.

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