February 22, 2018
2018 COA 20. No. 15CA0126. People v. Rojas.
Criminal Law—Theft—Colorado Public Assistance Act—Food Stamps—Fraudulent Acts.
Rojas received food stamps. When requesting an extension of food stamp benefits, Rojas reported that she had no employment income, although she had been hired as a restaurant manager. While continuing to work as a restaurant manager, Rojas received $5,632 worth of food stamps to which she was not entitled. Rojas was found guilty of two counts under the general theft statute, CRS 18-4-401, and one count under CRS 26-2-305(1)(a), which criminalizes failing to report a change in financial circumstances that affects that participant’s eligibility for food stamps.
On appeal, Rojas challenged the trial court’s denial of her motion to dismiss the general theft counts. She argued that the trial court erred in finding that she could be prosecuted for theft of food stamps under the general theft statute. The prosecution is barred from prosecuting under a general criminal statute when the legislature evinces a clear intent to limit prosecution to a more specific statute. CRS 26-2-305(1)(a) creates a more specific criminal offense, theft of food stamps by a fraudulent act, than the general theft statute, and the General Assembly intended it to supplant the general theft statute.
The convictions under the general theft statute were vacated.
2018 COA 21. No. 16CA0817. Dorsey & Whitney LLP v. RegScan, Inc.
Attorney Fees—Personal Jurisdiction—Long Arm Statute—Due Process—Expert Witness—Fed. R. Evid. 703—Jury Instructions—CRE 408—Settlement Negotiations—Evidence.
RegScan, Inc., a Pennsylvania-based Internet company, reached out to and retained a specific Colorado attorney in Dorsey & Whitney LLP (the law firm) to represent it in a matter ultimately filed in Virginia. After a disagreement about the amount of fees owed, the law firm sued RegScan in Denver District Court. Judgment was ultimately entered for $373,707.43 against RegScan.
On appeal, RegScan argued that the district court lacked personal jurisdiction. It contended that its actions connecting it to Colorado did not demonstrate purposeful availment because it merely contacted a Minnesota-based firm that happened to staff the case with Colorado attorneys. A plaintiff desiring to invoke a Colorado court’s jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant must show that doing so comports with the long-arm statute and due process. Here, RegScan specifically retained an attorney in Colorado based on an existing relationship. The totality of the circumstances surrounding this retention demonstrates that RegScan’s purposeful activities directed at Colorado satisfy the minimum contacts requirement. Further, requiring RegScan to defend this case in Colorado was not unreasonable. Therefore, the district court did not err in denying RegScan’s motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction.
RegScan next contended that the court erred by allowing the law firm’s expert witness on the reasonableness of its fees to testify to the substance of information in pro forma bills (records reflecting the total number of hours worked) that the law firm didn’t offer into evidence. Fed. R. Evid. 703 allows an expert to base his opinion on facts or data that wouldn’t be admissible if such facts and data are of a type on which experts in the field would reasonably rely. But the expert may not disclose those inadmissible facts to the jury unless the court so allows after engaging in the balancing analysis required by the rule. RegScan’s argument confuses information that can’t be admitted under the evidence rules with information that simply has not been admitted. Here, RegScan failed to timely argue that the pro formas weren’t admissible. Further, the substance of the testimony was already in evidence, and RegScan did not argue that the witness’s ultimate opinion was inadmissible or wrong. Therefore, there was no violation of Fed. R. Evid. 703.
RegScan also contended that the district court erred by failing to include a fairness element in the elemental breach of contract jury instruction. Even if the court erred in omitting the element that the fee agreement was “fair and reasonable under the circumstances,” all relevant evidence in the record overwhelmingly shows that the fee agreement was fair and reasonable under the circumstances. Thus, any error was harmless.
Finally, RegScan argued that the district court erred by relying on CRE 408 to exclude email communications in which RegScan disputed the reasonableness of the law firm’s fees and didn’t admit liability. This evidence was properly excluded under CRE 408 because at the time the communications occurred the parties disputed the amount owed and were exchanging offers to resolve the dispute.
The judgment was affirmed.
2018 COA 22. No. 16CA1446. People in re J.C.
Juvenile—Delinquency—Indeterminate Sentence—Mandatory Sentence Offender—Repeat Juvenile Offender—Multiple Adjudications—Illegal Sentence.
J.C., a juvenile, pleaded guilty to charges in three separate cases, pursuant to a global plea agreement, on the same day during a hearing addressing all three cases. She pleaded guilty first to a third-degree assault charge, then to a second-degree criminal trespass charge, and finally to a second-degree assault charge. The court accepted the pleas and adjudicated J.C. delinquent in all three cases. The juvenile court sentenced J.C. to an indeterminate one-to-two-year term of commitment in the custody of the Division of Youth Corrections (DYC), with a mandatory minimum term of one year.
J.C. filed a motion to correct illegal sentence, arguing that the court lacked authority to sentence her to a mandatory minimum period of confinement as a mandatory sentence offender because the three adjudications required for the relevant statute to apply had all occurred at the same hearing. The court denied the motion. J.C. then filed for postconviction relief, alleging that she received ineffective assistance of plea counsel and that she hadn’t knowingly, voluntarily, or intentionally pleaded guilty. In denying the motion, as relevant here, the court ruled that because it was not shown that the court relied on the “mandatory sentence offender” classification, J.C. did not show prejudice.
On appeal, J.C. argued that the juvenile court erred by summarily denying her petition for postconviction relief because she had alleged that neither her lawyer nor the court had advised her that she would be sentenced as a repeat juvenile offender. She alleged that she was prejudiced by counsel’s deficient performance and the court’s failure to advise her because she wouldn’t have pleaded guilty if she’d known she would be sentenced to a mandatory minimum term of confinement. The Court of Appeals reviewed the entire juvenile sentencing scheme and concluded that a court may not sentence a juvenile to DYC for an indeterminate term. Because the court sentenced J.C. to one to two years in DYC, her sentence is indeterminate and therefore illegal.
Because the issue will likely arise on remand, the Court also addressed whether the juvenile court may sentence J.C. to a mandatory minimum period of commitment. A mandatory minimum sentence to DYC commitment is authorized only if the juvenile qualifies as a special offender under CRS § 19-2-908. Two categories of special offenders are relevant here: mandatory sentence offenders and repeat juvenile offenders. However, a juvenile doesn’t qualify as a mandatory sentence offender under CRS § 19-2-516(1) or a repeat juvenile offender under CRS § 19-2-516(2), when, as in this case, the multiple adjudications required by those provisions occurred in the same hearing. Therefore, the juvenile court couldn’t have legally sentenced J.C. to a mandatory minimum term of commitment as a mandatory sentence offender or repeat juvenile offender and cannot do so on remand.
The sentence was vacated and the case was remanded with directions to resentence J.C.
2018 COA 23. No. 16CA1492. In re Marriage of Runge.
Dissolution of Marriage—Post-Decree—CRCP 16.2(e)(10)—Subject Matter Jurisdiction—Disclosures.
In this post-dissolution of marriage dispute, wife moved under CRCP 16.2(e)(10) to discover and allocate assets that she alleged husband did not disclose or misrepresented in the proceedings surrounding their 2011 separation agreement. Husband moved to dismiss wife’s motion and the district court granted the dismissal.
As an initial matter, husband contended that the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction under CRCP 16.2(e)(10) because the five-year period during which it may reallocate assets expired the day after wife moved for such relief. CRCP 16.2(e)(10) does not limit the court’s jurisdiction to rule on timely motions if the five-year period expires before the ruling. Therefore, the district court had jurisdiction to rule on the motion because wife’s motion was timely filed within the five-year period under the rule.
On appeal, wife contended that the district court erred by not applying the “plausibility” standard announced in Warne v. Hall, 2016 CO 50, when granting husband’s motion to dismiss. The Warne “plausibility” standard does not apply here because wife’s motion was not a pleading and husband’s motion to dismiss was not pursuant to CRCP 12(b)(5).
Wife also contended that the district court erred by ruling that she did not state sufficient grounds in her motion and that the court should have allowed her to conduct discovery to prove her allegations. Wife did not allege that husband failed to disclose specific items mandated under CRCP 16.2(e)(10) and husband certified that he provided all such items. Instead, wife asserted suspicions and speculations that husband likely failed to disclose and misrepresented assets. In light of the information about husband’s assets that wife had pre-decree, and her choice to enter into a separation agreement rather than to evaluate this information, wife’s motion did not state sufficient grounds to trigger an allocation of misstated or omitted assets. Further, CRCP 16.2(e)(10) was not intended to create a right for an ex-spouse to conduct discovery into the other spouse’s assets post-decree.
The order was affirmed.
2018 COA 24. No. 16CA1643. People v. Joslin.
Criminal Procedure—Postconviction Motion—Restitution—Interest.
After entering into plea agreements, defendant was sentenced to 92 years to life in the custody of the Department of Corrections and ordered to pay over $14,000 in fees and $1,520 in restitution. When defendant did not pay the restitution within a year, he was charged interest on that unpaid restitution pursuant to CRS § 18-1.3-603(4)(b). He then filed two nearly identical Crim. P. 35(c) motions, alleging that in each case he was never told that he would be charged interest on unpaid restitution. He claimed that he would never have pleaded guilty if he had known he would have to pay interest. The district court denied the motions without a hearing.
On appeal, defendant contended that he was entitled to postconviction relief because either the district court or his counsel (or both) was required to tell him that he would be required to pay interest on unpaid restitution and they failed to do so. Interest on unpaid restitution is a collateral consequence of a plea and neither the district court nor defendant’s counsel had a duty to advise defendant of this possibility. Therefore, defendant’s postconviction allegations, even if true, do not warrant relief, and the district court did not err in denying defendant’s motion without a hearing.
The order was affirmed.
2018 COA 25. Nos. 16CA1646 & 17CA0074. Scott v. Scott.
Torts—Conversion—Unjust Enrichment—Life Insurance Proceeds—Motion to Dismiss under CRCP 12(b)(5) and (6)—Attorney Fees and Costs. Read More..
Roseann’s marriage to Melvin Scott was dissolved. Their separation agreement provided that Melvin’s life insurance policies were to be maintained until Roseann remarried, and at that time the beneficiaries could be changed to the children of the parties. Upon emancipation of the children, if Roseann had remarried, Melvin could change the beneficiary to whomever he wished. A Prudential life insurance policy was the policy at issue in this case. After the divorce, Melvin married Donna and remained married to her until his death. Roseann never remarried. A few years before Melvin died and decades after his divorce from Roseann, Melvin changed the named beneficiary on his life insurance policies to Donna. Melvin died and Donna received the proceeds from his life insurance policies. Roseann sent a demand letter to Donna, requesting the proceeds pursuant to the separation agreement. The proceeds were placed in a trust account pending the outcome of this litigation.
Roseann sued Donna in Mesa County District Court, alleging civil theft, conversion, and unjust enrichment/constructive trust. Donna did not answer but removed the case to federal district court based on administration of the veteran life insurance policies by the federal government. She then moved to dismiss Roseann’s claims under a theory of federal preemption. Ultimately, the federal court agreed with the preemption argument and dismissed Roseann’s claims with prejudice as to the veteran policies but remanded the remaining claims to the Mesa County District Court for resolution regarding the Prudential policy.
Donna filed a motion in the district court to dismiss under CRCP 12(b)(5) and (6), arguing that Roseann’s claims failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted and that she had failed to join Melvin’s estate, a necessary party. The district court granted the motion and a subsequent motion for attorney fees and costs.
On appeal, the Court of Appeals first examined whether Roseann had stated claims sufficient to withstand the plausibility standard required to survive a motion to dismiss under CRCP 12(b)(5). To state a claim for civil theft, a plaintiff must allege the elements of criminal theft, which requires the specific intent of the defendant to permanently deprive the owner of the benefit of his property. Roseann made a single, conclusory allegation, repeating the language in the statute, that Donna acted with the requisite intent to state a claim for civil theft. The Court concluded that, without more, the allegation was not entitled to the assumption of truth, and the district court did not err in dismissing the civil theft claim.
Conversion, unlike civil theft, does not require that the convertor act with the specific intent to permanently deprive the owner of his property. Even a good faith recipient of funds who receives them without knowledge that they belonged to another can be held liable for conversion. Here, Roseann adequately alleged that Donna’s dominion and control over the Prudential policy proceeds were unauthorized because of the separation agreement language and Donna’s refusal to return the allegedly converted funds. Roseann pleaded each element of conversion sufficiently for that claim to be plausible and withstand a request for dismissal under CRCP 12(b)(5).
Similarly, the Court concluded it was error to dismiss Roseann’s claim for unjust enrichment and constructive trust. In general, a person who is unjustly enriched at the expense of another is subject to liability in restitution. Here, Roseann alleged that Donna received a benefit that was promised to Roseann in the separation agreement and it would be inequitable for Donna to retain the funds. Roseann asked the court to impose a constructive trust on the assets. While this may be a difficult case in that two arguably innocent parties are asserting legal claims to the same insurance proceeds, resolution should be left to the fact finder and not resolved under a CRCP 12(b)(5) motion to dismiss.
It was not clear whether the district court had dismissed the claims for failure to join a necessary party under CRCP 12(b)(6), so the Court addressed this issue as well. Here, the Court held that Melvin’s estate was not a necessary party because Donna has possession of the proceeds at issue, and thus complete relief can be accorded between Roseann and Donna. In addition, the life insurance proceeds were never a part of Melvin’s estate assets and therefore the estate has no interest in those proceeds. Further, this is not an action for enforcement of the separation agreement, but is essentially an action in tort. The district court erred by dismissing the case under CRCP 12(b)(6).
Lastly, Roseann contended that Donna is not entitled to attorney fees and costs because the court erred in granting Donna’s motion to dismiss. The Court agreed.
The judgment was affirmed in part and reversed in part, and the case was remanded with directions. The award of attorney fees and costs was vacated.
2018 COA 26. No. 17CA0178. Denver Police Protective Association v. City and County of Denver.
Labor Relations—Collective Bargaining—Body-Worn Cameras—Summary Judgment.
The City and County of Denver (Denver) and the Denver Police Protective Association (DPPA) are parties to a collective bargaining agreement. That agreement implements the City and County of Denver Charter (Charter), which sets forth Denver’s obligations regarding collective bargaining with certain of its employees. A category in the Charter that is not required to be subject to collective bargaining is officer health and safety matters, except for personal safety and health equipment.
In 2015, the Denver Police Department (DPD) promulgated, without bargaining or consultation with DPPA, a policy regarding the use of body-worn cameras (BWCs). The policy required “patrol officers and corporals assigned to all six police Districts, the Gang Unit and Traffic Operations” to wear and use BWCs. DPPA immediately contended that this was a mandatory subject of collective bargaining and demanded that Denver bargain. Denver refused.
DPPA sued, alleging Denver violated the collective bargaining agreement by implementing the BWC policy without first bargaining in good faith with DPPA. The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of DPPA and ordered Denver to bargain over the implementation of the BWC policy.
On appeal, the Court of Appeals considered whether the BWCs are “personal safety and health equipment” subject to collective bargaining as claimed by DPPA and agreed to by the district court, or if they are equipment that relates to “officer safety and health matters,” as Denver argued, and therefore are not a mandatory subject of collective bargaining.
Analyzing the Charter, the Court concluded that it is reasonable to restrict the definition of “personal safety and health equipment” to equipment whose principal purpose is the safety of officers. The case thus turned on whether the principal purpose of BWCs is officer safety. While BWCs may incidentally impact officer safety, their principal purpose is not to increase the safety of the officer. The Court therefore concluded that BWCs are not “personal health and safety equipment” under the Charter and are not a mandatory subject of collective bargaining.
The judgment was reversed.
2018 COA 27. No. 17CA0608. People in re L.H.
Dependency and Neglect—Indian Child Welfare Act—Notice Requirement.
In this dependency and neglect proceeding, mother initially denied Native American heritage but then informed the Jefferson County Department of Human Services (Department) that her biological brother is registered with “Navajo-Deni.” The Department sent six separate notices to the Navajo Nation at six different addresses. The Navajo Nation responded that there was no record of the family with the Navajo Nation, and therefore the child was not enrolled or eligible for enrollment with the Navajo Nation. Based on this response, at the termination hearing the trial court found that the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) did not apply in this case.
Mother appealed the judgment terminating the parent–child legal relationship with her child. Based on its review of the record, the Court of Appeals could not determine whether the Department complied with the ICWA. A review of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) list of Tribal Agents by Affiliation shows that the Colorado River Indian Tribes are also tribes historically affiliated with the Navajo. The Court concluded that because mother had made a general reference to Navajo, and not just the Navajo Nation, the Department was required to also notify the Colorado River Indian Tribes. The notice to only the Navajo Nation was insufficient to satisfy the ICWA’s notice requirement.
The case was remanded with instructions for the limited purpose of directing the Department to send appropriate notice to the Colorado River Indian Tribes.