Colorado Supreme Court Opinions

June 04, 2018

2018 CO 46. No. 17SC346. Mason v. Farm Credit S. Colo.

ACA,CRCP 38,Right to a Jury Trial,Legal or Equitable,Basic Thrust Test.

This case concerns the right to a jury trial in a civil case. The Supreme Court considered whether trial courts must review the claims in a plaintiff’s amended complaint, as opposed to those in its original complaint, to determine whether a party is entitled to a jury trial under CRCP 38. The Court concluded that its prior cases and the Colorado Rules of Civil Procedure require it to answer that question affirmatively. Accordingly, the Court held that when a plaintiff amends its complaint and a party properly demands a jury trial under CRCP 38, the trial court should determine whether the case may be tried to a jury based on the claims in the amended complaint. The Court further held that CRCP 38 permits a case to be tried to a jury when the claims in the plaintiff’s amended complaint are primarily legal, as opposed to equitable. Finally, after examining respondents’ amended complaint, the Court concluded that respondents’ claims against petitioner are primarily legal. Thus, petitioner was entitled to a jury trial under CRCP 38.

The Court of Appeals’ judgment was reversed.

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2018 CO 47. No. 18SA1. In re People v. Austin.

Preliminary Hearings.

Austin petitioned for relief pursuant to C.A.R. 21 from a district court order denying his motion for a preliminary hearing. The Supreme Court issued its rule to show cause why the order should not be disapproved, and the People responded. The Court now makes the rule absolute and orders that Austin be given a preliminary hearing because he was charged by information with a class 4 felony committed as a “crime of violence” as defined in CRS § 18-1.3-406(2)(a)(I)(B) and (II)(C), which statutorily entitles him to a preliminary hearing, whether or not he would actually be subject to mandatory sentencing for a crime of violence.

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2018 CO 48. No. 15SC462. Gessler v. Smith.

Amendment 41,Independent Ethics Commission,Jurisdiction.

The Supreme Court considered whether Colorado’s Independent Ethics Commission (the IEC) had jurisdiction pursuant to article XXIX of the Colorado Constitution to hear a complaint based on allegations that then-Secretary of State Scott Gessler (the Secretary) breached the public trust by using money from his statutorily provided discretionary fund for partisan and personal purposes. The IEC investigated the complaint, held an evidentiary hearing, and determined that the Secretary’s conduct breached the public trust. The Secretary sought judicial review of the IEC’s ruling, arguing that the IEC lacked jurisdiction over the case, the relevant jurisdictional language must be narrowly construed to avoid unconstitutional vagueness, and the IEC violated his procedural due process rights. Both the district court and the Court of Appeals affirmed the IEC’s ruling.

The Court held that relevant jurisdictional language in Colo. Const. art. XXIX, § 5 authorizes the IEC to hear complaints involving ethical standards of conduct relating to activities that could allow covered individuals, including elected officials, to improperly benefit financially from their public employment. The Court further held that CRS § 24-18-103 is one such ethical standard of conduct. This provision establishes that the holding of public office or employment is a public trust, and that a public official “shall carry out his duties for the benefit of the people of the state.” Because the allegations against the Secretary clearly implicated this standard, the Court concluded that the complaint fell within the IEC’s jurisdiction and rejected the Secretary’s jurisdictional and vagueness challenges. Additionally, the Court rejected the Secretary’s procedural due process claim because he failed to demonstrate that he suffered any prejudice as a result of the alleged violation.

The Court of Appeals’ judgment was affirmed.

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2018 CO 49. No. 17SA64. Renfandt v. New York Life Insurance Company.

Life insurance Policies,Suicide Exclusion Clauses.

In this opinion, the Supreme Court answered a question of state law certified by the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado. The Court was asked to interpret the meaning of the words “suicide, sane or insane” when used in life insurance policies. The Court concluded that, under Colorado law, a life insurance policy exclusion for “suicide, sane or insane” excludes coverage only if the insured, whether sane or insane at the time, committed an act of self-destruction with the intent to kill himself.

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2018 CO 50. No. 17SA299, State Farm v. Griggs.

Attorney–Client Privilege,Implied Waiver.

In this original proceeding pursuant to C.A.R. 21, the Supreme Court reviewed the district court’s determination that petitioner State Farm Fire and Casualty Company impliedly waived the attorney–client privilege protecting communications between it and its former counsel when it submitted an affidavit from that former counsel to rebut factual allegations of discovery misconduct. The Court issued a rule to show to cause why the district court’s finding of implied waiver should not be reversed and now makes that rule absolute. The attorney affidavit submitted in this case did not put privileged information at issue by asserting a claim or defense that depends on privileged information or attorney advice. Rather, the affidavit contained only factual statements that were intended to rebut allegations of discovery misconduct. Accordingly, the Court concluded that the district court erred in finding that State Farm impliedly waived its attorney–client privilege on the facts presented.

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June 4, 2018

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