Articles Posted in Colorado Supreme Court

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U.S. Welding sought review of the court of appeals’ judgment affirming the district court’s order awarding it no damages whatsoever for breach of contract with Advanced Circuits. Notwithstanding its determination following a bench trial that Advanced breached its contract to purchase from Welding all its nitrogen requirements during a one-year term, the district court reasoned that by declining Advanced’s request for an estimate of lost profits expected to result from Advanced’s breach prior to expiration of the contract term, Welding failed to mitigate. Because an aggrieved party is not obligated to mitigate damages from a breach by giving up its rights under the contract, and because requiring Welding to settle for a projection of anticipated lost profits, rather than its actual loss, as measured by the amount of nitrogen Advanced actually purchased from another vendor over the contract term, would amount to nothing less than forcing Welding to relinquish its rights under the contract, the Colorado Supreme Court concluded the district court erred. The court of appeals’ judgment concerning failure to mitigate was therefore reversed, and the case was remanded for further proceedings. View "U.S. Welding, Inc. v. Advanced Circuits, Inc." on Justia Law

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This case arose from a series of transactions in which petitioners Rocky Mountain Exploration, Inc. and RMEI Bakken Joint Venture Group (collectively, “RMEI”) sold oil and gas assets to Lario Oil and Gas Company (“Lario”). In the transaction, Lario was acting as an agent for Tracker Resource Exploration ND, LLC and its affiliated entities (collectively, “Tracker”), which were represented by respondents Davis Graham & Stubbs LLP and Gregory Danielson (collectively, “DG&S”). Prior to RMEI’s sale to Lario, RMEI and Tracker had a business relationship related to the oil and gas assets that were ultimately the subject of the RMEI-Lario transaction. The RMEI-Tracker relationship ultimately soured; Tracker and Lario reached an understanding by which Lario would seek to purchase RMEI’s interests and then assign a majority of those interests to Tracker. Recognizing the history between Tracker and RMEI, however, Tracker and Lario agreed not to disclose Tracker’s involvement in the deal. DG&S represented Tracker throughout RMEI’s sale to Lario. In that capacity, DG&S drafted the final agreement between RMEI and Lario, worked with the escrow agent, and hosted the closing at its offices. No party disclosed to RMEI, however, that DG&S was representing Tracker, not Lario. After the sale from RMEI to Lario was finalized, Lario assigned a portion of the assets acquired to Tracker, and Tracker subsequently re-sold its purchased interests for a substantial profit. RMEI then learned of Tracker’s involvement in its sale to Lario and sued Tracker, Lario, and DG&S for breach of fiduciary duty, fraud, and civil conspiracy, among other claims. As pertinent here, the fiduciary breach claims were based on RMEI’s prior relationship with Tracker. The remaining claims were based on allegations that Tracker, Lario, and DG&S misrepresented Tracker’s involvement in the Lario deal, knowing that RMEI would not have dealt with Tracker because of the parties’ strained relationship. Based on these claims, RMEI sought to avoid its contract with Lario. Lario and Tracker eventually settled their claims with RMEI, and DG&S moved for summary judgment as to all of RMEI’s claims against it. The district court granted DG&S’s motion. The Colorado Supreme Court granted certiorari to consider whether: (1) Lario and DG&S created the false impression that Lario was not acting for an undisclosed principal (i.e., Tracker) with whom Lario and DG&S knew RMEI would not deal; (2) an assignment clause in the RMEI-Lario transaction agreements sufficiently notified RMEI that Lario acted on behalf of an undisclosed principal; (3) prior agreements between RMEI and Tracker negated all previous joint ventures and any fiduciary obligations between them; (4) RMEI stated a viable claim against DG&S for fraud; and (5) RMEI could avoid the Lario sale based on statements allegedly made after RMEI and Lario signed the sales agreement but prior to closing. The Supreme Court found no reversible error and affirmed. View "Rocky Mountain Exploration, Inc. and RMEI Bakken Joint Venture" on Justia Law

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This case arose from a series of transactions in which petitioners Rocky Mountain Exploration, Inc. and RMEI Bakken Joint Venture Group (collectively, “RMEI”) sold oil and gas assets to Lario Oil and Gas Company (“Lario”). In the transaction, Lario was acting as an agent for Tracker Resource Exploration ND, LLC and its affiliated entities (collectively, “Tracker”), which were represented by respondents Davis Graham & Stubbs LLP and Gregory Danielson (collectively, “DG&S”). Prior to RMEI’s sale to Lario, RMEI and Tracker had a business relationship related to the oil and gas assets that were ultimately the subject of the RMEI-Lario transaction. The RMEI-Tracker relationship ultimately soured; Tracker and Lario reached an understanding by which Lario would seek to purchase RMEI’s interests and then assign a majority of those interests to Tracker. Recognizing the history between Tracker and RMEI, however, Tracker and Lario agreed not to disclose Tracker’s involvement in the deal. DG&S represented Tracker throughout RMEI’s sale to Lario. In that capacity, DG&S drafted the final agreement between RMEI and Lario, worked with the escrow agent, and hosted the closing at its offices. No party disclosed to RMEI, however, that DG&S was representing Tracker, not Lario. After the sale from RMEI to Lario was finalized, Lario assigned a portion of the assets acquired to Tracker, and Tracker subsequently re-sold its purchased interests for a substantial profit. RMEI then learned of Tracker’s involvement in its sale to Lario and sued Tracker, Lario, and DG&S for breach of fiduciary duty, fraud, and civil conspiracy, among other claims. As pertinent here, the fiduciary breach claims were based on RMEI’s prior relationship with Tracker. The remaining claims were based on allegations that Tracker, Lario, and DG&S misrepresented Tracker’s involvement in the Lario deal, knowing that RMEI would not have dealt with Tracker because of the parties’ strained relationship. Based on these claims, RMEI sought to avoid its contract with Lario. Lario and Tracker eventually settled their claims with RMEI, and DG&S moved for summary judgment as to all of RMEI’s claims against it. The district court granted DG&S’s motion. The Colorado Supreme Court granted certiorari to consider whether: (1) Lario and DG&S created the false impression that Lario was not acting for an undisclosed principal (i.e., Tracker) with whom Lario and DG&S knew RMEI would not deal; (2) an assignment clause in the RMEI-Lario transaction agreements sufficiently notified RMEI that Lario acted on behalf of an undisclosed principal; (3) prior agreements between RMEI and Tracker negated all previous joint ventures and any fiduciary obligations between them; (4) RMEI stated a viable claim against DG&S for fraud; and (5) RMEI could avoid the Lario sale based on statements allegedly made after RMEI and Lario signed the sales agreement but prior to closing. The Supreme Court found no reversible error and affirmed. View "Rocky Mountain Exploration, Inc. and RMEI Bakken Joint Venture" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Colorado Supreme Court's review centered on whether defendant Jack Grynberg impliedly waived the physician–patient privilege by either: (1) requesting specific performance of a contract; or (2) denying plaintiffs’ allegations that he made irrational decisions. Grynberg asserted counterclaims for breach of contract against the plaintiffs, his children and former wife (“the Family”). According to Grynberg, he transferred his ownership interests in the businesses to the Family on the condition that he would remain in control of the businesses until his death. Grynberg alleged Family members expressed agreement to these terms either orally, in writing, or implicitly through their conduct. Then in 2016, the Family voted to remove Grynberg as president of each business, citing his declining mental health. Grynberg refused to comply. The Family filed suit, seeking a declaration that Grynberg no longer controlled the businesses and an injunction preventing him from representing the businesses. In its complaint, the Family asserted that Grynberg was exhibiting erratic behavior, making irrational decisions, and committing significant company funds to obviously fraudulent scam operations. In his amended answer, Grynberg denied the Family’s allegations and asserted counterclaims, including claims for breach of the lifetime-control agreement. Grynberg alleged that the Family’s breach of the oral or implied contract caused substantial monetary harm, and he sought “damages and/or specific performance” as relief. The trial court found that Grynberg impliedly waived the physician–patient privilege by asserting those counterclaims, and it ordered him to produce three years’ worth of mental health records for in-camera inspection. Grynberg petitioned the Supreme Court to review that ruling. Only privilege holders (patients) can impliedly waive the physician–patient privilege, and that they do so by injecting their physical or mental condition into the case as the basis of a claim or an affirmative defense. An adverse party cannot inject the patient’s physical or mental condition into a case through its defenses. Patients do not inject their mental condition into the case by denying the opposing party’s allegations. The Supreme Court found Grynberg did not inject his mental condition into the case as the basis of a claim by alleging that the Family breached a contract that does not reference his mental health. Likewise, he did not inject his mental condition into the case as the basis of a claim or an affirmative defense by denying the Family’s allegations that he made irrational decisions. Accordingly, the Court concluded Grynberg did not impliedly waive the physician–patient privilege and that the trial court abused its discretion by ordering Grynberg to produce his mental health records for in-camera inspection. View "Gadeco, LLC v. Grynberg" on Justia Law

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The United States District Court for the District of Colorado certified a question of Colorado law to the Colorado Supreme Court. Defendant Ray Domenico Farms, Inc. grew organic vegetables. Plaintiffs were three year-round and four seasonal migrant workers who had been previously employed by Domenico Farms from as far back as 1992. All Plaintiffs were paid by the hour, and alleged they never received overtime pay during their employment with Domenico Farms. While agricultural workers were generally exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act’s (“FLSA”) overtime requirements, Plaintiffs alleged they performed nonagricultural tasks in weeks in which they worked more than forty hours, thus entitling them to overtime wages under FLSA for those weeks. The certified question from the federal court pertained to how far back in time a terminated employee’s unpaid wage claims could reach under the Colorado Wage Claim Act, sections 8-4-101 to -123, C.R.S. (2017). Specifically, the certified question asked whether the statute permitted a terminated employee to sue for wages or compensation that went unpaid at any time during the employee’s employment, even when the statute of limitations had run on the cause of action the employee could have brought for those unpaid wages under Colo. Rev. Stat. § 8-4-103(1)(a). The Supreme Court held that under the plain language of section 109, an employee could seek any wages or compensation that were unpaid at the time of termination; however, the right to seek such wages or compensation was subject to the statute of limitations. That statute of limitations begins to run when the wages or compensation first become due and payable and thus limits a terminated employee to claims for the two (or three) years immediately preceding termination. Thus, the Court answered the certified question in the negative. View "Hernandez v. Ray Domenico Farms, Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2009, XTO Energy, Inc., filed an interpleader action, seeking to resolve competing claims to oil and gas proceeds held by XTO. XTO named several potential claimants as defendants in the interpleader action, including Seawatch Royalty Partners, LLC (managed by Chester Ellsworth) and several alleged heirs of the record owner of the relevant oil and gas interests. After a bench trial, the court concluded that a group of individuals (deemed the true heirs of the record owner) were entitled to the proceeds. Of relevance to this appeal, the trial court also ruled that Seawatch’s claims and defenses were frivolous; that Seawatch was an alter ego of Ellsworth; and that Seawatch and Ellsworth were jointly and severally liable for any future award of attorneys’ fees. Ellsworth was subsequently joined as a party under C.R.C.P. 21 and served via substituted service. The post-judgment sanctions proceedings continued for another several years. During that time, Ellsworth contested his individual liability, arguing that the court lacked personal jurisdiction over him; that he had been improperly served; and that Seawatch was not, in fact, his alter ego. The trial court rejected these arguments and entered judgment jointly and severally against Seawatch and Ellsworth for approximately $1 million in attorneys’ fees. Ellsworth appealed pro se. In an unpublished opinion, the court of appeals vacated the judgment against Ellsworth, holding that the district court lacked jurisdiction to hold him jointly and severally liable for the attorneys’ fee award because, as a nonparty, Ellsworth did not have notice and opportunity to contest his individual liability. The Colorado Supreme Court concluded Ellsworth had adequate notice and opportunity to challenge the alter ego findings that established his liability, and reversed the appellate court's judgment. View "Stockdale v. Ellsworth" on Justia Law

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In 2012, Respondent Allister Boustred, a Colorado resident, purchased a replacement main rotor holder for his radio-controlled helicopter from a retailer in Fort Collins, Colorado. The main rotor holder was allegedly manufactured by Petitioner Align Corporation Limited (“Align”), a Taiwanese corporation, and distributed by Respondent Horizon Hobby, Inc. (“Horizon”), a Delaware-based corporation. Align had no physical presence in the United States, but it contracted with U.S.-based distributors to sell its products to retailers who, in turn, sell them to consumers. Boustred installed the main rotor holder to his helicopter and was injured in Colorado when the blades held by the main rotor holder released and struck him in the eye. He filed claims of strict liability and negligence against both Align and Horizon in Colorado. The issue this case presented for the Colorado Supreme Court's review centered on the stream of commerce doctrine and the prerequisites for a state to exercise specific personal jurisdiction over a non-resident defendant. The Colorado Supreme Court concluded that World-Wide Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson, 444 U.S. 286 (1980), set out the controlling stream of commerce doctrine, which established that a forum state could assert jurisdiction where a plaintiff showed a defendant placed goods into the stream of commerce with the expectation that the goods will be purchased in the forum state. Applying this doctrine, the Court concluded Boustred made a sufficient showing to withstand a motion to dismiss. View "Align Corporation, Ltd. v. Boustred" on Justia Law

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In 2012, Khalil Laleh brought a forcible entry and detainer action against his brother, Ali Laleh. The litigation later grew so unwieldy that the trial court appointed Gary Johnson as an accounting expert (and later as a special master) to resolve the feuding brothers’ complex accounting claims. The Laleh brothers signed an engagement agreement with Gary C. Johnson and Associates, LLC, setting forth the scope of Johnson’s services and payment. Johnson commenced work, but before he completed his accounting reports for the trial court, the brothers settled their case and the court dismissed the suit. Johnson later informed the trial court that Khalil and Ali refused to pay both his outstanding fees and his costs incurred post-settlement in attempting to collect the outstanding fees. Following a hearing, the trial court issued an order ruling that Johnson’s fees were reasonable, and that he was entitled to the post-settlement costs he incurred in trying to collect his outstanding fees. In reaching the latter conclusion, the trial court relied on language in the engagement agreement stating that the Lalehs “are jointly and severally responsible for the timely and complete payment of all fees and expenses” to Johnson. The Colorado Supreme Court concluded that a separate provision of the engagement agreement authorized the award of the disputed post-settlement collection costs. View "Laleh v. Johnson" on Justia Law

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Creager Mercantile Co., Inc., a wholesale distributor of groceries and tobacco products, sells Blunt Wraps, a type of cigar wrapper made of thirty to forty-eight percent tobacco. Blunt Wraps are designed to be filled with additional tobacco or marijuana and then smoked. The Colorado Supreme Court was called on the determine whether Blunt Wraps could be taxed as “tobacco products,” as that term was defined in section 39-28.5-101(5), C.R.S. (2016). Because Blunt Wraps are a “kind” or “form” of tobacco, and are “prepared in such manner as to be suitable . . . for smoking,” the Court held Blunt Wraps fell within the plain language of the definition of “tobacco products” under section 39-28.5-101(5) and were taxable accordingly. View "Colo. Dept. of Revenue v. Creager" on Justia Law

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Rocky Mountain Retail Management, LLC, d/b/a Rocky Mountain High, filed an application for a license to operate a medical marijuana center in the City of Northglenn. The Northglenn City Council, acting as the City’s medical marijuana local licensing authority, denied Rocky Mountain’s application after receiving evidence at two public hearings. Rocky Mountain sought judicial review of the City’s decision in the district court, arguing that the denial was not based on substantial evidence in the record and was therefore arbitrary and capricious and an abuse of discretion. Rocky Mountain also asked the district court to declare certain licensing provisions of the Northglenn City Code unconstitutionally vague, including section 18-14-7(h), which sets forth factors a local licensing authority may consider before approving or denying a medical marijuana center license. The district court ruled that section 18-14-7(h) was unconstitutionally vague, and that the City’s denial of the license in reliance on that invalid provision was arbitrary and capricious. The City appealed. Because the phrase “number, type, and availability” in section 18-14-7(h) provided sufficient notice to applicants and reasonably constrained the exercise of the City’s discretion, the Colorado Supreme Court held section 18-14-7(h) was not void for vagueness. Furthermore, the Court held that the City’s decision to deny Rocky Mountain’s license application was supported by substantial evidence in the record, and therefore was not arbitrary and capricious. View "Rocky MountaIn Retail Mgmt. v. City of Northglenn" on Justia Law