Articles Posted in Colorado Supreme Court

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Alexander Clark brought a medical malpractice lawsuit against the estate of his late pain management specialist, Dr. Daniel Brookoff. Clark claimed Dr. Brookoff negligently prescribed a prolonged course of drugs to alleviate Clark’s chronic pain and that Dr. Brookoff did not adequately inform his patient (then a minor) of the risks associated with the drug. Clark claimed that his consumption of the drug caused neurological and urological damage. Prior to trial, Clark indicated that he intended to present testimony about conversations he and his mother had with Dr. Brookoff prior to and during treatment. The Estate responded by filing a motion to exclude such evidence in accordance with Colorado’s Dead Man’s Statute. The trial court agreed that the anticipated testimony was inadmissible. Unable to introduce that testimony, Clark abandoned his informed consent claim, and the case proceeded to trial on his negligence claim. After judgment was entered in favor of the Estate, Clark appealed the order prohibiting him or his mother from testifying about their conversations with Dr. Brookoff. The court of appeals reversed the trial court’s decision to bar this testimony and remanded the case for a new trial on Clark’s informed consent claim. In so doing, the appellate division relied on case law predating the 2002 and 2013 amendments to the Dead Man’s Statute to conclude that, despite its current language, the statute was not applicable “in any civil action” but only when the outcome of a proceeding will increase or diminish an estate. Because Dr. Brookoff had an insurance policy, the court of appeals reasoned that any liability would be covered by insurance and thus would not diminish his estate. The court therefore declined to apply the Dead Man’s Statute. Following denial of its petition for rehearing, the Estate petitioned for certiorari. The Colorado Supreme Court held the Dead Man’s Statute was applicable “in all civil actions.” Because the statute applied irrespective of the potential impact of a judgment on an estate, the Court also held the existence of insurance coverage was not a factor militating for or against the applicability of the Dead Man’s Statute. View "Estate of Daniel Brookoff, M.D., v. Clark" on Justia Law

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This case concerned the improper administration of a trust and resulting litigation. Della Roberts created the trust at issue with the help of her only son, James Roberts, shortly before she died in 1996. James Roberts was married to Mary Sue Roberts and they had three children: petitioners Jay Roberts and Ashley Roberts McNamara (“the Robertses”), and Andrew Roberts. The trust named James as the initial trustee, and provided that all of Della Roberts’s grandchildren were beneficiaries of the trust. James administered the trust until his death in 2012. As trustee, James was obliged to undertake certain duties delineated in the trust. After James died, the trust provided that Mary Sue was to succeed him as trustee. In response, the Robertses invoked the provision of the trust permitting removal of the trustee upon a majority vote of the trust beneficiaries and they removed Mary Sue as successor trustee. In April 2013, the Robertses filed a motion in district court in Colorado to have themselves named as permanent cotrustees in place of Mary Sue. Mary Sue responded, arguing that the Colorado court lacked jurisdiction because she and James had moved from Colorado to West Virginia in 1999, approximately three years after the trust was created in Colorado. In June 2013, the district court rejected Mary Sue’s jurisdictional challenge, and, in early August, granted the Robertses’ motion and appointed the Robertses as cotrustees. Meanwhile, in May 2013, while the Robertses were litigating the trusteeship issue in Colorado, Mary Sue filed a separate action against the Robertses in state court in West Virginia, again claiming that jurisdiction properly lay in West Virginia. The Robertses appeared and removed the case to federal court. Ultimately, the federal district court concluded that Colorado had jurisdiction over the trust, and therefore dismissed Mary Sue’s complaint for lack of jurisdiction. Mary Sue sought review in the Fourth Circuit, but voluntarily dismissed her appeal in early 2014. As a result of the litigation in West Virginia, the Robertses incurred substantial attorney’s fees. The Colorado Supreme Court held that an award of attorney’s fees pursuant to section 13-17-102, C.R.S. (2017), was limited to conduct occurring in Colorado courts. View "Roberts v. Bruce" on Justia Law

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Nine days after the jury returned its verdict, but before the trial court reduced that verdict to a written and signed judgment, Michael Casper died. Consequently, the defendant, Guarantee Trust Life Insurance Company (“GTL”), moved to substantially reduce the verdict, arguing that the survival statute barred certain damages under the policy that insured Casper. The trial court denied the motion, and the court of appeals affirmed. The Colorado Supreme Court granted GTL’s petition to review the court of appeals’ decision, and concluded that the survival statute did not limit the jury’s verdict in favor of Casper. The Court also concluded that an award of attorney fees and costs under section 10-3-1116(1) was a component of the “actual damages” of a successful claim under that section. Finally, the Court concluded that although the survival statute did not limit the damages awarded by the jury, the trial court abused its discretion by entering a final judgment on October 30, 2014, nunc pro tunc to July 15, 2014. View "Guarantee Trust Life Ins. Co. v. Estate of Casper" on Justia Law

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This case involved a dispute between two sisters, Shauna Sandstead-Corona (“Corona”) and Vicki Jo Sandstead (“Sandstead”), over how to divide their mother Auriel Sandstead’s (“Auriel”) estate. Prior to her death, Auriel placed proceeds from the sale of the family’s farm into a multi-party bank account (“Wells Fargo”) on which Sandstead and Corona were also signatories, with the intent that the money would transfer to Sandstead and Corona outside of probate upon Auriel’s death. With Auriel’s permission, Sandstead later moved a large portion of the funds into different bank accounts (“Citizens Bank”) that Corona could not access. Auriel subsequently died, and the court appointed Sandstead as the personal representative of Auriel’s probate estate. Corona filed a motion to surcharge Sandstead for her use of the funds removed from Wells Fargo and placed in Citizens Bank. The probate court held a hearing on Corona’s surcharge motion and determined that Sandstead’s custody of the funds prior to filing a probate proceeding was “in the nature of an implied trust,” and that Sandstead failed to account properly for the funds, thus warranting a surcharge for the unaccounted amounts. In the course of the probate proceeding, a pour-over will and related revocable trust executed by Auriel and her late husband were discovered. Corona contested the will and trust on the ground that Auriel and her husband had revoked the trust. The trial court rejected this contention, however, and further concluded that under the trust’s no-contest clause, because Corona had contested the will and trust, she forfeited all property that she would have inherited under the will. Both Sandstead and Corona appealed. The court of appeals concluded that the trial court had erred in surcharging Sandstead for her use of the farm proceeds. The division also affirmed the trial court’s determination regarding the no-contest clause. The Colorado Supreme Court granted certiorari to consider: (1) whether an implied trust could be imposed on the farm proceeds placed in Citizens Bank; (2) whether the fiduciary oversight statute in the probate code permitted the trial court to sanction Sandstead for actions taken prior to Auriel’s death and prior to appointment as personal representative of Auriel’s estate; (3) whether the trial court erred in applying the no-contest clause; and (4) whether Corona had probable cause to contest the will. The Supreme Court reversed the appellate court's ruling: (1) the trial court properly imposed an implied trust over at least a portion of the farm proceeds; (2) because an implied trust is included in the fiduciary oversight statute’s definition of an “estate,” the trial court could properly surcharge Sandstead for her malfeasance as to the funds in the implied trust; and (3) although the no-contest clause in the trust was incorporated by reference into the will, by its plain language, that clause applied only to actions contesting the trust, not challenges to the will. Accordingly, the trial court erred in enforcing the no-contest clause against Corona based on her actions contesting the will. The Court did not need to reach the final issue on which it granted certiorari. View "Sandstead-Corona v. Sandstead" on Justia Law

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This case involved a dispute between two sisters, Shauna Sandstead-Corona (“Corona”) and Vicki Jo Sandstead (“Sandstead”), over how to divide their mother Auriel Sandstead’s (“Auriel”) estate. Prior to her death, Auriel placed proceeds from the sale of the family’s farm into a multi-party bank account (“Wells Fargo”) on which Sandstead and Corona were also signatories, with the intent that the money would transfer to Sandstead and Corona outside of probate upon Auriel’s death. With Auriel’s permission, Sandstead later moved a large portion of the funds into different bank accounts (“Citizens Bank”) that Corona could not access. Auriel subsequently died, and the court appointed Sandstead as the personal representative of Auriel’s probate estate. Corona filed a motion to surcharge Sandstead for her use of the funds removed from Wells Fargo and placed in Citizens Bank. The probate court held a hearing on Corona’s surcharge motion and determined that Sandstead’s custody of the funds prior to filing a probate proceeding was “in the nature of an implied trust,” and that Sandstead failed to account properly for the funds, thus warranting a surcharge for the unaccounted amounts. In the course of the probate proceeding, a pour-over will and related revocable trust executed by Auriel and her late husband were discovered. Corona contested the will and trust on the ground that Auriel and her husband had revoked the trust. The trial court rejected this contention, however, and further concluded that under the trust’s no-contest clause, because Corona had contested the will and trust, she forfeited all property that she would have inherited under the will. Both Sandstead and Corona appealed. The court of appeals concluded that the trial court had erred in surcharging Sandstead for her use of the farm proceeds. The division also affirmed the trial court’s determination regarding the no-contest clause. The Colorado Supreme Court granted certiorari to consider: (1) whether an implied trust could be imposed on the farm proceeds placed in Citizens Bank; (2) whether the fiduciary oversight statute in the probate code permitted the trial court to sanction Sandstead for actions taken prior to Auriel’s death and prior to appointment as personal representative of Auriel’s estate; (3) whether the trial court erred in applying the no-contest clause; and (4) whether Corona had probable cause to contest the will. The Supreme Court reversed the appellate court's ruling: (1) the trial court properly imposed an implied trust over at least a portion of the farm proceeds; (2) because an implied trust is included in the fiduciary oversight statute’s definition of an “estate,” the trial court could properly surcharge Sandstead for her malfeasance as to the funds in the implied trust; and (3) although the no-contest clause in the trust was incorporated by reference into the will, by its plain language, that clause applied only to actions contesting the trust, not challenges to the will. Accordingly, the trial court erred in enforcing the no-contest clause against Corona based on her actions contesting the will. The Court did not need to reach the final issue on which it granted certiorari. View "Sandstead-Corona v. Sandstead" on Justia Law

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Upon obtaining information that Steven Bleck was suicidal and possibly armed, officers with the Alamosa Police Department, including petitioner Jeffrey Martinez, entered Bleck’s hotel room. Bleck did not respond to the officers’ command to show his hands and lie down on the floor. Martinez approached him, and, without holstering his weapon, attempted to subdue him. In the process, the firearm discharged, injuring Bleck. As relevant here, Bleck brought suit against Martinez in federal court, alleging excessive force and a state law battery claim. The federal court granted summary judgment and dismissed Bleck’s federal claim, concluding that there was no evidence that the shooting was intentional. After the federal district court declined to assert supplemental jurisdiction over the state law battery claim, Bleck refiled the claim in state district court. Martinez then moved to dismiss the state law claims against him, arguing he was immune from suit and that his actions were not "willful and wanton." The trial court denied the motion, reasoning that Martinez should have known the situation would have been dangerous by not holstering his weapon prior to subduing Bleck. The court of appeals determined it lacked jurisdiction to hear the appeal, and did not consider Martinez' claim that the trial court applied the wrong "willful and wanton" standard before deciding his motion to dismiss. The Supreme Court agreed that the trial court applied the wrong standard, and that the court of appeals erred in not hearing the appeal. Furthermore, the Supreme Court found the trial court erred by not determining all issues relating to Martinez' immunity claim. View "Martinez v. Estate of Bleck" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Colorado Supreme Court's review centered on whether a property titled in the name of a judgment debtor's co-settled revocable trust was subject to a judgment lien against the debtor. Petitioners were co-settlors and co-trustees of a revocable trust that held title to some Colorado property. Respondent obtained two judgments, and filed a quiet title action for a decree of foreclosure. Petitioner moved for judgment on the pleadings, arguing that respondent's complaint was barred by the statute of limitations in 13-80-101(1)(k), C.R.S. (2015). The trial court denied the motion. After granting certiorari review, the Colorado Supreme Court concluded that as a settlor of a revocable trust, petitioner held an ownership interest in the trust's assets. Respondent could properly seek to enforce its judgment against petitioner, and the action was not barred by the statute of limitations. View "Pandy v. Independent Bank" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Colorado Supreme Court's review centered on whether dissatisfied beneficiaries of a testator’s estate have standing to bring legal malpractice or claims against the attorney who drafted the testator’s estate planning documents. Specifically, petitioners Merridy Kay Baker and Sue Carol Kunda sought to sue respondents Wood, Ris & Hames, Professional Corporation, Donald L. Cook, and Barbara Brundin (collectively, the Attorneys), who were the attorneys retained by their father, Floyd Baker, to prepare his estate plan. Petitioners asked the Supreme Court to abandon what was known as the "strict privity rule," which precluded attorney liability to non-clients absent fraud, malicious conduct or negligent misrepresentation. The advocated instead for a "California Test" and for an extension of the third-party beneficiary theory of contract liability (also known as the Florida-Iowa Rule), both of which petitioners asserted would allow them as the alleged beneficiaries of the estate, to sue the Attorneys for legal malpractice and breach of contract. After review of this case, the Supreme Court declined to abandon the strict privity rule, and rejected petitioners' contention that the court of appeals erred in affirming dismissal of their purported fraudulent concealment claims. View "Baker v. Wood, Ris & Hames" on Justia Law

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The two appeals consolidated for resolution in this case both arose from an attempt by John C. Harrison, acting as personal representative for the estate of Nolan G. Thorsteinson and trustee of The Margie (Dotts) M. Thorsteinson Trust, to avoid an order declaring abandoned a disputed 1.04 c.f.s. interest in the Mexican Ditch. Harrison appealed directly to the Supreme Court adverse rulings of the Water Court in the two cases. With regard to Harrison's Application for a Change of Water Right, the water court granted the Engineers' motion to dismiss at the close of Harrison's case, finding that he was required but failed, to establish the historic use of the right as to which he sought a change in the point of diversion. With regard to Harrison's protest to the inclusion of the interests he claimed in the Mexican Ditch on the Division Engineer's decennial abandonment list, the water court granted the Engineer's motion for abandonment, as a stipulated remedy for Harrison's failure to succeed in his change application. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that because Harrison neither proved historic use of the right for which he sought a change nor was excepted from the requirement that he do so as a precondition of changing its point of diversion; and because denying a change of water right for failing to prove the historic use of the right did not amount to an unconstitutional taking of property, the water court's dismissal of Harrison's application was affirmed. But because, Harrison did not stipulate to an order of abandonment as the consequence of failing to succeed in his change application, only as the consequence of failing to timely file an application reflecting historic use, the water court's order granting the Engineers' motion for abandonment was reversed. View "Thorsteinson v. Simpson" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Amanda Vinton, Esq. sought relief from orders of the probate court that permitted Respondent Sharon Virzi to amend her challenge to a trust administration by adding a claim of fraud against Vinton, the attorney for the trustee. Over Petitioner's objection, the probate court summarily granted Respondent's motion to amend, forcing Petitioner to withdraw as counsel for the trustee. The probate court subsequently summarily denied two motions by Petitioner to dismiss the claim against her and ordered her to pay Respondent's attorney fees for having to defend against a substantially frivolous and groundless motion. The Supreme Court issued a rule to show cause. Because Respondent's fraud claim was not plead with sufficient particularity to withstand a motion to dismiss, it was futile, and the probate court abused its discretion in permitting the joinder of her opponent's attorney. The Supreme Court found that whether or not Petitioner's motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction over the separate fraud claim was meritorious, the record was inadequate to support an award of attorney fees. The rule was therefore made absolute, and the matter was remanded to the probate court with directions to dismiss Respondent's claim of fraud against Petitioner and to vacate its award of attorney fees. View "Vinton v. Virzi" on Justia Law