26 September 2016

Today At The Colorado Supreme Court

The Colorado Supreme Court made several notable rulings today.

Jurisdiction Over Parent Companies Narrowed

Two of them (here and here) ratified recent U.S. Supreme Court jurisprudence that makes it harder for a court to secure jurisdiction over a parent company solely on the basis of contract of the subsidiary with the forum.  Basically, this is now allowed only when there is a basis to pierce the corporate veil of the subsidiary company to hold the parent company liable and there would otherwise be a basis upon which to assert jurisdiction.

Interestingly, only the last of the several controlling recent U.S. Supreme Court cases on point that compel its conclusion are cited by the Colorado Supreme Court in its ruling.

Speeding Ticket Burden of Proof

A Mesa County man convicted of speeding in county court fought his fight over who had the burden of proof of showing that he was nonetheless reasonable and prudent after it is established that he was driving over speed limit went all of the way to the Colorado Supreme Court.  The speeder lost as the Colorado Supreme Court held that the burden of proof to show that he was within this exception to the general rule of strict liability for driving over the speed limit was on the speeder and not the People.

Equitable Defenses Allowed To Child Support Collection Cases

Another provides a new barrier to collection of interest on child support judgments. In 1960, the Colorado Supreme Court held that the defense of "laches" (undue delay causing prejudice where a statute of limitations does not bar a claim) was not available in child support collection actions because this is not an "equitable claim." But, in a landmark case in 2014, the Colorado Supreme Court held that based upon the merger of "law" and "equity" jurisprudence in the state in 1877, that equitable defenses could be raised to oppose claims brought in "law".  Today, it extended its 2014 ruling to allow defendants in child support cases to assert the defense of laches even though those are "legal" claims.

Basically, the distinction between "law" and "equity" involves a determination of whether the common law courts of England or the chancery courts of England had jurisdiction over those claims before the parallel court systems were merged. It is most prominent in cases involving the right to a jury trial in civil cases, where juries are allowed in cases arising at law, but not in equity, under the United States Constitution under the 7th Amendment.  Despite the fact that the 7th Amendment does not apply to the states, most states, including Colorado, apply that the federal rule regarding the right to a jury trial.

Generally speaking, claims at law involve straight forward claims for money damages for a breach of contract, injury to property, or personal injury, although it also includes claims for the return of particular items of personal property. Equity usually involves injunctive relief in the form of a free form court order enforceable by the contempt of court power, a very complex set of facts, or certain kinds of subject matter usually involving corporate or family law (although not necessarily mere collection of amounts previously awarded and reduced to judgment in a family law case).

In this particular case, a support order was entered in 1983 and the youngest child turned nineteen in July of 1995, which the Court determined was when the child support obligation ceased. Wife brought suit in September of 2012.  But, most of the $893,285.32 that would otherwise be due was barred by the 20 year statute of limitations on enforcing money judgments, so only defaults on the amounts due in the time period after September 1992 were considered. The father did fail to pay $400 a month of child support from July 1994 when his child turned eighteen to July 1995 when the child support obligation ended upon the child attaining the age of nineteen, and interest accrued at the statutory child support arrears interest rate of 12% per annum, compounded monthly, on the unpaid installments.  When judgment entered that interest amount was $46,399.62.

Based upon the Colorado Supreme Court's ruling, the father will be permitted to challenge that interest award on the grounds that he was prejudiced by undue delay on the part of the wife in suing to enforce her child support judgment, and the trial court will have to rule based upon the facts presented to it on that issue.

"A laches defense comprises three elements: (1) full knowledge of the facts by the party against whom the defense is asserted, (2) unreasonable delay by the party against whom the defense is asserted in pursuing an available remedy, and (3) intervening reliance by and prejudice to the party asserting the defense."

It isn't clear how that applies in this case's circumstances.

Other Less Notable Cases

Two other cases decided today dealt with the technical issue of when a developer's land becomes subject to homeowner's association dues in quite fact laden circumstances (in these cases it was not because the court found that the land wasn't annexed to the association at the time the dues were assessed).

Another dealt with whether drugs and a confession obtained from someone stopped for a traffic violation should be suppressed for a violation of the 4th Amendment (it was not based upon the finding that the search and confession were consensual).

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