Can you sue someone for suing you without violating the First Amendment’s right to petition the government? Yes, in purely private disputes. Imagine you are a former employee and you do something your former employer does not like, as happened to defendants here. Your former employer (plaintiff) sues you. You then want to sue your former employer for suing you claiming abuse of process or tortious interference. Your former employer defends by claiming that its right to sue (petition using the courts) is protected by the First Amendment. Your former employer would be wrong in Colorado. The Court held that First Amendment protections from suits related to matters of public interest (as provided in the POME case) do not extend to purely private disputes. The Court came to the same conclusion in the arbitration context in General Steel, which it extended to this case.
The general life cycle of civil litigation: Complaint, Answer, Disclosures, Discovery, Trial. In this case, before the court would allow full discovery, it required the plaintiffs to provide prima facie evidence to support their toxic tort allegations of exposure, injury, and causation arising from the proximity of natural gas drilling operations near their home. Finding the plaintiffs’ evidence lacking, the court dismissed their case entirely. The court of appeals reversed holding that the modified case management order issued by the trial court was not authorized by CRCP 16. The Court agreed, “tapping the brakes,” as the dissent describes it, on active case management. The Court held that CRCP 16, in the context of Rules like 12, 37, and 56, does not authorize a court to fashion its own summary judgment-like filter and dismiss claims during the early stages of litigation.
♪This land is your land, it’s not my land, I’m not a landowner, so you can’t sue me… Plaintiff tripped and fell on common area sidewalk outside a medical campus. She sued the main tenant. Under the Premises Liability Act (PLA), only “landowners” could be liable for injuries on their land. There are two kinds of landowners: those in possession of the land, and those who are legally responsible for conditions on the land. This case addressed the second category and limited its scope. Here, under its lease, the defendant could not exclude anyone from occupying the land, was not responsible for maintenance or the condition of the sidewalk, and was not conducting any activities on the sidewalk; it also did not assume a duty to repair the sidewalk or create the condition that caused the injuries. Under these facts, the Court held the commercial tenant was not a landowner.
“A reasonable person could foresee that a group of intoxicated individuals evicted from a hotel might be involved in a drunk driving accident that causes injuries.” Opinion. The Court affirmed the court of appeals’ ruling that hotels owe guests a duty of care not to evict them into a foreseeably dangerous environment, taking into account the guest’s physical state and the conditions into which she is evicted, including the time, surroundings and weather. Liability is limited by challenging the causal connection to the injury or by blaming other contributing factors. Whether an act caused an injury is fact-specific making summary judgment for the hotel improper. The dissent agreed the duty existed. But here, the plaintiff walked past two taxis. If the availability of alternative transportation is not sufficient to grant summary judgment for the hotel, then all cases go to a jury.
“A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees.” – William Blake. A plurality of the Court held that a tree located in the Cherry Creek State Park that existed before the State built camping facilities, but which is located next to, and whose branches hang over a campsite, is a “natural condition of unimproved property.” Relying extensively on a legislative report written about the CGIA, it held that if a tree is native pre-improvement, as in this case, the State has no duty to make it safe and prevent a branch from falling. Thus, the State is immune, without regard to the location of the tree. That approach, the Court held, balances the cost of maintenance and access to public land. Rosales v. Denver, which analyzed whether trees were public facilities, was overruled. The concurrence would focus on the text: the State is immune if a branch originating from “unimproved property” falls.
“[D]elay in service… cannot be found reasonable simply because the plaintiff made diligent efforts to locate the defendant.” Opinion. Malm filed her personal injury complaint in 2005, one month before the 3-year time limitation ended. In 2013, Malm found Villegas in Germany, and the District Court reopened the case noting the lack of a rule stating a reasonable time for service in a foreign country. Villegas opposed, arguing that the failure to serve her sooner was an unreasonable delay amounting to a failure to prosecute. The Court held that a delay between filing and service of a complaint beyond the statute of limitations is reasonable only if it is the product of either wrongful conduct by the defendant or some formal impediment to service. Without any facts that Villegas deliberately avoided service, the District Court should have dismissed the case for failure to prosecute.
DISCLAIMER: The Author was an attorney on the brief for Petitioner Malm. Andy Helm assisted in the writing of this post.
“When sidewalks are not available, pedestrians are forced to share the street with motorists, access to public transportation is restricted, and children might not have safe play areas.” – US DOT. Here, a child slipped on a puddle in a walkway running between a public school and its playground. Examining the CGIA, the Court rejected the argument that the “icy walkway waiver” was mutually exclusive of the “recreation waiver.” Rather, each waiver provides a potential avenue for waiver of tort liability, any one of which might suffice. Next it held that, unlike a playground or a parking lot, the walkway is not a “public facility” because: 1) it lacked an intrinsic recreational connection with the playground; 2) it did not broadly promote the purpose of the playground; and 3) excluding walkways like this one was consistent with the legislature’s intent. The school was immune from suit.
“My dream is to have the park system privatized, and run entirely for profit by corporations. Like Chuck E. Cheese.” – Ron Swanson, Parks and Recreation. People can sue governments for injuries occurring at a 1) “public” 2) “facility” 3) “located in” a 4) “recreation area.” The Court defined those 4 terms as follows: 1) accessible and benefiting the public; 2) includes parking lots; 3) promotes recreation; and 4) an area whose primary purpose is recreation. Here, a parking lot next to a public golf course met the criteria. The parking lot was accessible to the public, allowed golfers to conveniently access the course, and golfing was the primary recreational purpose promoted by the lot. The city was not immune from plaintiff’s suit arising from her injury in the parking lot. Two justices would arrive at the same conclusion, but by allowing the city’s designation to drive the analysis.
A playground through a lawyers eye: “Although the individual pieces of equipment each promote specific play activities (e.g., swinging or playing in the sand), they nevertheless collectively promote the common purpose of play and together make a playground a ‘facility’ by virtue of the strong relationship between the individual components.” – Opinion. In this case, applying and expanding on the analysis set forth in Daniel v. Colorado Springs, the Court concluded that a public school playground and its collection of equipment is a “public facility” “located in” a “recreation area.” The case focused on what a “public facility” is: 1) relatively permanent or affixed to land; 2) man-made; 3) accessible to the public; and 4) maintained by a public entity for a common public purpose. The zip line that injured the plaintiff was merely a “dangerous condition,” not itself a “facility.”
“We firmly believe that under the law every person is considered innocent until proven unable to pay us back.” Skip Hunter, Bail Bondsman. Bail bondsman accepted money to post bond, but did not post the bond or return the money. CRS 10-2-704 imposes fiduciary duties on “insurance producers” such as bail bondsmen. At common law, suretyship law controlled bail bondsmen, which the Court relied on for this Opinion. There are three parties to a suretyship: principle (criminal defendant), surety (bail bondsman), and the creditor (the court). A creditor is akin to an insured under the insurance statutes, and the fiduciary duty is owed to the insured. Thus, the bail bondsman did not owe any fiduciary duties to the criminal defendant. The case was remanded because it was not clear that the Insurance Commission would have reached the same result using the correct interpretation of the law.