Articles Posted in Colorado Supreme Court

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The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals certified two questions of Colorado law to the Colorado Supreme Court. The questions stemmed from an action brought by teacher Linda Johnson against Denver School District No. 1 (“the District”) and the District’s Board of Education, in which Johnson argued that by placing her on unpaid leave, the District breached her contract and violated her due process rights. The federal district court concluded that because Johnson was placed on unpaid leave, rather than terminated, she was not deprived of a property interest. Johnson appealed that decision to the Tenth Circuit. After analyzing the statutory history and the current statutory language, the Colorado Supreme Court held that the provisions of section 22-63-202(2)(c.5) (CRS 2015) applied to all displaced nonprobationary teachers, not just nonprobationary teachers who were displaced because of a reduction in enrollment or an administrative decision to eliminate certain programs (the reasons stated in subparagraph (VII)). Furthermore, the Court held that nonprobationary teachers who placed on unpaid leave had no vested property interest in salary and benefits, meaning a nonprobationary teacher who is placed on unpaid leave under subparagraph (IV) is not deprived of a state property interest. View "Johnson v. Sch. Dist. No. 1" 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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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 this case, a hearing officer found that claimant Laurie Gomez, who was terminated from her position as public services manager with the Mesa County Public Library District (the “Library”), suffered from acute stress disorder and depression and was mentally unable to perform the work required of her. The hearing officer nevertheless disqualified Gomez from receiving unemployment benefits under section 8-73-108(5)(e)(XX), C.R.S. (2016) because the officer determined that Gomez’s mental condition was caused by her own poor job performance, and therefore, Gomez was ultimately at fault for her separation from employment. Gomez appealed the hearing officer’s decision to the Industrial Claim Appeals Office (“ICAO”), which reversed. The panel adopted the hearing officer’s finding that Gomez was mentally unable to perform her job duties, but concluded that the hearing officer’s findings regarding the etiology of Gomez’s medical condition were too remote from the proximate cause of her separation, and that scant evidence supported the conclusion that Gomez committed a volitional act to cause her mental incapacity. The court of appeals and the Colorado Supreme Court affirmed: neither the text of section 8-73-108(4)(j) nor related case law contemplated further inquiry into the origin or root cause of a claimant’s mental condition, and such an inquiry is beyond the scope of the simplified administrative proceedings to determine a claimant’s eligibility for benefits. View "Mesa Cty. Public Library Dist. v. Indus. Claim Appeals Office" on Justia Law

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Norma Hoff owned a home she rented through a property management agency. The roof sustained hail damage, and she contracted with Alliance Construction & Restoration, Inc. (Alliance) to make the repairs. Alliance subcontracted the roof repairs to MDR Roofing, Inc. (MDR). MDR employed Hernan Hernandes as a roofer. While working on Hoff's roof, Hernandez fell from a ladder and suffered serious injuries. He filed a workers' compensation claim against MDR, but MDR's insurer, Pinnacol Assurance, denied the claim because MDR's insurance coverage had lapsed. The issue this case presented for the Supreme Court's review was whether Pinnacol had a legal obligation to notify MDR of a certificate of insurance when the policy evidenced by the certificate was cancelled. Based on the certificate at issue in this case and the applicable statute, the Colorado Supreme Court concluded that the insurer had no such obligation. Therefore, the Court reversed the appellate court's judgment to the contrary. View "Pinnacol Assurance v. Hoff" on Justia Law

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The Colorado Supreme Court accepted this case from the court of appeals because it had granted certiorari in two other cases involving similar issues ("City of Littleton v. Industrial Claim Appeals Office," 2016 CO 25, ___ P.3d ___, and "Industrial Claim Appeals Office v. Town of Castle Rock," 2016 CO 26, ___ P.3d ___). In these cases, the Court interpreted section 8-41-209, C.R.S. (2015), of the Workers’ Compensation Act of Colorado, which provided workers’ compensation overage, under certain conditions, for occupational diseases affecting firefighters. An employer can show, by a preponderance of the medical evidence, either: (1) that a firefighter’s known or typical occupational exposures are not capable of causing the type of cancer at issue, or (2) that the firefighter’s employment did not cause the firefighter’s particular cancer where, for example, the claimant firefighter was not exposed to the cancer-causing agent, or where the medical evidence renders it more probable that the cause of the claimant’s cancer was not job-related. Englewood firefighter Delvin Harrell was diagnosed with melanoma, underwent surgery to remove it, and sought workers' compensation benefits. Englewood sought to overcome the statutory presumption. Because the ALJ and the Panel in this case did not have the benefit of the Supreme Court's analysis in City of Littleton and Town of Castle Rock, it set aside the Panel’s order affirming the ALJ and remanded this case to the Panel with directions to return the matter to the ALJ for reconsideration in light of the "Littleton" and "Castle Rock" decisions. View "City of Englewood v. Harrell" on Justia Law

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Littleton firefighter Jeffrey Christ was diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme (“GBM,” a type of brain cancer). After undergoing surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation, he returned to work, but ultimately died as a result of the disease. He (and later his widow and child) sought workers’ compensation benefits to cover his cancer treatment, asserting that his brain cancer qualified as a compensable occupational disease under the “firefighter statute” of the Workers’ Compensation Act of Colorado. .At issue here was whether Christ’s employer, the City of Littleton, and Littleton’s insurer, Cannon Cochran Management Services, Inc. (collectively “Littleton”), successfully overcame a statutory presumption that Christ’s condition resulted from his employment as a firefighter. After review, the Supreme Court held that the employer, through a preponderance of the evidence, could meet its burden to show the firefighter's cancer "did not occur on the job" by establishing the absence of specific causation. Here, the ALJ applied the statutory presumption and found that Littleton established by a preponderance that Christ's GBM condition was not caused by his occupational exposures. A panel of the Industrial Claim Appeals Office (“Panel”) reversed, concluding that Littleton’s medical evidence was insufficient to overcome the presumption. In a split decision, a division of the court of appeals affirmed the Panel. Because the Supreme Court disagreed with the court of appeals’ interpretation of the breadth of the statutory presumption and of the employer’s burden to overcome the presumption, the Court concluded that the court of appeals erroneously evaluated the medical evidence presented by Littleton and erroneously failed to defer to the ALJ’s findings of fact, which are supported by substantial evidence. The court of appeals' judgment was therefore reversed and the case remanded back to the Panel for reinstatement of the ALJ’s original findings of fact, conclusions of law, and order. View "City of Littleton v. Indus. Claim Appeals Office" on Justia Law

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Castle Rock firefighter Mike Zukowski was diagnosed with melanoma. He had three surgeries to remove the melanoma and was then released to return to work on full duty. He sought both medical benefits and temporary total disability benefits under the "firefighter statute" of the Workers’ Compensation Act of Colorado, asserting that his melanoma qualified as a compensable occupational disease. At issue here was whether Zukowski’s employer, the Town of Castle Rock, and Castle Rock’s insurer, the Colorado Intergovernmental Risk Sharing Agency (collectively, “Castle Rock”), could overcome a statutory presumption that Zukowski’s condition resulted from his employment as a firefighter by presenting evidence indicating that Zukowski’s risk of melanoma from other sources was greater than his risk of melanoma from firefighting. After review, the Supreme Court held that the employer, through a preponderance of the evidence, could meet its burden to show the firefighter's cancer "did not occur on the job" by establishing the absence of specific causation. Here, Castle Rock sought to establish the absence of specific causation by presenting evidence indicated that Zukowski's particular risk of developing melanoma from other, non-job-related sources outweighed his risk of developing it from on-the-job, and that an employer could rely on such evidence to overcome the statutory presumption. The Court affirmed the court of appeals and remanded this case back to the ALJ for reconsideration. View "Indus. Claim Appeals Office v. Town of Castle Rock" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Cathy Ritzert had worked as a teacher for more than twenty years. She worked for the Air Academy High School, part of the Academy School District No. 20. A student's parents complained about Ritzert, and the District placed her on administrative leave, telling her they would recommend dismissal unless she resigned. Ritzert refused. Several months passed without the District making good on its threat to fire her. Ritzert eventually took a new job teaching special needs students in a neighboring district, claiming she did this to mitigate her damages. She still wanted the District to prove it had a legitimate basis for terminating her, so she again refused to quit. The District responded by ordering Ritzert to report to work as a floating substitute. When Ritzert did not comply, the District initiated formal dismissal proceedings, claiming in part that her refusal to return to work constituted insubordination. A hearing officer recommended that Ritzert be retained, finding in part that the District's insubordination allegation was pretextual and unreasonable under the circumstances. The Board dismissed Ritzert for insubordination anyway, making no comment about the complaint that triggered placing her on leave in the first place. Upon review of this matter, the Colorado Supreme Court held that under the Teacher Employment, Compensation and Dismissal Act of 1990 (TECDA), the School Board's order must be fully warranted by the hearing officer's evidentiary findings of fact. Because the Board here "abdicated" that responsibility here, the Court concluded that its decision to dismiss Ritzert for insubordination on the facts of this case was arbitrary and capricious. The Court reversed the court of appeals and remanded this case to the Board to reinstate Ritzert. View "Ritzert v. Board of Education" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Western Logistics, Inc. appealed the court of appeals' decision to affirm the Industrial Claim Appeals Office's decision that certain individuals were employees rather than independent contractors under Colorado law. The appellate court found that the individuals were not simultaneously providing services for others in the field, and were not free from petitioner's control and direction. Upon review of the specific facts of this case, the Supreme Court concluded the appellate court erred in affirming the Appeals Office's decision: because the court felt the independent-trade-or-business issue and the control-and-direction issue may have been related, the Court did not address the control-and-direction issue. The Court reversed and remanded the case to the court of appeals to vacate the portion of its decision that addressed the control-and-direction issue, then to remand the case to the Appeals Office for further proceedings. View "Western Logistics, Inc. v. Industrial Claim Appeals Office" on Justia Law