recounting history of projectSummary of this case from America Production v. Patterson
Decided April 11, 1994. Rehearing Denied May 2, 1994.
Certiorari to the Colorado Court of Appeals
JUDGMENT AFFIRMED AND CASE REMANDED WITH DIRECTIONS
Hall Evans, Cathy H. Greer, Malcolm S. Mead, Denver, Colorado, Attorneys for Petitioners
Fredric Butler, Eagle, Colorado, Attorneys for Respondents
Gale A. Norton, Attorney General, Stephen K. ErkenBrack, Chief Deputy Attorney General, Timothy M. Tymkovich, Solicitor General, Timothy R. Arnold, Deputy Attorney General, Jane R. Christman, First Assistant Attorney General, Denver, Colorado, Attorneys for Amicus Curiae State of Colorado
Charles H. Richardson, Aurora City Attorney, Julie A. Bannon, Assistant Aurora City Attorney, Aurora, Colorado, Attorneys for Amicus Curiae City of Aurora
Daniel Muse, Denver City Attorney, Denver, Colorado, Attorney for Amicus Curiae City of Denver
James G. Colvin, II, Colorado Springs City Attorney, Stephen K. Hook, Assistant Colorado Springs City Attorney, Colorado Springs, Colorado, Attorneys for Amicus Curiae City of Colorado Springs
We granted certiorari to review Reider v. Dawson, 856 P.2d 31 (Colo.App. 1992), which held that the three-year statute of limitations for actions under the Colorado Auto Accident Reparations Act (No-Fault Act), § 13-80-101(1)(j), 6A C.R.S. (1987), is applicable when a party commences a civil action against a sheriff and his deputy predicated upon an automobile-pedestrian accident. In reaching this conclusion, the court of appeals rejected the assertion that the applicable statute is section 13-80-103(1)(c), 6A C.R.S. (1987), which addresses the period of limitation when a sheriff is a defendant in an action. The court also held that because a party moving for summary judgment has the burden of establishing the lack of a triable issue of fact, it was the petitioners' burden to establish that there was no insurance on the vehicle that struck the respondent.
If the respondents have stated a claim for relief under the No-Fault Act, they are entitled to the benefit of the statute of limitations that specifically addresses civil actions commenced pursuant to the No-Fault Act. The question of whether the vehicle that struck the respondent was insured is a question of fact and the court of appeals properly placed the burden of establishing a lack of a triable issue of fact on the petitioners. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the court of appeals and return this case to the court of appeals with directions to remand to the trial court for additional proceedings consistent with this opinion.
The issue in this case is whether summary judgment was proper. Even if the three-year statute of limitations is applicable, that does not resolve whether the respondents have stated a valid claim under the No-Fault Act or whether their claims may be barred by the Governmental Immunity Act.
The automobile-pedestrian accident that precipitated this civil action occurred on November 24, 1989, in Eagle County. Garland Reider (Reider) was driving his automobile on Highway 24 when his car came in contact with a patch of ice and slid off the road and down an embankment. Deputy Sheriff Robert Dawson (Dawson) was the first person to arrive at the scene of the accident. He parked his patrol car on the patch of ice, put out flares, and started down the embankment to help Reider who was climbing up the embankment to reach the road. Unfortunately, Dawson's patrol car slid off the patch of ice and down the embankment, rolled over, and struck Reider. Reider was not injured until he was struck by the patrol car.
For the purpose of reviewing the trial court's decision to grant summary judgment, we assume that the facts as set forth by the respondents are true. See, e.g., Elm Distrib., Inc. v. Tri-Centennial Corp., 768 P.2d 215, 218 (Colo. 1989) (stating that summary judgment may be granted only if the record establishes that there is no dispute as to any material fact respecting the legal issue to be determined and that if any doubts exist concerning the absence of disputes over a material fact, such doubts must be resolved against the moving party).
On January 22, 1991, Reider and his wife commenced a civil action against Dawson and the Eagle County Sheriff's Department (petitioners) for negligence and loss of consortium. The petitioners filed a motion to dismiss which was supported by affidavits and other documents. The trial court treated the motion to dismiss as a motion for summary judgment and entered judgment in favor of the petitioners based upon section 13-80-103(1)(c). The Reiders appealed and the court of appeals reversed the trial court.
The Eagle County Board of Commissioners was also named as a party-defendant, but was dismissed. The dismissal is not before us for review.
Section 13-80-103 provides in pertinent part:
(1) The following civil actions, regardless of the theory upon which suit is brought, or against whom suit is brought, shall be commenced within one year after the cause of action accrues, and not thereafter:
. . . .
(c) All actions against sheriffs, coroners, police officers, firefighters, national guardsmen, or any other law enforcement authority. . . .
Section 13-80-101 provides in pertinent part:
(1) The following civil actions, regardless of the theory upon which suit is brought, or against whom suit is brought, shall be commenced within three years after the cause of action accrues, and not thereafter:
. . . .
(j) All actions under the "Colorado Auto Accident Reparations Act," part 7 of article 4 of title 10, C.R.S. . . .
Assuming that the Reiders have stated a claim for relief pursuant to the No-Fault Act, both statutes appear to be applicable in this case and the language of the statutes does not establish which is controlling. Because the statutes are not clear as to which is controlling, our primary task is to construe the statutes to give effect to the intent of the General Assembly. See, e.g., Woodsmall v. Regional Transp. Dist., 800 P.2d 63, 67 (Colo. 1990).
In Jones v. Cox, 828 P.2d 218, 223 (Colo. 1992), we recognized that section 13-80-101(1)(j) is more specific than section 13-80-102(1)(a), 6A C.R.S. (1987), which generally applies to torts. Jones was based on three rules of statutory construction:
Our rules of statutory construction are that a special statute preempts a general statute, that a later statute is given effect over an earlier statute, and that because statutes of limitation are in derogation of a presumptively valid claim, a longer period of limitations should prevail where two statutes are arguably applicable.
In Jones, the comparison of the two statutes' specificity was of key importance because both statutes were defined in terms of the type of civil action. In this case, determining which statute is controlling by comparing the two statutes is not possible because one is defined in terms of the type of civil action while the other is defined in terms of the class of defendants. Thus, the specificity rule of statutory construction is not dispositive. The second rule of statutory construction discussed in Jones is also not dispositive because the General Assembly repealed and reenacted sections 13-80-101 and 13-80-103 in 1986. Ch. 114, sec. 1, §§ 13-80-101, -103, 1986 Colo. Sess. Laws 695, 695-97.
Although the two statutes are dissimilar, Jones establishes that § 13-80-101(1)(j) is applicable to a narrow class of cases commenced pursuant to the No-Fault Act and is therefore specific. Jones v. Cox, 828 P.2d 218, 223 (Colo. 1992). The specificity of § 13-80-101(1)(j) is indicated by the fact that it was enacted to facilitate the No-Fault Act, i.e., the implication of the unique statute of limitations that applies to a specific type of claim is that the General Assembly sought to ensure the uniform and consistent application of the unified statutory scheme encompassed by the No-Fault Act.
The final rule of construction discussed in Jones is that "because statutes of limitation are in derogation of a presumptively valid claim, a longer period of limitations should prevail where two statutes are arguably applicable." Id. at 222; see also Payne v. Ostrus, 50 F.2d 1039, 1042 (8th Cir. 1931) ("Of course if substantial doubt exists, the longer, rather than the shorter, period of limitation is to be preferred."); O'Malley v. Sims, 75 P.2d 50, 54-55 (Ariz. 1938) ("We have repeatedly held that while the defense of the statute of limitation is a legitimate one, it is not favored by the courts, and, where two constructions are possible, the one which gives the longer period of limitation is the one which is to be preferred."); Jefferson v. Nero, 280 S.W.2d 884, 886 (Ark. 1955) ("If there is doubt as to which of two or more statutes of limitation applies to a particular action or proceeding, and it is necessary to resolve the doubt, it will generally be resolved in favor of the application of the statute containing the longest limitation."); Thiel v. Taurus Drilling Ltd., 710 P.2d 33, 40 (Mont. 1985) ("Where there is a substantial question as to which of two or more statutes of limitations should apply, the general rule is that the doubt should be resolved in favor of the statute containing the longest limitations.").
Although neither of the first two principles of statutory construction applied in Jones is dispositive, the third principle establishes that section 13-80-101(1)(j) sets forth the controlling statute of limitations. Thus, the reasoning and principles set forth in Jones dictate that the Reiders are entitled to the benefit of the longer statute of limitations contained in the No-Fault Act if they have set forth a claim for relief under the No-Fault Act.
Applying the three-year statute of limitations is also consistent with the rule of construction that if possible, statutes should be harmonized. Application of § 13-80-101(1)(j) is consistent with the language of § 24-10-109(5), 10B C.R.S. (1987), of the Governmental Immunity Act. The Governmental Immunity Act is relevant in this case because the Reiders are suing a governmental entity; the Reiders were required to comply with the notice provisions of § 24-10-109 as a jurisdictional prerequisite to filing their claim for relief. This section provides: Any action brought pursuant to this article shall be commenced within the time period provided for that type of action in articles 80 and 81 of title 13, C.R.S., relating to limitation of actions, or it shall be forever barred. . . .
(Emphasis added.) This language indicates that a court determines the proper limitation period by looking at the "type of action," not the status of the defendant. Thus, the rule of construction that promotes harmonizing statutes indicates that because the Reiders' type of action is a tort action pursuant to the No-Fault Act, the three-year statute of limitations in § 13-80-101(1)(j) is the controlling time limit.
In addition to the conclusion reached by application of the rules of construction adopted in Jones, the legislative history of sections 13-80-101 and 13-80-103 indicates that section 13-80-101(1)(j) sets forth the controlling statute of limitations in this case.
The impetus for the revision of Colorado's statutes of limitation, which culminated in the repeal and reenactment of sections 13-80-101 and 13-80-103, was to consolidate, simplify, and make uniform the periods of limitation on civil actions. Hearings on S.B. 69 before the House Judiciary Committee, 55th Gen. Assembly, 1st Reg. Sess. (audio tape, Mar. 11, 1986, at 3:20-4:43). In revising the existing periods of limitation, the General Assembly adopted in large part a proposed statute on limitation of actions that was drafted by the Colorado Bar Association.
In adopting provisions from the model statute, the General Assembly recognized that it was acting in conformity with the recommendations of a special task force convened to study insurance and tort liability. The task force endorsed the Colorado Bar Association's model statute. Special Task Force on Tort Liability and Insurance, Liability Insurance and the Law of Torts in Colorado, Problems and Remedies (1986). In its report, the task force stated:
It has been generally recognized that Colorado's Limitations of Action system is outdated, poorly organized, and in need of reform. . . . It is probable that several proposals concerning the Statute of Limitations will be offered to the Legislature. Our Task Force, however, generally prefers the approach taken by the Colorado Bar Association in a project commenced in 1982.
Id. at 50-51. The task force recommended that the General Assembly adopt a uniform time limit and stated:
Other than agreeing that a one-year interval is too short and a four year interval too long, we have not reached a consensus on a precise time interval. A one-year period is too short for the following reasons:
(a) It would encourage precipitous filing of lawsuits;
(b) It would be inconsistent with our proposed amendment to C.R.C.P. 11, which places greater responsibility on counsel to ascertain that there is a good basis for the suit;
(c) More than one year is often needed to ascertain the extent of injury and damages;
(d) California has a one-year statute, but so many exceptions have been created that it has become virtually unworkable; and
(e) It is desirable to have a "cooling-off period," which a one-year statute of limitations does not permit.
Id. at 53. After reviewing the task force's recommendations and the Colorado Bar Association's model statute, the House Judiciary Committee incorporated large portions of the Colorado Bar Association's proposed statute into Senate Bill 69. One of the proposals the General Assembly adopted was a three-year period of limitations for claims commenced pursuant to the No-Fault Act. Thus, the legislative history of the relevant statutes indicates that General Assembly adopted the recommendations of the task force and the Colorado Bar Association and rejected a one-year statute in the context of no-fault claims.
Richard Laugesen, who was a member of the task force and helped draft the Colorado Bar Association's proposed statute on limitation of actions, testified before the House Judiciary Committee. He explained that the task force had rejected a one-year statute of limitations specifically because of statutes like the No-Fault Act. Laugesen noted that the No-Fault Act has threshold requirements and that one year is an insufficient time period to allow plaintiffs to meet these threshold requirements. Hearings on S.B. 69 before the House Judiciary Committee, 55th Gen. Assembly, 1st Reg. Sess. (audio tape, March 11, 1986, at 3:20-4:43).
In addition, the assertion that the General Assembly intended to apply a different period of limitations for claims against a sheriff commenced under the No-Fault Act is contravened by language in section 13-80-102(h), 6A C.R.S. (1986). This section provides a two-year period of limitation on: "All actions against any public or governmental entity or any employee of a public or governmental entity, except as otherwise provided in this section or section 13-80-103." In explaining the reference to section 13-80-103 to the House Judiciary Committee, the co-sponsor of Senate Bill 69, Representative Peter Minahan, noted that the drafters had paid attention to cross-referencing the various sections in the statute. He specifically referred to section 13-80-102(h) and indicated that the drafters had cross-referenced section 13-80-103 to establish that section 13-80-103 took priority over section 13-80-102(h). No such indication of priority appears in section 13-80-101(j). If the General Assembly intended to exempt sheriffs from the three-year period of limitation, it could have done so by employing the same language used in section 13-80-102(h).
The purpose of the No-Fault Act also supports the court of appeals holding that section 13-80-101(1)(j) sets forth the controlling statute of limitations in this case. Section 13-80-101(1)(j) should be read in light of the purpose of the No-Fault Act. Jones, 828 P.2d at 221. This purpose is set forth at section 10-4-702, 4A C.R.S. (1987):
The general assembly declares that its purpose in enacting this part 7 is to avoid inadequate compensation to victims of automobile accidents; to require registrants of motor vehicles in this state to procure insurance covering legal liability arising out of ownership or use of such vehicles and also providing benefits to persons occupying such vehicles and to persons injured in accidents involving such vehicles.
In Jones, we recognized this purpose and stated:
[W]e have concluded that to deny an automobile accident victim full tort recovery is contrary to the General Assembly's intent in enacting this section. Tort actions like the one in issue evidently were considered by the legislature to further the legislative objectives of the Act, and thus are allowed under this section. To apply the general two-year statute of limitations, as urged by [the defendant], would have the effect of prohibiting an insured like [the plaintiff] from filing suit unless she meets the requirements of the [No-Fault] Act, while at the same time denying her the benefits of the Act's special statute of limitations. In light of the legislative purpose of fully compensating the victim, this result seems incongruous and contrary to legislative intent.
Id. at 222.
Applying the three-year statute of limitations if a plaintiff states a claim for relief under the No-Fault Act is in harmony with the intent of the Act. In this case, allowing the Reiders to proceed if they have a claim under the No-Fault Act is consistent with the policy of fully compensating a victim. The same underlying principle discussed in Jones, i.e., that if a plaintiff is constrained by the requirements of the No-Fault Act the plaintiff should receive the benefit of the special statute of limitations that addresses No-Fault claims, is applicable in this case.
In light of the statutory rules of construction applied in Jones, the legislative history of the statutes of limitation in issue, and the purpose and policy of the No-Fault Act, it is apparent that the General Assembly adopted a three-year statute of limitations in a very narrow class of claims commenced pursuant to the No-Fault Act. When the General Assembly enacted the comprehensive No-Fault Act it was necessary to provide a uniform basis for addressing claims involving automobiles. The General Assembly did not alter this uniform scheme for claims against sheriffs.
The petitioners also contend that the court of appeals erred in placing the burden on them to establish that Dawson's vehicle was not insured. The party moving for summary judgment bears the burden of establishing the lack of a triable issue of fact. See, e.g., Thompson v. Public Serv. Co., 800 P.2d 1299, 1306 (Colo. 1990), cert. denied, 112 S. Ct. 452 (1991). The court of appeals did not shift the burden of proving whether Dawson's vehicle was or was not insured; the court applied the standard applicable in summary judgment motions. Because the issue of whether Dawson's vehicle was insured is a factual issue, the court of appeals correctly reversed the trial court's summary judgment.
The rules of statutory construction applied in Jones, the legislative history of the relevant statutes, and the purpose and policy of the No-Fault Act mandate that if the Reiders have stated a claim for relief under the No-Fault Act, and are subject to the requirements of the Act, the Reiders receive the benefit of the Act's special three-year statute of limitations. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the court of appeals and return this case to the court of appeals with instructions to remand to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
CHIEF JUSTICE ROVIRA dissents.