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Jenkins v. Panama Canal Railway Co.

Supreme Court of Colorado
May 18, 2009
208 P.3d 238 (Colo. 2009)

Summary

noting that statutory interpretation generally begins with the interpretation of the plain language and commonly accepted meanings of a statute

Summary of this case from Salazar v. Butterball, Llc.

Opinion

No. 08SC122.

May 18, 2009.

Appeal from the District Court, City and County of Denver, Joseph E. Meyer, III, J.

Law Offices of James Peters, P.C., James J. Peters, Qusair Mohamedbhai, Denver, Colorado, Attorneys for Petitioners.

Burns Figa Will, P.C., Jennifer Osgood, Dana L. Eismeier, Greenwood Village, Colorado, Attorneys for Respondents.


INTRODUCTION

Herman and Bebra Jenkins, Rainey and Nathaniel Estes, Bonnie Bills, and Travis Law (collectively, "Jenkins") took a cruise vacation to Panama, and while there took a train ride along the Panama Canal. In the course of the train ride, Jenkins's train collided head-on with another train, and he suffered injuries. Upon returning to Colorado, Jenkins sought to recover from multiple entities, including Panama Canal Railway Company, its owner, and the train's operator (collectively, "Panama Canal"). Relying on Colorado's two year statute of limitations, Jenkins filed a law suit within two years of the collision. Reiving on Panama's one year statute of limitations, Panama Canal moved to dismiss the action as untimely. The district court converted Panama Canal's motion to a motion for summary judgment and granted it. It found Colorado's borrowing statute applied to Jenkins's claims, and pursuant to that statute, Panama's one year statute of limitations barred the action. Jenkins appealed, arguing that Colorado's limitations act applied to the claims and pursuant to that statute, Colorado's two year statute of limitations did not bar the action. The court of appeals affirmed the district court. Jenkins v. Haymore, No. 06CA0846, 208 P.3d 265, 2007 WL 4531712 (Colo.App. Dec.27, 2007) (selected for official publication). Jenkins sought review from this court to determine which statute, and thus which limitations period, applies. Because the borrowing statute is more recent, we hold it applies to Jenkins's claims. Therefore, we affirm the court of appeals' judgment on separate grounds.

FACTS PROCEDURE

Jenkins was a Colorado resident when he booked a cruise vacation with Charlotte Haymore's Colorado company, Charlotte's Cruises-N-Tours (collectively, "Haymore"), for the fall of 2001. As part of the vacation package, Jenkins purchased tickets for a train ride along the Panama Canal, on a train operated by Panama Canal Railway Company. On December 2, 2001, Jenkins was aboard a Panama Canal Railway Company train operated by Stephen O'Donnell when the accident occurred. Jenkins's train collided head-on at 20-25 miles per hour with another Panama Canal train that was stopped on the same track. Jenkins received injuries as a result of this collision. O'Donnell subsequently died, but it is not clear whether the collision caused his death. Jenkins was offered medical treatment in Panama, contingent on signing a waiver written in Spanish. Jenkins does not speak Spanish; thus, he declined to sign the waiver and did not receive treatment at that time. Once back in Colorado, Jenkins incurred costs in treating his injuries.

On December 1, 2003, Jenkins sought to recover for these injuries, and brought a negligence action in Colorado district court against multiple entities, including Haymore and Panama Canal. After what appears to have been a fairly contentious discovery period, Panama Canal filed a motion to dismiss on November 28, 2005. It argued in part that Colorado's borrowing statute, section 13-80-110, C.R.S. (2008), applied to Jenkins's action because his claims arose in Panama. Therefore, under the borrowing statute, Panama's one year statute of limitations applied, and barred Jenkins's action filed two years after the collision.

Based on affidavits attached to Panama Canal's motion and Jenkins's response, the district court converted Panama Canal's motion to dismiss into a motion for summary judgment. On February 16, 2006, the district court found Jenkins's claims arose in Panama, and thus the borrowing statute applied. Pursuant to the borrowing statute, the district court applied Panama's one year statute of limitations, and found Jenkins's negligence action filed two years after the collision was time-barred. Therefore, the district court granted summary judgment to Panama Canal. Based on this ruling, Haymore filed an emergency motion to dismiss. On February 23, 2006, in accordance with its order granting summary judgment, the district court granted Haymore's motion.

Jenkins appealed the district court's February 16, 2006 order granting summary judgment, arguing the court erred in applying Colorado's borrowing statute to determine the correct statute of limitations. Instead of the borrowing statute, Jenkins argued the district court should have applied the Uniform Conflict of Laws — Limitations Act. §§ 13-82-101 to -107, C.R.S. (2008). Jenkins further argued that his negligence claims are substantively based on Colorado law, and therefore under the limitations act, section 13-82-104, Colorado's two year statute of limitations applies. In the alternative, Jenkins argued that even if his negligence claims are found to be substantively based on Panama law, the limitations act's "escape" clause, section 13-82-106, saves him from Panama's one year statute of limitations and applies Colorado's two year statute of limitations. Therefore, his lawsuit brought within two years of the collision is not time-barred.

The court of appeals disagreed with Jenkins's determination of the applicable statute. In a published decision, the panel affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment. Jenkins v. Haymore, 208 P.3d at 269. The court of appeals held the borrowing statute and the limitations act are irreconcilable, and applied three rules of statutory construction to determine which governs: which statute is more specific, which statute was enacted last, and which statute employs the longer limitations period. Id. at 268. Without analysis, the court determined the borrowing statute was more specific than the limitations act. Id. at 268. It also noted the borrowing statute was enacted later than the limitations act; though the limitations act expressly repealed the borrowing statute when enacted in 1984, the borrowing statute was enacted again in 1986. Id. at 267. Finally, the court of appeals declined to address which statute has a longer limitations period, because the conflict could be resolved on specificity and recency. Id. at 268.

Jenkins petitioned this court for review of the court of appeals' decision, and both parties focused their arguments on which statute is more specific. We ultimately conclude neither statute is more specific than the other; thus we disagree with the court of appeals' holding that the borrowing statute applies because it is more specific than the limitations act. However, because the borrowing statute was enacted more recently than the limitations act, we hold the borrowing statute was appropriately applied. Therefore, we affirm the court of appeals and hold that summary judgment was proper.

ANALYSIS

A court may grant summary judgment only when the pleadings and supporting documents clearly demonstrate there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. C.R.C.P. 56(c); Lombard v. Colo. Outdoor Educ. Ctr., Inc., 187 P.3d 565, 570 (Colo. 2008); Friedland v. Travelers Indem. Co., 105 P.3d 639, 643 (Colo. 2005). In determining whether summary judgment is proper, a court grants the nonmoving party any favorable inferences reasonably drawn from the facts, and resolves all doubts in favor of the nonmoving party. Lombard, 187 P.3d at 570; Friedland, 105 P.3d at 643. We review grants of summary judgment de novo. Lombard, 187 P.3d at 570; Friedland, 105 P.3d at 643.

To review the grant of summary judgment in this case, we must determine which of these irreconcilable statutes, the borrowing statute or the limitations act, applies to Jenkins's claims. The borrowing statute applies to a claim arising in another jurisdiction, and imposes that jurisdiction's statute of limitations on the claim. It states:

If a cause of action arises in another state or territory or in a foreign country and, by the laws thereof, an action thereon cannot be maintained in that state, territory, or foreign country by reason of lapse of time, the cause of action shall not be maintained in this state.

§ 13-80-110. If the borrowing statute applies here, Jenkins is bound by Panama's one year statute of limitations, making his action time-barred and summary judgment for Panama Canal proper.

On the other hand, the limitations act imposes different statutes of limitations depending on the substantive law underlying a claim. That is, if a claim is based on another jurisdiction's substantive law, that jurisdiction's statute of limitations applies. But if a claim is based on Colorado's substantive law, Colorado's statute of limitations applies. The act states:

(1) Except as provided in section 13-82-106, if a claim is substantively based:

(a) Upon the law of one other state, the limitation period of that state applies; or

(b) Upon the law of more than one state, the limitation period of one of those states chosen by the law of conflict of laws of this statute applies.

(2) The limitations period of this state applies to all other claims.

The term "state" in this act includes foreign countries. See § 13-82-103(2), C.R.S. (2008).

§ 13-82-104. If the limitations act applies here, Jenkins may be bound by either Panama's one year statute of limitations or Colorado's two year statute of limitations, depending on whether the substantive law of Panama or Colorado governs his claims.

Because we hold the borrowing statute applies, we do not address the substantive law of Jenkins's claims, or whether the limitation act's "escape" clause would apply. § 13-82-106, C.R.S. (2008).

When interpreting statutes, our primary task is to give effect to the General Assembly's intent. Reg'l Transp. Dist. v. Voss, 890 P.2d 663, 667 (Colo. 1995). To do this, we generally only look to a statute's plain language and interpret the words based on their commonly accepted meanings. Id. However, on occasion we look to a statute's legislative history to determine the General Assembly's intent. For example, when a statute's language is ambiguous, we may turn to its legislative history. Id. at 667. Likewise, when attempting to harmonize two seemingly conflicting statutes, we may also utilize the statutes' legislative histories. City of Florence v. Pepper, 145 P.3d 654, 657 (Colo. 2006).

Yet, when considering the borrowing statute and the limitations act, we find neither contains ambiguous language. Additionally, the court of appeals held these statutes are irreconcilable, and neither party appeals that holding. Jenkins v. Haymore, 208 P.3d at 268. Because the statutes are not ambiguous and cannot be harmonized, we do not look to their legislative histories to determine the General Assembly's intent. Instead, we turn to the rules of statutory construction for irreconcilable statutes.

The General Assembly has prescribed two rules for deciding which of two irreconcilable statutes governs. First, the specific provision prevails over the general provision. § 2-4-205, C.R.S. (2008). This rule applies unless the general statute was enacted more recently than the specific statute, and the legislature manifestly intends that the later-enacted general statute prevail over the earlier-enacted specific statute. If these conditions are met, the general statute prevails. Id.; People v. Smith, 971 P.2d 1056, 1058 (Colo. 1999). However, without the General Assembly's manifest intent, a more recent general statute will not repeal an existing specific statute. People v. Falls, 58 P.3d 1140, 1142 (Colo.App. 2002) (citing Martin v. People, 27 P.3d 846, 863 (Colo. 2001)).

Second, the statute with the more recent effective date prevails. § 2-4-206, C.R.S. (2008). As explained above, when the more recent statute is a general provision, it cannot prevail over an earlier-enacted specific provision unless the General Assembly manifestly intends it to do so. However, when specificity cannot resolve the conflict, the more recent statute prevails even if the General Assembly did not clearly intend it to supplant an existing statute. See Pepper, 145 P.3d at 657, 660. This is because we assume the General Assembly is aware of its enactments, and thus we conclude that by passing an irreconcilable statute at a later date the legislature intended to alter the prior statute. Id. at 657. In this situation, recency fails to resolve the conflict only if the irreconcilable statutes have both the same effective date and the same date of passage. § 2-4-206; see, e.g., Reg'l Transp. Dist., 890 P.2d at 668.

If neither specificity nor recency can resolve a conflict between two different statutes of limitations, we turn to a third rule of construction supported by our case law and public policy; the statute providing the longer limitations period prevails. Reg'l Transp. Dist., 890 P.2d at 668; Dawson v. Reider, 872 P.2d 212, 214 (Colo. 1994); Jones v. Cox, 828 P.2d 218, 222 (Colo. 1992). However, if specificity or recency can resolve the conflict, we do not reach the question of the longer limitations period.

Because a specific earlier-enacted statute may trump a general later-enacted statute if the General Assembly lacked manifest intent for the general later-enacted statute to prevail, we turn to specificity first. Section 2-4-205 explains "the special or local provision prevails as an exception to the general provision. . . ." (emphasis added). Further, in Martin we stated, "[a] general provision, by definition, covers a larger area of the law. A specific provision, on the other hand, acts as an exception to that general provision, carving out a special niche from the general rules to accommodate a specific circumstance." 27 P.3d at 852.

The court of appeals centered its opinion on a determination that the borrowing statute is more specific than the limitations act, but failed to provide explanation or analysis of how the borrowing statute functions as an exception to the limitations act. Jenkins v. Haymore, 208 P.3d at 268. Consequently, both parties focus their arguments on specificity. Jenkins argues that the limitations act's "escape" clause, rather than the limitations act itself, is an exception to the borrowing statute. In contrast, Panama Canal argues that the borrowing act is more specific because it applies to cases arising in other jurisdictions, while the limitations act applies to all cases.

In order for one statute to function as an exception to another, both statutes must be defined with the same or similar terms. See Reg'l Transp. Dist., 890 P.2d at 668; Dawson, 872 P.2d at 214. For example, in Regional Transportation District, one of the irreconcilable statutes of limitations applied to actions arising under the No-Fault Act, while the other applied to actions against government entity defendants. We held that because the statutes provided limitations periods based on completely different factors, we could not adequately compare them to determine which functioned as the exception. Reg'l Transp. Dist., 890 P.2d at 668; see also Dawson, 872 P.2d at 214. Therefore, we held neither statute could be characterized as more specific than the other. Reg'l Transp. Dist., 890 P.2d at 668.

Either of the statutes at issue here can be portrayed as more specific than the other. First, these statutes address different classes of cases; the limitations act addresses all cases, and the borrowing statute addresses a subset of all cases, those arising in other jurisdictions. This gives rise to Panama Canal's argument that the borrowing statute is more specific; it addresses a smaller group of cases within all cases. On the other hand, the limitations act contains an "escape" clause, which assigns Colorado's limitations period to cases otherwise subject to another limitations period when that other limitations period would be unfair. § 13-82-106. The escape clause gives rise to Jenkins's argument that the limitations act is more specific; it adds a subjective element to assigning a limitations period not present in the borrowing statute.

Despite these portrayals of specificity, the statutes are defined by different terms. The borrowing statute assigns a limitations period based on where a case arose. In contrast, the limitations act assigns a limitations period based on what substantive law applies to a case, along with the fairness doctrine operating in the escape clause. Ultimately, the differing terms prevent either statute from acting as an exception to the other. For example, if the borrowing statute assigned limitations periods for cases arising in other jurisdictions based on each case's substantive law, it would utilize the same terms as the limitations act and could be read as an exception to that act. However, the borrowing statute only assigns limitations periods based on where a case arose, and does not consider the applicable substantive law. Therefore, its terms are different from those of the limitations act. Because each statute uses different factors to assign a limitations period, we are prevented from directly comparing them in order to read one as an exception to the other. Consequently, we hold neither statute is more specific than the other, and we disapprove of the court of appeals' holding that the borrowing statute is more specific than the limitations act.

Here, Jenkins's claims arose in Panama, while Panama Canal's counsel conceded during oral argument that Jenkins's claims are substantively based on Colorado law. Thus, this case illustrates that where the case arose and what substantive law applies are terms with different meanings, and possibly, results.

Because specificity cannot be determined in this case, we turn to recency. Section 2-4-206 explains "if statutes enacted at . . . different sessions . . . are irreconcilable, the statute prevails which is latest in its effective date." This directive does not differentiate between an initial enactment and an enactment subsequent to a repeal for purposes of a statute's effective date. § 2-4-206.

The borrowing statute dates back to Colorado's statutes in 1921; it employed other jurisdictions' limitations periods to prevent forum shopping. In 1984, the General Assembly passed the Uniform Conflict of Laws — Limitations Act, which tied limitations periods to Colorado's conflict of laws scheme. See Ch. 113, sec. 1, 1984 Colo. Sess. Laws 477, 477-78. Upon enactment, the limitations act explicitly repealed the borrowing statute. See Ch. 113, sec. 2, 1984 Colo. Sess. Laws 477, 478. Then, in 1986, the General Assembly was persuaded by the Colorado Bar Association's campaign to reform Colorado's limitations system to again enact the borrowing statute in substantial conformity with its previous language. See Ch. 114, sec. 1, § 13-80-110, 1986 Colo. Sess. Laws 695, 700. In this enactment, the legislature did not simultaneously repeal the limitations act or provide any other comment on why it enacted a statute it had repealed in favor of a different scheme two years earlier. Id.

Regardless of this confusion, the current borrowing statute's enactment date is 1986, while the limitations act's enactment date is 1984. Because the recency rule of statutory construction does not differentiate between an initial enactment and an enactment subsequent to a repeal, the borrowing statute, enacted two years after the limitations act, is the more recently enacted of the two.

In general, we hesitate to repeal a statute by implication. Pepper, 145 P.3d at 657. Additionally, given the background of these two statutes, it is not at all clear the General Assembly intended the reenacted borrowing statute to supplant the limitations act. However, as discussed above, we assume the General Assembly is aware of its enactments, and thus we understand a more recent enactment that conflicts with a prior enactment to evidence the legislature's intent to alter the prior. Id. If the General Assembly made a mistake in reenacting the borrowing statute without considering the effect on the limitations act — as we strongly suspect is the case — that mistake is for the General Assembly to remedy, not this court. Because the conflict between these statutes cannot be resolved on specificity and the borrowing statute is the more recent enactment, we hold the borrowing statute applies to Jenkins's claims in this case. Further, because this conflict is resolved based on the General Assembly's prescribed rules of statutory construction, we do not reach the common law factor of longer limitations period.

CONCLUSION

We hold the borrowing statute applies to Jenkins's claims. Though neither the borrowing statute nor the limitations act is more specific than the other, the borrowing statute was more recently enacted. As a result, Panama's one year statute of limitations applies to Jenkins's claims. Therefore, because Jenkins brought his action two years after the collision, his suit is time-barred. Accordingly, we affirm the court of appeals' judgment.

JUSTICE HOBBS dissents, and Chief Justice MULLARKEY joins in the dissent.


Summaries of

Jenkins v. Panama Canal Railway Co.

Supreme Court of Colorado
May 18, 2009
208 P.3d 238 (Colo. 2009)

noting that statutory interpretation generally begins with the interpretation of the plain language and commonly accepted meanings of a statute

Summary of this case from Salazar v. Butterball, Llc.

noting that, insofar as the General Assembly made a mistake in reenacting a statute without considering the effect on another statute, "that mistake is for the General Assembly to remedy, not this court"

Summary of this case from Keysight Techs., Inc. v. Indus. Claim Appeals Office
Case details for

Jenkins v. Panama Canal Railway Co.

Case Details

Full title:Herman JENKINS, Bebra Jenkins, Bonnie Bills, Travis Law, Rainey Estes, and…

Court:Supreme Court of Colorado

Date published: May 18, 2009

Citations

208 P.3d 238 (Colo. 2009)

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