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Madrigal v. City of Aurora

Court of Appeals of Colorado, Seventh Division

May 22, 2014

Margarita Madrigal, individually and as next friend to, M.M., R.M.M., and J.M., minor children, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
City of Aurora; and Juan Guzman, in his official capacity as Records Clerk for the City of Aurora, Defendants-Appellees

Arapahoe County District Court No. 12CV17. Honorable Charles M. Pratt, Judge.

ORDER AFFIRMED.

Kenneth A. Padilla, Denver, Colorado, for Plaintiffs-Appellants.

Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, LLP, Martha L. Fitzgerald, Carrie E. Johnson, Denver, Colorado, for Defendants-Appellees.

Opinion by JUDGE NAVARRO. J. Jones and Fox, JJ., concur.

OPINION

NAVARRO, Judge

Page 298

[¶1] Pursuant to the Colorado Criminal Justice Records Act (CCJRA), sections 24-72-301 to -309, C.R.S. 2013, plaintiffs, Margarita Madrigal and her children, requested records from defendants, the City of Aurora and its records administrator, Juan Guzman (collectively, the City). The City initially denied inspection of the records and failed to respond to plaintiffs' subsequent request for a written statement of the grounds for the denial. On plaintiffs' application, the district court issued an order directing the City to show cause why it should not permit inspection. The City ultimately disclosed almost all of the records requested. The court determined that the City did not abuse its discretion either in delaying release of the records disclosed or in denying release of the records not disclosed. The court also concluded that plaintiffs were not entitled to attorney fees, court costs, or penalties, despite the City's erroneous failure to respond to plaintiffs' request for a statement of the grounds for the initial denial of inspection. Plaintiffs appeal the district court's order. We affirm.

I. Background

[¶2] In July 2011, an Aurora Police Department (APD) officer shot and killed plaintiffs' husband and father, Juan Contreras, in a parking lot. Plaintiffs requested from the City various records pertaining to this incident, including police reports, internal investigation reports, written and videotaped statements of witnesses, photographs and video recordings capturing the incident, and the identification of all people parked in the lot where Mr. Contreras was killed. The City denied this request on the ground that disclosure would be contrary to the public interest. Plaintiffs, in September 2011, requested a written statement explaining why the City had reached that conclusion. Due to an oversight, the City failed to respond to this request.

[¶3] Months later, after making no further inquiries into the status of their request, plaintiffs filed a complaint with the district court seeking an order to show cause directed to the City. The court issued the order.

[¶4] Meanwhile, the District Attorney for the Eighteenth Judicial District (DA) convened a grand jury to investigate the death of Mr. Contreras. While this investigation was pending, the district court held a show cause hearing on plaintiffs' complaint, at which Mr. Guzman and the chief of the APD testified. Less than a week after this hearing (and before the court issued a ruling), the grand jury returned a " no true bill" ; that is, the grand jury declined to indict anyone in connection with the death of Mr. Contreras. The DA released the grand jury report to plaintiffs.

[¶5] After plaintiffs asserted that the grand jury report did not satisfy their records request, the City delivered over 800 pages of documents to plaintiffs. These documents included the entire APD investigative file, including police reports and names of the officers involved, names and contact information of all witnesses, photographs of the scene, videotaped statements of the witnesses, and a " use of force investigative summary." (Approximately ten months elapsed between plaintiffs' initial records request and the delivery of these documents to plaintiffs.) The City also identified four categories of records that it had not released: autopsy reports, medical records from the Aurora Fire Department, APD internal affairs records, and search warrants sealed by court order. Plaintiffs then acknowledged that they had received all requested records, except the four categories described by the City.[1]

[¶6] The district court discharged the order to show cause. Regarding the records disclosed to plaintiffs, the court found that the City had not abused its discretion in delaying the disclosure until after the conclusion of the criminal investigation because earlier disclosure likely would have hindered the investigation. The court also found that the City had not abused its discretion in denying release of the few categories of undisclosed documents. Finally, the court declined to

Page 299

impose sanctions for the City's failure to respond to plaintiffs' September 2011 request for a written statement explaining the initial denial of inspection.

II. Disclosure Under the CCJRA

[¶7] We first describe the limited issue before us. Plaintiffs contend that the district court erred in determining that the City did not abuse its discretion in handling their records request. But plaintiffs' arguments on appeal focus exclusively on the records actually disclosed to them: plaintiffs assert error in the ten-month delay in the release of these records.

[¶8] Plaintiffs do not challenge the City's decision to deny inspection of the few categories of records that remain undisclosed. Although plaintiffs conclude their appellate briefs by vaguely requesting the release of " all records sought," they fail to identify any records not disclosed but which they still seek. Plaintiffs do not discuss -- much less articulate any challenge to -- the district court's rationale for upholding the City's decision with respect to the undisclosed records. Cf. Barnett v. Elite Props. of Am., Inc., 252 P.3d 14, 19 (Colo. App. 2010) ( " We will not consider a bald legal proposition presented without argument or development. Counsel must inform the court both as to the specific errors asserted and the grounds, supporting facts, and authorities to support their contentions." ) (citation omitted).[2] ...


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