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State ex rel. Coffman v. Vaden Law Firm LLC

Court of Appeals of Colorado, Sixth Division

May 21, 2015

State of Colorado, ex rel. Cynthia H. Coffman, Attorney General for the State of Colorado, Applicant-Appellant,
v.
Vaden Law Firm LLC, Respondent-Appellee.

City and County of Denver District Court No. 13CV31914 Honorable Edward D. Bronfin, Judge

Cynthia H. Coffman, Attorney General, Alissa H. Gardenswartz, First Assistant Attorney General, Megan Paris Rundlet, Senior Assistant Attorney General, Lauren Dickey, Assistant Attorney General, Denver, Colorado, for Applicant-Appellant

Polsinelli PC, Sean R. Gallagher, Stacy B. Carpenter, Bennett L. Cohen, Denver, Colorado, for Respondent-Appellee

ORDER VACATED AND CASE REMANDED WITH DIRECTIONS

J. JONES JUDGE

¶ 1 The State of Colorado appeals a district court's order denying its motion for an award of attorney fees and costs against respondent, Vaden Law Firm LLC (Vaden). The State's motion followed its successful effort to enforce an investigative subpoena served on Vaden pursuant to the Colorado Consumer Protection Act (CCPA), sections 6-1-101 to -1121, C.R.S. 2014. The district court ruled that the State is not entitled to an award of attorney fees and costs under subsection 6-1-113(4), C.R.S. 2014, of the CCPA because the subpoena enforcement action is not an "action" within the meaning of that fee-shifting provision. We conclude that the district court misinterpreted the statute: the subpoena enforcement action is an "action" within the meaning of subsection 6-1-113(4). Accordingly, we vacate the district court's order and remand the case to the district court to award the State its reasonable attorney fees and costs.

I. Background

¶ 2 The State served an investigative subpoena on Vaden pursuant to subsection 6-1-108(1), C.R.S. 2014, of the CCPA seeking records pertaining to costs Vaden had sought to recover on behalf of lenders in foreclosure actions.[1] Vaden refused to produce any records.

¶ 3 The State filed an application (which it captioned a "motion") to enforce the Vaden subpoena in Denver District Court pursuant to section 6-1-109, C.R.S. 2014, which states that "the attorney general . . . may apply to the appropriate district court for an appropriate order to effect the purposes of [the CCPA]." Vaden filed a written opposition to the application. Following a hearing, the district court ruled against Vaden, and ordered it to produce records responsive to the subpoena.[2]

¶ 4 The State moved for an award of attorney fees and costs against Vaden pursuant to subsection 6-1-113(4), which states: "Costs and attorney fees shall be awarded to the attorney general or a district attorney in all actions where the attorney general or the district attorney successfully enforces this article."

¶ 5 The district court denied the motion. It reasoned that "all actions" in subsection 6-1-113(4) refers to the term "civil action" in subsections 6-1-112(1) and -113(1), and that an application to enforce an investigatory subpoena is not a "civil action." The court further justified its conclusion by analogy to procedure applicable to grand jury subpoenas and by reference to People ex rel. MacFarlane v. American Banco Corporation, 194 Colo. 32, 570 P.2d 825 (1977), a case involving the constitutionality of the CCPA's grant of authority to the Attorney General to issue investigatory subpoenas thereunder.

II. Discussion

¶ 6 The State contends that the district court's order is contrary to the plain language of subsection 6-1-113(4). We agree with the State.

A. Standard of Review and Applicable Law

¶ 7 Resolving the State's contention hinges on the meaning of a statutory phrase - "all actions." We determine the meaning of that phrase de novo. Weinstein v. Colborne Foodbotics, LLC, 2013 CO 33, ¶ 8; Associated Gov'ts of ...


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