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Board of County Commissioners of Summit County v. Rodgers

Supreme Court of Colorado

September 8, 2015

Petitioner: Board of County Commissioners of Summit County,
v.
Respondents: Jason L. Rodgers and James R. Hazel

Certiorari to the Court of Appeals. Court of Appeals Case No. 12CA457.

Judgment Reversed.

SYLLABUS

The supreme court holds that Colorado's directed verdict rule, C.R.C.P. 50, allows trial courts to issue partial directed verdicts. Rule 50 should be read in tandem with Colorado's summary judgment rule, C.R.C.P. 56, which allows partial summary judgment, as well as the federal directed verdict rule, which permits partial directed verdicts. In addition, the court concludes that the plaintiffs invited the trial court to consider their various allegations of discriminatory acts as separate acts, rather than as a pattern. Therefore, the trial court did not err in directing verdicts on some, but not all, of plaintiffs' multiple claims in their 42 U.S.C. § 1983 lawsuit. Accordingly, the court reverses the court of appeals' opinion in its entirety and remands the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Attorneys for Petitioner: Berg Hill Greenleaf & Ruscitti LLP, Josh A. Marks, Melanie B. Lewis, Heidi C. Potter, Boulder, Colorado; Summit County Government, Jeffrey L. Huntley, Breckenridge, Colorado.

Attorneys for Respondents: Holley, Albertson & Polk, P.C., Dennis B. Polk, Heather S. Hodgson, Golden, Colorado.

Attorneys for Amicus Curiae Colorado Trial Lawyers Association: Rathod Mohamedbhai, LLC, Arash Jahanian, Matthew Cron, Austin M. Cohen, Siddhartha H. Rathod, Qusair Mohamedbhai, Denver, Colorado.

Attorneys for Amicus Curiae Colorado Defense Lawyers Association: Levy Wheeler Waters, P.C., Karen H. Wheeler, Matthew W. Hall, Charles C. Hall, Greenwood Village, CO.

OPINION

EID, JUSTICE.

[¶1] Respondents Jason L. Rodgers and James R. Hazel (" Respondents" ) allege in

Page 1254

their 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim that petitioner Summit County Board of County Commissioners (" the County" ) violated the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution when it denied them a certificate of occupancy to their newly built home. The trial court issued partial directed verdicts against Respondents on three of the four allegedly discriminatory actions they identified in support of their claim. On appeal, the court of appeals reversed, concluding that C.R.C.P. 50 does not permit partial directed verdicts, and that the trial court improperly considered the County's actions as separate issues rather than as a pattern of discriminatory conduct. Rodgers v. Bd. of Cnty. Comm'rs of Summit Cnty., 2013 COA 61, P.3d . Judge Fox dissented as to this part of the opinion. Id. at ¶ 63 (Fox, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part).

[¶2] We now reverse. As to the court of appeals' first rationale, we begin with the observation that Rule 50 is closely tied to our summary judgment rule, C.R.C.P. 56, which permits partial summary judgments. Both rules share a common legal standard (judgment as a matter of law) and a common purpose (to streamline the litigation process). Accordingly, the two rules should be interpreted in tandem. We can find no convincing justification--and have been directed to none--for permitting partial summary judgments, but not partial directed verdicts. We also find persuasive the fact that the federal counterpart to our rule, Fed.R.Civ.P. 50, has been interpreted to permit partial directed verdicts. We therefore hold that the court of appeals erred in concluding that Rule 50 does not permit partial directed verdicts. We also disagree with the court of appeals' additional rationale that the trial court misunderstood the nature of Respondents' claim, as Respondents invited the trial court to consider the four allegedly discriminatory actions as separate discriminatory acts, rather than as a pattern of conduct. See Hansen v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 957 P.2d 1380, 1384 (Colo. 1998) (court will not review errors alleged by a party responsible for the claimed error). We therefore reverse the court of appeals' opinion in its entirety and remand the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

I.

[¶3] Respondents, a same-sex couple, purchased a piece of property in Breckenridge with the intent of building a four-bedroom, single-family home. Respondents built the home, but the County refused to grant them a certificate of occupancy. Respondents allege that in doing so, the County imposed a series of requirements that were not applied to other homeowners. The County contends that it refused to issue the permit because the home's septic system was deficient under the applicable regulation.

[¶4] The County offered Respondents a temporary certificate of occupancy on the condition that they fix the septic system, mitigate wetlands damage that occurred during construction, and post a bond for the estimated cost of repairs to the septic system. Respondents were unable to comply with these conditions, however, and after the County refused to issue the certificate, the house was foreclosed upon. Respondents subsequently filed suit, initially alleging five claims for relief. At issue here is their claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (2015), alleging that they were deprived of their rights to equal protection under the U.S. Constitution.

[¶5] In their proposed trial management order, Respondents alleged that the County engaged in the following four ...


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