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Denver Health & Hospital Authority v. City of Arvada ex rel. Arvada Police Department

Court of Appeals of Colorado, Division III

January 28, 2016

Denver Health and Hospital Authority, Plaintiff-Appellee,
City of Arvada ex rel. Arvada Police Department, Defendant-Appellant.

City and County of Denver District Court No. 14CV31049 Honorable Kenneth M. Laff, Judge

Ruegsegger Simons Smith & Stern, LLC, Jeff C. Staudenmayer, Denver, Colorado, for Plaintiff-Appellee

Christopher K. Daly, City Attorney, Roberto Ramírez, Senior Assistant City Attorney, Arvada, Colorado, for Defendant-Appellant

Senter Goldfarb & Rice, LLC, Eric M. Ziporin, Jennifer F. Kemp, Denver, Colorado, for Amicus Curiae Colorado Intergovernmental Risk Sharing Agency

Polsinelli PC, Gerald A. Niederman, Ann McCullough, Bennett L. Cohen, Denver, Colorado, for Amicus Curiae Colorado Hospital Association

D. Scott Martinez, City Attorney, Tracy A. Davis, Assistant City Attorney, Joshua L. Roberts, Assistant City Attorney, T. Shaun Sullivan, Assistant City Attorney, Denver, Colorado, for Amicus Curiae City and County of Denver



¶1 Defendant, City of Arvada (Arvada), appeals from the summary judgment entered by the district court in favor of plaintiff, Denver Health and Hospital Authority (Denver Health). Specifically, Arvada contends that section 16-3-401(2), C.R.S. 2015, is void for vagueness; that the district court misinterpreted Poudre Valley Health Care Inc. v. City of Loveland, 85 P.3d 558 (Colo.App. 2003); and that the court erred in concluding that Denver Health's implied contract claim was not barred by the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act (CGIA), §§ 24-10-101 to -120, C.R.S. 2015. We affirm.

I. Background and Procedural History

¶2 The following undisputed facts are taken from the parties' stipulation of facts, filed with the district court.

¶3 On the morning of March 24, 2012, Arvada police officers Schleser and Lechuga (the officers) were dispatched to a residence in response to a domestic disturbance call. Upon arrival, the alleged victim was waiting outside of the residence. She told the officers that her husband, Terry Ross, had hit her, head-butted her, twisted her left arm, and had waved a gun back and forth during the alleged domestic violence.

¶4 The officers went to the residence to speak with Ross. After the officers rang the doorbell, knocked on the front door, and knocked on windows multiple times, Ross eventually answered the door and allowed the officers inside the residence. The five-year-old son of Ross and the alleged victim was also inside.

¶5 Ross agreed to speak with the officers but asked to use the bathroom before the officers began asking him questions. Officer Schleser checked the bathroom for any guns, knives, razor blades, and prescription medications as a safety measure, and after not finding any, she allowed Ross to use the bathroom. Officer Lechuga took the son outside and began talking to him while Officer Schleser waited inside the house.

¶6 When Ross came out of the bathroom, he abruptly turned to enter a bedroom in the house. Officer Schleser ran after him, and as the bedroom door began to close, she saw Ross holding a handgun and pointing it out in front of him. Believing Ross was going to shoot her, Officer Schleser fired her gun at him as the bedroom door was closing. However, when she opened the bedroom door, Officer Schleser was unable to find Ross inside the room. Unbeknownst to both officers, Ross had left the bedroom and attempted to commit suicide with his handgun.

¶7 Officer Lechuga later spotted Ross walking out from behind a wall in the house and commanded him to get on the ground and put his hands behind his back. Ross complied, and Officer Lechuga handcuffed him. After seeing blood on Ross' face, neck, and chest area, the officers notified dispatch that Ross needed an ambulance immediately. When the ambulance arrived, Officer Lechuga escorted Ross to the ambulance and handcuffed him to the inside of the ambulance. Officer Lechuga followed the ambulance to Denver Health and remained there until a police detective arrived.

¶8 Ross received medical treatment at Denver Health for a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the face. A police officer or detective was always with Ross or outside his hospital room to ensure he did not leave Denver Health, and he was eventually transported to a secure wing of the hospital, which was continually monitored by the Denver Sheriff's Department. He was released the next day into the custody of the Arvada Police Department.

¶9 This case began in March 2014, when Denver Health filed a complaint against Arvada for payment of Ross' medical expenses incurred at the hospital. Denver Health alleged two claims for relief, asserting that it was entitled to payment from Arvada for Ross' medical expenses: (1) a statutory claim pursuant to section 16-3-401(2), as interpreted by Poudre Valley, 85 P.3d at 560-61; and (2) a claim under an implied contract theory. The charges for Ross' medical care totaled $34, 591.83, but Denver Health received $5327.14 in payment directly from Ross' estate after he committed suicide in April 2012. Thus, Denver Health sought $29, 264.69 from Arvada.

¶10 As noted, the parties stipulated to the material facts in this case, and they agreed that summary judgment was appropriate to determine whether Arvada was liable for Ross' medical expenses. They filed competing summary judgment motions in the district court. Relying in part on Poudre Valley, [1] the district court denied Arvada's motion for summary judgment and granted summary judgment in favor of Denver Health, ruling that Denver Health was entitled to reimbursement from Arvada for Ross' medical expenses under section 16-3-401(2). The court also ruled that Denver Health's implied contract claim was not barred by the CGIA. This appeal followed.[2]

II. Void for Vagueness Challenge

¶11 Arvada contends that section 16-3-401(2) is unconstitutionally vague on its face because it does not expressly define the term "in custody" and does not address at what point in time one looks to see if an individual is in custody. Arvada argues that because there are multiple definitions of "custody" that may be applicable to section 16-3-401(2), it is unclear when it and other local governmental entities may be financially responsible for an injured individual's medical expenses. Thus, Arvada contends the statute is void for vagueness because it is capable of two or more constructions leading to different results, and it argues that the statute's lack of clarity has a chilling effect that will cause illogical and absurd results. We conclude the statute is not void for vagueness.

A. Standard of Review

¶12 We review a district court's grant of a motion for summary judgment de novo. Metal Mgmt. W., Inc. v. State, 251 P.3d 1164, 1170 (Colo.App. 2010). Additionally, the constitutionality of a statute is a legal question that we review de novo. People v. Allman, 2012 COA 212, ¶7. We presume that a statute is constitutional, and the party challenging the statute must establish its unconstitutionality beyond a reasonable doubt. Id.

¶13 Our primary task when interpreting a statute is to ascertain and give effect to the legislative purpose underlying it. Id. at ΒΆ20. "If the statute is not ambiguous, we look only to its plain ...

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