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Galindo v. Valley View Association

Court of Appeals of Colorado, Fourth Division

June 1, 2017

Erika Galindo, individually and as parent, guardian, and next friend of Ariana Guadalupe Galindo, a minor child; and Jose Galindo, individually and as parent, guardian, and next friend of Ariana Guadalupe Galindo, a minor child, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
Valley View Association, d/b/a/ Valley View Hospital, Defendant-Appellee.

         Garfield County District Court No. 13CV30316 Honorable John F. Neiley, Judge

          Law Office of Stan Epshtein, Stan Epshtein, John Bellinger, Denver, Colorado, for Plaintiffs-Appellants

          Jaudon & Avery LLP, David H. Yun, Jared R. Ellis, Denver, Colorado, for Defendant-Appellee

          The Law Office of Natalie L. Decker, LLC, Natalie L. Decker, Littleton, Colorado; Michael J. Norton, Greenwood Village, Colorado, for Amicus Curiae Colorado Family Action.

          J. JONES JUDGE.

         ¶ 1 Plaintiffs, Erika and Jose Galindo, are the parents of Ariana Guadalupe Galindo, who died in utero. They have brought claims against Valley View Association, doing business as Valley View Hospital (the hospital), seeking damages on behalf of themselves and Ariana's estate. They allege that medical personnel at the hospital acted negligently in diagnosing and treating Mrs. Galindo when she went to the hospital showing signs of a ruptured placenta. They further assert that as a result of that negligence, Ariana died and they were injured.

         ¶ 2 The district court dismissed the claims plaintiffs assert based on Ariana's death and sua sponte certified its order as final under C.R.C.P. 54(b). Because we conclude that the district court erred in ruling that there was no just reason to delay an appeal of its order, we dismiss the appeal.

         I. Additional Background

         ¶ 3 Plaintiffs' complaint asserts causes of action against the hospital for negligence on behalf of Mr. Galindo, Mrs. Galindo, and Ariana (or her estate); negligent infliction of emotional distress on behalf of Mrs. Galindo; loss of consortium on behalf of Mr. Galindo; and wrongful death on behalf of Mr. and Mrs. Galindo. It also asserts that damages can be awarded for Ariana's pre-death injuries under the survival statute, section 13-20-101, C.R.S. 2016.[1]

         ¶ 4 Shortly before trial, the district court ordered the parties to brief the issue whether an unborn fetus (who was not subsequently born alive) is a "person" within the meaning of the wrongful death and survival statutes. (The wrongful death statute, section 13-21-202, C.R.S. 2016, and the survival statute apply in the event of the "death of a person.")[2]

         ¶ 5 The court postponed the trial. After considering the parties' briefs, the court ruled that Ariana was not a "person" within the meaning of the statutes, and it dismissed the wrongful death claim and the negligence claim brought on behalf of Ariana's estate.[3] At the end of the order, the court wrote: "There being no just reason for delay, final judgment is hereby entered in favor of [the hospital] and against the Plaintiffs on both claims pursuant to C.R.C.P. 54(b)." The court didn't explain why there was no just reason for delay.

         ¶ 6 Plaintiffs appealed the order. After the appeal was fully briefed, the clerk assigned the case to this division. The division then ordered the parties to brief the issue whether the district court had properly certified the order as final under Rule 54(b), directing them specifically to explain why there was no just reason to delay an appeal until the entire case has been resolved, and, even more specifically, to explain what hardship or injustice would result to any party if the appeal is not allowed to proceed. See Allison v. Engel, 2017 COA 43, ¶ 1 (to show that there is no just reason for delay, it must appear that "a party would experience some hardship or injustice through delay that could be alleviated only by an immediate appeal"). Having considered the parties' supplemental briefs and the record, we conclude that the district court's conclusory ruling that there is no just reason for delay is unsupported by the record or law.

         II. The Requirements of Rule 54(b)

         ¶ 7 Rule 54(b) creates an exception to the rule that an appellate court has jurisdiction only over appeals from final judgments. Harding Glass Co. v. Jones, 640 P.2d 1123, 1125, 1126 (Colo. 1982). But that exception is quite limited, and it must be construed consistently with ...


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