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

Supreme Court of Colorado, En Banc

October 10, 2017

City of Arvada ex rel. Arvada Police Department, Petitioners
Denver Health and Hospital Authority. Respondent

         Certiorari to the Colorado Court of Appeals Court of Appeals Case No. 15CA164

          Attorneys for Petitioners: Christopher K. Daly, City Attorney, Vaughan & DeMuro David R. DeMuro

          Attorneys for Respondent: Ruegsegger Simons Smith & Stern, LLC Jeff C. Staudenmayer

          Attorneys for Amici Curiae The Cities of Black Hawk and Northglenn and the Towns of Hudson, Mountain View, and Parker: Hoffmann, Parker, Wilson & Carberry, P.C. Corey Y. Hoffmann Hilary M. Graham

          Attorneys for Amicus Curiae City and County of Denver: Kristin Bronson, City Attorney T. Shaun Sullivan, Assistant City Attorney Tracy A. Davis, Assistant City Attorney Joshua L. Roberts, Assistant City Attorney

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

          Attorneys for Amici Curiae Colorado Intergovernmental Risk Sharing Agency and the Cities of Lakewood and Aurora: Senter Goldfarb & Rice, LLC Eric M. Ziporin

          JUSTICE COATS concurs in the judgment in part, and JUSTICE EID joins in the concurrence in the judgment in part.

          JUSTICE MÁRQUEZ does not participate.


          HOOD, JUSTICE

          ¶1 When Arvada police officers responded to a reported domestic disturbance in Terry Ross's home, Ross slipped into a bedroom and shot himself. Severely injured but still alive, he needed immediate medical care. Officers radioed for an ambulance whose crew delivered him to Denver Health Medical Center, a public hospital. There, doctors treated Ross's wounds as Arvada officers kept watch over him. When Ross, and later his estate, could not pay for his care, Denver Health billed Arvada nearly $30, 000. The question presented is essentially whether Arvada must pay the tab.

         ¶2 The trial court and court of appeals said yes; both read Colorado's "Treatment while in custody" statute as entitling Denver Health to relief. Relying on Poudre Valley Health Care Inc. v. City of Loveland, 85 P.3d 558 (Colo.App. 2003), the trial court decided the statute assigned police departments (or any agency that detains people) a duty to pay healthcare providers for treatment of those in custody. The court of appeals affirmed on essentially the same grounds.

         ¶3 We conclude the statute does not create any duty to a healthcare provider. We further conclude, however, that Denver Health's claim for unjust enrichment survives. Because that claim is contractual, we conclude the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act does not prohibit it. We therefore reverse the judgment of the court of appeals in part and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         ¶4 Investigating a reported domestic disturbance, Arvada Police Officers Lechuga and Schlesser arrived at Terry Ross's home. He allowed them inside. After some conversation, he escaped into a bedroom where, Officer Schlesser worried, he may have hidden a gun. She ran after him, drew her own gun, and yelled at him to stop. Reaching the bedroom door just as it was closing, the officer saw Ross holding what she thought might be a handgun and feared he might shoot her. She fired at him. The door swung shut. When Officer Schlesser reopened the door and began to explore the room, she discovered that although her shot had missed Ross, he had shot himself and was bleeding from his head.

         ¶5 Officer Schlesser radioed to say she had detained Ross and that he needed immediate medical attention for the gunshot wound. An ambulance transported Ross to Denver Health. Arvada officers accompanied him to the hospital, where they photographed and interviewed him. After Ross received treatment, an Arvada police officer remained outside the room until the end of his shift, and the Denver Sheriff's Department, as part of its routine duty for Denver Health's secure wing, monitored the room for the balance of Ross's brief stay.

         ¶6 The bill for Ross's care at Denver Health totaled just under $35, 000.

         ¶7 About a month after he left the hospital, Ross committed suicide. When he died, he had not yet paid for his Denver Health treatment, but his estate contributed about $6, 000, bringing the remaining total to about $29, 000. Denver Health then billed that amount to Arvada.

         ¶8 Arvada refused to pay, and Denver Health sued the city to recover the funds. The hospital alleged two theories of liability: First, Colorado's "Treatment while in custody" statute, § 16-3-401, C.R.S. (2017), entitled it to recover Ross's remaining cost of care from Arvada, and second, the common law implied a contract requiring Arvada to repay Denver Health. Arvada defended on three grounds: First, the statute did not create a private right of action; second, it received no benefit from Denver Health to support its implied-contract claim; and third, the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act ("CGIA"), § 24-10-106(1), C.R.S. (2017), barred Denver Health's claims because they could sound in tort.

         ¶9 The parties stipulated to a set of operative facts and both sought summary judgment, which the trial court granted in Denver Health's favor. The court reasoned that section 16-3-401 required Arvada to pay for Ross's care, and that it therefore entitled Denver Health to repayment. Because the trial court resolved the claim on statutory grounds, it did not reach Denver Health's equitable, implied-contract claim. As to Arvada's contention that the CGIA barred the suit, the trial court concluded otherwise, reasoning Denver Health's claims were contractual and therefore outside the CGIA's scope.

         ¶10 Arvada appealed. The division below, relying on Poudre Valley, concluded section 16-3-401 required Arvada to pay for Ross's medical expenses. Because the statute imposed a duty to provide medical care, the division reasoned, it similarly imposed a duty to pay for that care.

         ¶11 The division further rejected Arvada's arguments that the statute did not (1) express a clear intent to impose civil liability on government agencies for payment of medical care, or (2) create a private right of action for medical providers. Like the division in Poudre Valley, the division in this case reasoned that the traditional limits on court-created civil private rights of action did not apply because Denver Health did not allege a statutory breach creating damages. Instead, the court of appeals observed, "[T]he hospital helped Arvada fulfill its statutory obligations by providing medical treatment to a person in Arvada's custody." Denver Health & Hosp. Auth. v. City of Arvada ex. rel. Arvada Police Dep't, 2016 COA 12, ¶ 36, __P.3d __.

         ¶12 As to Arvada's contention that, irrespective of the statutory issue, the CGIA barred Denver Health's claims, the division again disagreed. It concluded that Denver Health's theory of liability, however characterized, sounded solely in contract-not tort-and thus the CGIA could not immunize Arvada from suit.

         ¶13 Concluding the trial court properly resolved the case in Denver Health's favor, the division upheld that court's grant of summary judgment. Arvada petitioned this court for certiorari. We granted the petition.[1]

         II. Standard of Review

         ¶14 This court reviews a grant of summary judgment de novo. W. Elk Ranch, L.L.C. v. United States, 65 P.3d 479, 481 (Colo. 2002). We also review de novo whether the CGIA bars a particular claim because that determination raises a question of statutory construction. Robinson v. Colo. State Lottery Div., 179 P.3d 998, 1003 (Colo. 2008).

          III. Analysis

         ¶15 We resolve the issues raised in three steps. First, we clarify our framework for implied-private-right-of-action analysis, and then, applying that framework, we conclude section 16-3-401 does not create a claim entitling Denver Health to relief. The statute does not identify a duty owed to healthcare providers, does not indicate a legislative intent to create a right of action, and does not suggest that imputing one would comport with the legislative scheme. Second, we note that although Denver Health's statutory claim fails, its unjust-enrichment claim remains. Third, because Denver Health's unjust-enrichment claim sounds in contract, we conclude the CGIA presents no bar to that claim. Therefore, we reverse and remand for consideration of Denver Health's unjust-enrichment claim.

         A. Section 16-3-401 Does Not Entitle Denver ...

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