City of Arvada ex rel. Arvada Police Department, Petitioners
Denver Health and Hospital Authority. Respondent
to the Colorado Court of Appeals Court of Appeals Case No.
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.
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.
¶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.
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.
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.
Facts and Procedural History
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.
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.
The bill for Ross's care at Denver Health totaled just
under $35, 000.
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.
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.
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.
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
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 __.
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.
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.
Standard of Review
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).
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.
Section 16-3-401 Does Not Entitle Denver ...