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Romero v. Helmerich & Payne International Drilling Co.

United States District Court, D. Colorado

November 30, 2017

SILO ROMERO, Plaintiff,


          Nina Y. Wang, United States Magistrate Judge.

         This matter comes before the court on the following post-trial motions:

(1) Plaintiff Silo Romero's (“Plaintiff” or “Mr. Romero”) “Motion for Pre-Judgment Interest and to Set Rate of Post-Judgment Interest, ” (“Motion Regarding Interest”). [#138, filed September 19, 2017];
(2) Defendant Helmerich & Payne International Drilling Co.'s (“Defendant” or “H&P”) Motion to Stay Execution of Judgment and Approve Bond (“Motion to Stay”), [#139, filed September 19, 2017]; and
(3) Defendant's Motion for New Trial, [#146, filed October 2, 2017].

         These Motions are before the court pursuant to the Order of Reference dated July 13, 2015 [#24], 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), Fed.R.Civ.P. 73, and D.C.COLO.LCivR 72.2. The court has carefully considered the Motions and related briefing, the entire case file, the applicable case law, and the comments offered during the November 13, 2017 Motions Hearing, and, for the following reasons, orders that the Motion Regarding Interest is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART, the Motion to Stay is GRANTED, and the Motion for New Trial is DENIED.


         Plaintiff Silo Romero (“Plaintiff” or “Mr. Romero”) initiated this action on December 24, 2014, by filing a Complaint in the District Court for Mesa County, Colorado. [#5] Plaintiff asserted one claim for wrongful discharge in violation of public policy, alleging that he was either actually or constructively terminated from his employment with H&P in retaliation for seeking workers' compensation benefits for lost wages incurred after an on-the-job injury. H&P contended that Mr. Romero voluntarily resigned. H&P removed the action from state court, and this court exercises diversity jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. See [#1].

         Trial in this matter commenced before a jury on August 14, 2017. On August 18, 2017, following five days of trial, the jury returned a special verdict, finding in favor of Plaintiff as to liability and awarding him $100, 000 in noneconomic losses and $500, 000 in economic losses. [#134]. The jury also determined that this award should be reduced by the amount of $20, 000 due to Plaintiff's failure to mitigate his damages. Id. On September 5, 2017, the court entered judgment in Mr. Romero's favor and against H&P in the amount of $580, 000. [#137]. The court awarded Mr. Romero postjudgment interest to be calculated pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1961 and his costs, to be taxed by the Clerk of the Court pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(d)(1) and D.C.COLO.LCivR 54.1. See id.

         On September 19, 2017, Plaintiff filed the Motion Regarding Interest, asking that the court award him prejudgment interest pursuant to certain Colorado law and federal authority that applies in a diversity action, and that the court set the postjudgment interest rate at 1.24 percent. [#138]. The same day, H&P filed the Motion to Stay pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 62(b) and (d), asking the court to stay enforcement of the judgment and to approve a bond in the amount of $725, 000 as security. [#139]. Defendant filed a Response to the Motion Regarding Interest on October 2, 2017. [#145]. Plaintiff filed a Response to the Motion to Stay on October 3, 2017. [#147]. Defendant filed a Reply in support of its Motion on October 9, 2017, [#148], and Plaintiff filed a Reply in support of his Motion on October 12, 2017, [#152].

         On October 2, 2017, H&P filed a Motion for a New Trial pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59. [#146]. Plaintiff filed a Response on October 25, 2017, [#158], and Defendant filed a Reply on November 7, 2017, [#160].

         On November 12, 2017, Plaintiff submitted a “Notice Regarding Amount of Pre-Judgment Interest on Non-Economic Damages; and Updates to Other Calculations” (the “Notice”). [#161]. On November 13, 2017, the court presided over a Motion Hearing and took argument with respect to the Motion Regarding Interest and Motion to Stay. See [#162].


         I. Motion Regarding Interest

         Mr. Romero asks the court to award him prejudgment interest as applied to personal injury damages pursuant to Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-21-101. He also asks the court to award postjudgment interest at a rate of 1.24 percent. Because the court exercises diversity jurisdiction over this action, it looks to state law to determine whether prejudgment interest on damages is allowed. See, e.g., Casto v. Arkansas-Louisiana Gas Co., 562 F.2d 622, 625 (10th Cir. 1977); AE, Inc. v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., 576 F.3d 1050, 1055 (10th Cir. 2009) (“It is well established that a ‘federal court sitting in diversity applies state law, not federal law, regarding the issue of prejudgment interest.'”) (quoting Loughridge v. Chiles Power Supply Co., 431 F.3d 1268, 1288 (10th Cir. 2005)). In applying Colorado law, this court “must look to the rulings of the highest state court.” Stickley v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 505 F.3d 1070, 1077 (10th Cir. 2007) (also holding that federal courts must “giv[e] ‘proper regard' to relevant rulings of other courts of the State” if no directly applicable “highest state court” ruling exists).

         A. Stipulated issues

         Although out of order from the briefing submitted by the Parties, the court begins with the issues the Parties do not dispute. The Parties agree for the purpose of the interest calculation on the following operative dates: December 27, 2012, as the date of the accrual of the claim; December 24, 2014, as the date Plaintiff filed the lawsuit; and September 5, 2017, as the date of the entry of judgment. The Parties also agree that Plaintiff should receive prejudgment interest on his noneconomic damages award of $100, 000 pursuant to Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-21-101, as applicable to personal injuries.

         While the Parties originally disagreed as to the calculation of the correct amount of prejudgment interest on the award of noneconomic damages, Plaintiff's Notice filed November 12, 2017 reflects the Parties' stipulation as to the amount, which stipulation Defendant subsequently confirmed at oral argument the following day. [#161, #162-1 at 2]. Therefore, the court finds that the prejudgment interest associated with the jury verdict of $100, 000 in noneconomic damages totals $48, 917.43.

         Additionally, Plaintiff concedes in his Reply that the proper postjudgment interest rate is 1.23 percent, and accordingly, this court sets the postjudgment interest rate as such, applied to the jury verdict from September 5, 2017 forward.

         The court now turns to the disputed issues arising from the jury's award of economic damages.

         B. Prejudgment Interest Applied to Economic Damages Award

         Plaintiff argues that the court should award Mr. Romero prejudgment interest from the date the action accrued, i.e., December 27, 2012, to the date of the judgment, September 5, 2017 at a rate of 9 percent per annum, as set by Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-21-101 that is applicable to personal injury money judgments. Defendant contends that the applicable interest rate is derived not from § 13-21-101, but from the Colo. Rev. Stat. § 5-12-102 that provides for 8 percent per annum. Defendant also contends that no prejudgment interest is applicable to any award of front pay, either because Plaintiff's expert already included front pay in his calculation, or because § 5-12-102 only allows prejudgment interest on Plaintiff's past economic damages. [#145]. In reply, Mr. Romero insists that the application of § 13-21-101 is proper because his claim is tort in nature; § 13-21-101 provides for prejudgment interest on future damages; and the damage calculations for past losses were not adjusted by either inflation or a growth rate. [#152]. Plaintiff further argues, in the alternative, should the court disagree regarding the applicable statute and/or award of prejudgment interest on future damages, his past economic losses as identified by the jury total at least $237, 630.

         1. Applicable Colorado Statute

         The court first turns to address which prejudgment interest statute applies. Interest is commonly understood as “the compensation allowed by law, or fixed by the parties, for the use, detention, or forbearance of money or its equivalent.” Farmers Reservoir and Irr. Co. v. City of Golden, 113 P.3d 119, 132 (Colo. 2005) (quoting Stone v. Currigan, 138 Colo. 442, 445, 334 P.2d 740, 741 (1959)). “[T]he purpose of prejudgment interest is to reimburse the plaintiff for inflation and lost return.” Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. v. Holmes, 193 P.3d 821, 826 (Colo. 2008) (citing Mesa Sand & Gravel Co. v. Landfill, Inc., 776 P.2d 362, 364 (Colo. 1989) (“Section 5-12-102 recognizes the time value of money.”). “The right to prejudgment interest, independent of an agreement to pay it, is statutory.” South Park Aggregates v. Northwestern National Insurance Co., 847 P.2d 218 (Colo.App. 1992). And a trial court's award of prejudgment interest under Colorado statute is “a ministerial act that is mandatory and does not require the exercise of judgment or discretion.” Todd v. Bear Valley Village Apts., 980 P.2d 973, 981 (Colo. 1999).

         Prejudgment interest is available in Colorado pursuant to one of two statutes. Section 5-12-102, C.R.S. serves as Colorado's “general prejudgment and postjudgment statute.” Farmers Reservoir, 113 P.3d at 133 (citing Great W. Sugar Co. v. KN Energy, Inc., 778 P.2d 272, 276 (Colo.App. 1989)). Section 5-12-102 is known as the “wrongful withholding statute, ” and applies in all actions that do not involve personal injury. The section is “comprehensive in scope, ” but has been described as providing for prejudgment interest in cases where “the aggrieved party lost or was deprived of something to which she was otherwise entitled.” Parker, 200 P.3d at 353 n.3 (quoting Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. v. Holmes,193 P.3d 821, 825 (Colo. 2008)). As the Goodyear Tire court explained, “[w]hen a plaintiff is injured by a defendant, she is wronged by that defendant's action and becomes entitled to damages.” Id. at 826 (citing Seaward Constr. Co. Inc. v. Bradley,817 P.2d 971, 975 (Colo. 1991)). A plaintiff typically seeks damages that would make her whole at the time they are measured; however, the defendant generally does not pay those damages until later, when they are awarded by the court. “During the period between the time at which the plaintiff's loss is measured and the judgment, the plaintiff is deprived of the use of the money or property that would constitute the award”; in other words, the money comprising the damages award ...

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