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Mason v. Farm Credit of Southern Colorado

Supreme Court of Colorado, En Banc

June 4, 2018

James C. Mason, a/k/a Jim Mason, Petitioner
v.
Farm Credit of Southern Colorado, ACA, and Farm Credit of Southern Colorado, FLCA. Respondents

          Certiorari to the Colorado Court of Appeals Court of Appeals Case No. 15CA852

          Attorneys for Petitioner: James M. Croshal Pueblo, Colorado

          Mullans Piersel and Reed, PC Shannon Reed Pueblo, Colorado

          Attorneys for Respondents: Spencer Fane LLP Scott C. Sandberg John O'Brien Denver, Colorado

          OPINION

          RICE CHIEF JUSTICE

         ¶1 In this case, we consider whether the petitioner was entitled to a jury trial under Rule 38 of the Colorado Rules of Civil Procedure.[1] The court of appeals held that the petitioner was not entitled to a jury trial because the claims in the respondents' original complaint were primarily equitable. Farm Credit of S. Colo., ACA v. Mason, 2017 COA 42, ___P.3d ___. In drawing this conclusion, the court of appeals ignored the claims in the respondents' amended complaint. That was in error. As in other contexts, for purposes of the civil jury trial right, a plaintiff's amended complaint supersedes its original complaint. Accordingly, we hold that when a plaintiff amends its complaint and a party properly requests a jury trial, the trial court should determine whether the case may be tried to a jury based on the claims in the amended complaint, not the original complaint. If the claims against a particular defendant in a plaintiff's amended complaint entitle that defendant to a jury trial, then "all issues of fact shall be tried by a jury, " upon a proper jury demand and payment of the requisite fee. C.R.C.P. 38. Here, the claims against the petitioner in the respondents' amended complaint were primarily legal, as opposed to equitable, meaning the petitioner was entitled to a jury trial under Rule 38. Therefore, we reverse the judgment of the court of appeals and remand the case to that court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         ¶2 Between 2008 and 2011, Zachary Mason ("Zach") farmed several properties in Otero County, Colorado. During this time, Zach executed several loan agreements with Farm Credit of Southern Colorado, ACA, and Farm Credit of Southern Colorado, FLCA (collectively, "Farm Credit"). As part of the loan agreements, Farm Credit owned a perfected security interest in some of Zach's crops, farm equipment, and other items of personal property. In May 2012, Zach defaulted on his loans. As a result, Farm Credit sued Zach for judgment on his notes, foreclosure of real property collateral, replevin of personal property collateral, conversion of insurance proceeds, civil theft, breach of contract, and fraud.

         ¶3 In March 2013, Farm Credit amended its complaint to add Zach's father, James Mason ("Mason"), as a defendant. Mason also farmed in Otero County, but his farming operations were separate from Zach's, and he did not cosign any of Zach's loans. In its amended complaint, Farm Credit brought claims against Mason for replevin and conversion, and it also requested an accounting. To support its replevin claim, Farm Credit alleged that Mason harvested and then sold, transferred, used, or stored crops that it held as collateral. Farm Credit sought the return of its crop collateral, plus any proceeds from the sale or use of it. To support its conversion claim, Farm Credit alleged that Mason used or disposed of crops, farm products, and machinery that Farm Credit held as collateral without remitting the proceeds to Farm Credit. The amended complaint did not significantly change the claims against Zach.[2]

         ¶4 In his answer, Mason demanded a jury trial. Farm Credit moved to strike Mason's jury demand. In its motion, Farm Credit argued that the claims in a plaintiff's initial complaint are the sole determinant of a defendant's right to a jury trial under Rule 38(a) and that because the claims in Farm Credit's original complaint were primarily equitable, Mason was not entitled to a jury trial. Alternatively, Farm Credit argued that even if the court considered the claims in its amended complaint to determine whether Mason was entitled to a jury trial, the basic thrust of those claims remained equitable. Mason opposed the motion, arguing that the claims against him in Farm Credit's amended complaint were primarily legal and that those were the only claims that the court should consider to decide the jury trial question. In a brief order, the trial court granted Farm Credit's motion, adopting "the authorities, reasoning, and analysis" as stated in the motion and finding that the basic thrust of the action was equitable. Following a bench trial, the trial court found that Mason was liable for conversion of the collateral.

         ¶5 Mason appealed the trial court's decision to strike his request for a jury trial. The court of appeals affirmed. Mason, ¶ 1. As relevant here, the court of appeals concluded that Farm Credit's original complaint "mainly [sought] judgment on promissory notes and the foreclosure and disposition of collateral, " id. at ¶ 18, meaning it was an equitable action to be tried to the court. Furthermore, the court of appeals rejected Mason's argument that the trial court should have considered the claims in Farm Credit's amended complaint (when he was first added as a defendant). Id. at ¶ 19. In so doing, the court of appeals did not explicitly discuss whether claims in an original, as opposed to an amended, complaint control the right to a jury trial; instead, it simply held that Mason had no right to a jury trial because "the basic thrust of the underlying action was equitable." Id. at ¶ 20.

         ¶6 We granted certiorari to decide whether a trial court must consider the claims in a plaintiff's amended complaint to determine whether a party is entitled to a jury trial under Rule 38.

         II. Standard of Review

         ¶7 We interpret the Colorado Rules of Civil Procedure de novo. DCP Midstream, LP v. Anadarko Petroleum Corp., 2013 CO 36, ¶ 24, 303 P.3d 1187, 1193. "Rules of procedure are interpreted according to their 'commonly understood and accepted meaning.'" Garcia v. Schneider Energy Servs., Inc., 2012 CO 62, ¶ 7, 287 P.3d 112, 114 (quoting Leaffer v. Zarlengo, 44 P.3d 1072, 1078 (Colo. 2002)). We construe them liberally to effectuate their objective "to secure the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of every action." C.R.C.P. 1.

         III. Analysis

         ¶8 This case requires us to decide whether trial courts must consider the claims in a plaintiff's amended complaint to determine whether a party is entitled to a jury trial under Rule 38. We conclude that they must. Our opinion proceeds in four parts. In Part A, we provide some background on Colorado's civil jury trial right and the issues presented by this case. In Part B, we explain how Rule 15 and Rule 38 of the Colorado Rules of Civil Procedure require the result we reach here. In Part C, we review our prior holdings in this area to clarify how the rule we adopt complements and is supported by those cases. Finally, in Part D, we apply our holding to the facts in this case and conclude that based on the claims in Farm Credit's ...


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