Arik Hansen, as the surviving parent of Wendy Ulmer, deceased, Plaintiff-Appellant,
Barron's Oilfield Service, Inc., a Colorado corporation; and Victor Hierro, Defendants-Appellees.
County District Court No. 16CV31446 Honorable Emily E.
Announced September 6, 2018 Bachus & Schanker, LLC, J.
Kyle Bachus, Claire Soto, Denver, Colorado, for
Padilla & Padilla, PLLC, Joaquin G. Padilla, Denver,
Colorado, for Defendant-Appellee Barron's Oilfield
Ukasick Law Firm, Troy A. Ukasick, Loveland, Colorado, for
Defendant-Appellee Victor Hierro
1 In this wrongful death action, plaintiff, Arik Hansen,
appeals the district court's judgment granting the motion
to dismiss of defendant, Barron's Oilfield Service, Inc.
(Barron's), for lack of standing under the Colorado
Wrongful Death Act (WDA). §§ 13-21-201 to -204, C.R.S.
2017. We conclude that whether the parent of a deceased adult
has standing to bring a wrongful death action under section
13-21-201(1) is determined as of the decedent's date of
death; thus, under the circumstances here, a parent of an
adult deceased does not have standing to sue under the WDA
when the deceased was married at the time of her death.
Accordingly, we affirm the judgment and remand with
Background and Procedural History
2 Wendy Ulmer (Wife) died in an automobile collision with
Barron's employee, Victor Hierro, on March 21, 2016. At
the time of her death, Wife was married to Benjamin Ulmer
(Husband) and had no children. It is undisputed that when
Wife died, she was married to Husband, and that Husband
3 On July 29, 2016, the law firm of Bachus & Schanker
filed a wrongful death action on Husband's behalf, naming
Barron's and Hierro as defendants. However, apparently
unbeknownst to the attorneys, Husband had died of natural
causes sometime prior to the filing of the
4 Upon learning of Husband's death, Bachus & Schanker
filed an amended complaint on September 9, 2016, substituting
Hansen, Wife's father (Parent), as the plaintiff. In
October, Barron's filed a motion to dismiss under
C.R.C.P. 12(b)(5), arguing for dismissal of the action based
on Parent's lack of standing to sue under the WDA. The
motion argued that the WDA must be strictly construed, and
that, under section 13-21-201(1)(c)(I), a parent has standing
to sue for the death of an adult child only when, as of the
date of death, the adult child is unmarried and has no
children. Thus, Barron's argued, Parent did not have
standing to sue because Wife was married to Husband at the
time of her death.
5 In his response to the motion to dismiss, Parent argued
that the WDA should be liberally construed to conclude that,
under the circumstances here, where Husband died prior to
filing a wrongful death action, Parent should be allowed to
file the action. Parent argued that because Husband was dead
at the time Parent filed his wrongful death action, Wife was
"unmarried" for purposes of section
13-21-201(1)(c)(I) of the WDA.
6 The district court ruled in favor of Barron's,
concluding that, because Wife was a married adult without
children on the date of her death, Parent did not have
standing under section 13-21-201(1)(c)(I) to bring a wrongful
death action. Accordingly, the district court dismissed
Parent's action with prejudice, and this appeal followed.
Standard of Review
7 Although Barron's motion to dismiss was nominally filed
pursuant to C.R.C.P. 12(b)(5), for failure to state a claim
upon which relief could be granted, the only basis for the
district court's order granting the motion was
Parent's lack of standing under the WDA to sue for the
death of Wife. "Standing is a component of subject
matter jurisdiction and is a constitutional prerequisite to
maintaining a lawsuit." Sandstrom v. Solen,
2016 COA 29, ¶ 14 (quoting Maralex Res., Inc. v.
Chamberlain, 2014 COA 5, ¶ 8). Thus, we analyze the
motion to dismiss as a motion under C.R.C.P. 12(b)(1), based
on lack of subject matter jurisdiction.
8 The issue of standing is a legal question that we review de
novo. Sandstrom, ¶ 14. We employ a mixed
standard of review for motions to dismiss for lack of subject
matter jurisdiction. Grant Bros. Ranch, LLC v. Antero
Res. Piceance Corp., 2016 COA 178, ¶ 15. We review
the district court's factual findings for clear error and
the court's legal conclusions de novo. Id.
9 We also review a district court's interpretation of a
statute de novo. Id. Our primary task in
interpreting statutes is to give effect to the General
Assembly's intent by looking to the statute's plain
language. E.g., Stanley v. Dist. Attorney,
2017 COA 33, ¶ 10. "To discern the General
Assembly's intent, we look to the plain language of the
statute, and where that language is clear and unambiguous, we
engage in no further statutory analysis."
Hotsenpiller v. Morris, 2017 COA 95, ¶ 18
(quoting People v. Rice, 2015 COA 168, ¶ 11).
Where the language of a statute is plain and clear, we must
apply the statute as written. In re 2000-2001 Dist. Grand
Jury, 97 P.3d 921, 924 (Colo. 2004). We must read and
consider the statute as a whole in order to give consistent,
harmonious, and sensible effect to all of its parts.
Stanley, ¶ 10. However, a statutory
interpretation leading to an illogical or absurd result will
not be followed. Id. Further, we may not adopt a
construction that renders any term superfluous or
meaningless. Rice, ¶ 11.
10 A statute's silence on an issue does not necessarily
mean that the statute is ambiguous. In re 2000-2001 Dist.
Grand Jury, 97 P.3d at 924. "If . . . a statute can
be construed and applied as written, the legislature's
silence on collateral matters is not this court's
concern, for we will not strain to construe a statute unless
necessary to avoid an absurd result." Id.
11 The WDA creates a statutory right to bring suit for a
person's death resulting from negligence. Section
13-21-201 is titled "Damages for death" and governs
deaths resulting from the negligence of railroad employees
and common carriers and, of importance for this case, defines
who has the statutory right to file a wrongful death action
and when. As relevant here, the statute provides the
(1) When any person dies from any injury resulting
from or occasioned by the negligence, unskillfulness, or
criminal intent of any officer, agent, servant, or employee
[of a railroad or other common carrier] . . . [the employer]
shall forfeit and pay for every person and passenger so
injured the sum of not exceeding ten thousand dollars and not
less than three thousand dollars, which may be sued for and
(a) In the first year after such death:
(I) By the spouse of the deceased;
(II) Upon the written election of the spouse, by the
spouse and the heir or heirs of the deceased;
(III) Upon the written election of the spouse, by
the heir or heirs of the deceased; or
(IV) If there is no spouse, by the heir or heirs of
the deceased or the designated beneficiary, if there is one
designated pursuant to article 22 of title 15, C.R.S., with
the right to bring an action pursuant to this section, and if
there is no ...