COLORADO COURT OF APPEALS
June 4, 2020
2020 COA 87. No. 18CA1769. Chan v. HEI Resources, Inc. Federal Securities Law—Colorado Securities Act—Investment Contracts—Business Organizations—General Partnerships.
Defendants solicited thousands of investors nationwide by offering them interests in oil and gas exploration and drilling joint ventures. Interested parties were sent a joint venture agreement (JVA). Under the JVA, the joint ventures were organized as general partnerships, and the partners had significant management rights and responsibilities, and were jointly and severally liable for joint venture liabilities. Plaintiff, in his official capacity as Colorado’s securities commissioner, brought this enforcement action against defendants for violating the Colorado Securities Act (CSA) by employing unlicensed sales representatives to offer and sell unregistered securities. Plaintiff alleged that notwithstanding that the investors are designated general partners in the joint ventures, their interests are securities—specifically, investment contracts—under the CSA, and they violated the CSA when offering those interests.
In 2013, following a partial summary judgment and a trial, the trial court found that the joint venture interests were not investment contracts and therefore were not securities under the CSA. The court reached that conclusion after applying the leading case, Williamson v. Tucker, 645 F.2d 404 (5th Cir. 1981), which identifies three ways in which a party can overcome a strong presumption that a general partnership interest isn’t an investment contract. Plaintiff appealed, and a prior Court of Appeals’ division reversed, concluding that the Williamson presumption doesn’t apply in an action under the CSA and the trial court erred by considering the partners’ general, rather than venture-specific, business experience under the second Williamson test. The division remanded, and on remand, the trial court first determined that the general partners’ interests were investment contracts under the second and third Williamson tests and “other economic realities.” After taking additional evidence, the court later ruled that defendants had violated the CSA, enjoined them from engaging in securities-related activities in Colorado, and ordered certain defendants to pay plaintiff restitution.
On appeal, defendants argued that the prior division erroneously departed from well-established federal securities law by rejecting the Williamson presumption. The Williamson presumption applies when general partnership interests are alleged to be investment contracts under the CSA. Where the parties’ agreement purports to give participants rights typical of those possessed by a general partner, there is a strong presumption that the general partnership interests are not investment contracts. Here, it is undisputed that the JVA gives partners partnership powers, so the presumption applies.
Defendants also contended that the division in the first appeal erred by requiring collective venture-specific experience. Under the second Williamson test, a collective lack of venture-specific experience isn’t dispositive; it is relevant, but what ultimately matters is whether the partners have sufficient collective knowledge and experience to intelligently exercise their powers
Defendants further argued that the trial court erred by narrowly focusing on whether any of the general partners themselves possessed the skills necessary to replace the managing partner. Under the third Williamson test, the question is whether the managing partner is essentially irreplaceable, considering the nature of the venture and the managing partner’s knowledge and experience, so the trial court’s focus was too narrow.
Defendants also argued that the trial court erred by finding that the general partners’ interests are investment contracts under “other economic realities.” Although the three Williamson tests aren’t exclusive, those tests account for economic realities, and the court should consider other economic realities only if they aren’t adequately accounted for under the Williamson tests.
The judgment was reversed and the case was remanded to re-determine, consistent with this opinion, whether the joint venture interests are investment contracts.
2020 COA 88. No. 18CA2405. Johnson-Linzy v. Conifer Care Communities A, LLC. Arbitration Agreements—Subject Matter Jurisdiction—Impossibility of Performance.
Defendants manage Amberwood Court Rehabilitation and Care Community (Amberwood Court). Plaintiff signed an arbitration agreement when her husband was admitted to Amberwood Court. Plaintiff’s husband stayed at Amberwood Court for several weeks and passed away shortly after he was discharged Plaintiff then sued defendants for negligence and wrongful death, and defendants moved to stay the lawsuit and compel arbitration. The district court denied defendants’ motion, finding that compliance with the arbitration agreement was impossible because the agreement specifically referred to using the National Arbitration Forum (NAF) arbitration code, and NAF had left the consumer arbitration business years before.
On appeal, defendants contended that the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to determine the enforceability of the arbitration agreement because the parties agreed that an arbitrator would have the power to rule on issues relating to the agreement’s validity, including objections concerning its enforceability. The district court had jurisdiction to determine enforceability of the arbitration agreement because the parties did not plainly and unambiguously empower an arbitrator to decide that issue.
Defendants also argued that the trial court erred by denying the motion to enforce arbitration because despite NAF’s unavailability, another arbitrator could use the NAF Code to preside over the arbitration. A court may deny a motion to compel arbitration where there is no valid agreement to arbitrate, or the issue sought to be arbitrated is clearly beyond the scope of the arbitration provision. Here, the arbitration agreement memorializes the parties’ intention to arbitrate and the rules to govern that arbitration, but it leaves open the possibility that someone other than NAF could conduct the proceedings. Thus, the trial court erred.
The order was reversed and the case was remanded to the district court to compel arbitration.
June 11, 2020
2020 COA 89. No. 17CA0042. People in the Interest of D.F.A.E. Juvenile Law—Delinquency— Voir Dire—Peremptory Challenge—Evidence— Rape Shield Statute.
A jury found D.F.A.E. (D.E.) guilty of enticement and one count of sexual assault, and the juvenile court adjudicated him delinquent for acts that, if committed by an adult, would constitute sexual assault and enticement of a child.
On appeal, D.E. argued that the juvenile court committed reversible error by not excusing a juror who disclosed relevant information after voir dire but before trial. During voir dire, Juror N answered “no” to questions about being a victim of a crime, specifically sexual assault, sexual contact, or rape. After the jury was sworn, Juror N disclosed to the court and counsel that her daughter had been date raped and became pregnant at age 14. Because Juror N didn’t intentionally withhold the information, and she expressed assurances that she could be fair and impartial, the juvenile court properly exercised its discretion when it allowed her to continue to serve on the jury. Further, even if D.E. would have exercised a peremptory challenge to strike Juror N, that, by itself, would not establish reversible prejudice.
D.E. next contended that the juvenile court abused its discretion by allowing the prosecution to introduce evidence of the victim’s virginity. Here, there was a single reference to the sexual assault examination notes about last sexual activity, and the court gave an appropriate limiting instruction before the jury heard an audio recording of the detective’s question to D.E. about the victim’s virginity. Therefore, any error in the admission of the virginity evidence was harmless.
D.E. further contended that the juvenile court abused its discretion by barring his evidence that the victim was actively seeking to lose her virginity. The rape shield statute creates a presumption that evidence relating to a victim’s prior sexual conduct is irrelevant. The juvenile court did not abuse its discretion in finding that D.E.’s offer of proof didn’t overcome the presumption that the evidence of the victim allegedly trying to lose her virginity was prohibited by the rape shield statute. Further, this evidence was irrelevant as to whether she consented to have sex with D.E, and the prejudicial effect of the evidence substantially outweighs any minimal relevance.
D.E. also argued that the juvenile court erred by allowing two expert witnesses to improperly bolster the victim’s credibility. However, the brief references to credibility did not substantially influence the verdict or affect the fairness of the proceedings.
The adjudication was affirmed.
2020 COA 90. No. 17CA0354. People v. Market. Criminal Law—Sexual Assault on a Child—Statute of Limitations—Tolling—Evidence—Force.
In 1996, 4-year-old A.R. was sexually assaulted by a man she did not know who entered her bedroom through a window. The assault initially remained unsolved. In 2014, the police ran fingerprints from old cases through a national fingerprint database and learned that defendant’s fingerprints from an unrelated burglary matched those found on a screen removed from A.R.’s window on the date of the assault. A...