recent articles

‘Patent trolls’ in House Business spotlight

Thursday’s House Business, Labor and Technology Committee hearing might be sub-titled, Introduction to Patent Trolling, as legislators get their first look at legislation to address the obscure practice – bordering on extortion – of asserting dubious claims of patent infringement along with threats of litigation.

According to a recent piece in The Atlantic, the number of patent troll lawsuits has increased six-fold and the number of firms sued has increased by nine-fold.  In fact, the majority of patent lawsuits are now filed by “trolls,” reports the Harvard Business Review.

So, what is a patent troll?  A patent troll is someone with a plausible but dubious claim to a patent who adopts a business strategy of sending letters alleging patent infringement to companies that must choose between undertaking costly legal research to determine if patent infringement exists or pay the troll a licensing fee.  Typically, the troll has little risk and little at stake but can cause enormous expense to his or her target.  Read more

Committees hold key to civil justice legislation

During the 2015 legislation session, several committees are likely to hear key legislation related to our civil justice system.  Here’s a quick look at those the House and Senate Judiciary committees and legislators who chair them:

HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE

Rep. Daniel Kagan (D-Denver), Chair

An attorney, Rep. Kagan and his wife Faye managed a law firm specializing in representing plaintiffs who had been injured by negligently designed products, as well as criminal defendants  In 1996, he became the managing director of Kagan Textiles Limited, a small, family business which was on the verge of collapse.  He held the position for over 12 years and successfully brought derelict textile manufacturing plants back to economic life in what he describes as a “socially responsible” way.

Rep. Pete Lee (D-Colorado Springs), Vice Chair

Rep. John Buckner (D-Aurora)

Rep. Terri Carver (R-Colorado Springs)

Rep. Lois Court (D-Denver)

Rep. Tim Dore (R-Elizabeth)

Rep. Mike Foote (D-Lafayette)

Rep. Polly Lawrence (R-Castle Rock)

Rep. Paul Lundeen (R-Monument)

Rep. Brittany Pettersen (D-Denver)

Rep. Joe Salazar (D-Thornton)

Rep. Kevin Van Winkle (R-Highlands Ranch)

Rep. Yeulin Willett (R-Grand Junction)

 

SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE

Sen. Ellen Roberts (R-Durango), Chair

Sen. Roberts, who also serves as Senate President Pro Tem, is an attorney specializing in estate planning, probate and business law.  She is beginning her second term in the Senate after serving two terms in the House of Representatives.  She serves on the board of directors of 1st National Bank of Durango, is the past chairwoman of the Mercy Regional Medical Center board, and is a member of a number of other local community groups.  She is a past winner of CCJL’s Common Sense in the Courtroom Award.

Sen. Kevin Lundberg (R-Berthoud), Vice Chair

Sen. John Cooke (R-Greeley)

Sen. Lucia Guzman (D-Denver)

Sen. Michael Merrifield (D-Manitou Springs)

 

HOUSE BUSINESS, LABOR & TECHNOLOGY COMMITTEE

Rep. Angela Williams (D-Denver), Chair

Rep. Williams, who also serves as Democratic Caucus Chair, has been a small business owner for many years and currently owns the Angela Williams Agency, an insurance consulting firm. With a strong business background, her primary focus in the legislature has been to reduce red tape on small businesses and protect the health, safety and rights of Colorado workers.  She has a degree in criminal justice from Northeastern State University in Oklahoma and is a past recipient of CCJL’s Common Sense in the Courtroom Award.

Rep. Tracy Kraft-Tharp (D-Arvada), Vice Chair

Rep. Jeni Arndt (D-Fort Collins)

Rep. Alec Garnett (D-Denver)

Rep. Clarice Navarro Ratzlaff (R-Pueblo West)

Rep. Dan Nordberg (R-Colorado Springs)

Rep. Dan Pabon (D-Denver)

Rep. Paul Rosenthal (D-Denver)

Rep. Kit Roupe (R-Colorado Springs)

Rep. Libby Szabo (R-Arvada) *Resigned Jan. 16.

Rep. Jack Tate (R-Centennial)

Rep. Dan Thurlow (R-Grand Junction)

Rep. Faith Winter (D-Westminster)

 

SENATE BUSINESS, LABOR & TECHNOLOGY COMMITTEE

Sen. David Balmer (R-Centennial), Chair

Sen. Balmer is a former senior manager for Cherokee Investment Partners, the nation’s largest private equity firm specializing in brownfield redevelopment.  As a Lieutenant Colonell in the U.S. Army he served in deployments to Afghanistan and Bosnia.  He is in his first term in the Senate after serving seven years in the House.  He is a graduate of the University of North Caroline and Wake Forest Law School.  He is a past recipient of CCJL’s Common Sense in the Courtroom Award.

Sen. Chris Holbert (R-Parker), Vice Chair

Sen. Irene Aguilar (D-Denver)

Sen. Randy Baumgardner (R-Cowdrey)

Sen. Rollie Heath (D-Boulder)

Sen. Cheri Jahn (D-Wheat Ridge)

Sen. Tim Neville (R-Littleton)

Sen. Linda Newell (D-Littleton)

Sen. Laura Woods (R-Arvada)

CCJL announces winners of Common Sense legislator awards

DENVER — Colorado Civil Justice League has announced winners of its Common Sense in the Courtroom Awards, given to state legislators who have demonstrated a commitment to stopping lawsuit abuse.

Awards will be presented at CCJL’s Legislative Awards Luncheon on Oct. 8 at the Denver Four Seasons.  Tickets are available at www.CCJL.org.

CCJL is the only organization in Colorado dedicated exclusively to stopping lawsuit abuse while preserving a system of civil justice that fairly compensates actual victims.

“At CCJL, we are grateful for the bipartisan support of legislators who understand the importance of an efficient and balanced court system to our state’s economy,” said Jeff Weist, CCJL legislative director.

This year, the General Assembly passed a handful of reforms, including liability protections for volunteers at emergencies, as well as a bill to establish a personal responsibility standard for participants in certain agricultural activities, including “agritourism.”  Legislators also defeated several attempts to expand litigation.

Common Sense in the Courtroom Award recipients include:

• Representatives Perry Buck, Kathleen Conti, Don Coram, Brian DelGrosso, Tim Dore, Justin Everett, Leroy Garcia, Bob Gardner, Cheri Gerou, Chris Holbert, Steve Humphrey, Janak Joshi, Tracy Kraft-Tharp, Lois Landgraf, Polly Lawrence, Jenise May, Frank McNulty, Carole Murray, Clarice Navarro Ratzlaff, Dan Nordberg, Dan Pabon, Kevin Priola, Bob Rankin, Lori Saine, Ray Scott, Jerry Sonnenberg, Amy Stephens, Spencer Swalm, Libby Szabo, Ed Vigil, Mark Waller, Angela Williams, Jim Wilson and Jared Wright.

• Senators David Balmer, Randy Baumgardner, Greg Brophy, Bill Cadman, Larry Crowder, Kevin Grantham, Ted Harvey, Bernie Herpin, Owen Hill, Cheri Jahn, John Kefalas, Steve King, Kent Lambert, Kevin Lundberg, Vicki Marble, Scott Renfroe, George Rivera, Ellen Roberts, Mark Scheffel and Lois Tochtrop.

Employers need tools for workplace safety, CCJL says in brief to Supreme Court

Businesses ask court for flexibility to determine employee drug policies

Employers need flexibility to craft drug policies necessary to preserve safety and accountability, says Colorado Civil Justice League in a brief field today with Colorado Supreme Court.

Read CCJL’s Brief HERE.

Coats v. Dish Network is a highly-scrutinized case that tests the limits of Colorado’s Amendment 20 which legalized “medical marijuana” under state law.  Plaintiff Brandon Coats, a quadriplegic who used medical-marijuana, was fired by Dish Network after he failed a drug test, violating the employer’s policy that prohibited marijuana use.

Colorado’s lawful off-duty activity statute (LODAS) prohibits employers from terminating an employee for “engaging in any lawful activity” off the job. Read more

Legislature 2014: Little Damage, Little Progress

No man’s life, liberty or property are safe while the legislature is in session – Mark Twain

Now Coloradans can breath easily for a few months as this year’s Legislature caused little damage but also produced little progress.

On the litigation front, thanks to a bipartisan coalition in the Colorado Senate, trial lawyers were forced to trim their sails – so businesses and consumers faced fewer threats of jackpot justice interfering with consumer choice.

The limited good news emanating from the legislature also passed on a bipartisan basis as two bills offering protections against litigation passed unanimously. Read more

Senate president’s antics doom housing bill

A bill aimed at easing the litigation logjam that has stifled construction of multi-family owner-occupied housing died on Monday – not because it was voted down, but because of procedural maneuvers by Senate President Morgan Carroll (D-Aurora).

Senate Bill 220, sponsored by Sen. Jessie Ulibarri (D-Adams County) and Sen. Mark Scheffel (R-Parker), passed the Senate State Affairs Committee on Monday, but with just three days left in the legislative session, the bill needed to pass to the full Senate on the same day.  That became virtually impossible when Carroll, a trial lawyer, used her authority as senate president to needlessly assign the bill to two committees – meaning both committees would also need to act on the bill on the same day and then pass it to the full Senate. Read more

Housing affordability bill finally unveiled

With just three days to go in this year’s legislative session, the long-awaited, frequently-rumored bill aimed at easing the litigation logjam that has halted construction of owner-occupied multi-family housing in Colorado gets its first hearing today.

Senate Bill 219 by Sen. Jessie Ulibarri (D-Adams County) and Sen. Mark Scheffel (R-Parker) attempts to resolve construction defects in a housing development through a much more inclusive process that requires participation and approval by a majority of homeowners.  Today, a small minority of owners, under the influence of a smooth-talking plaintiffs lawyer, can effectively put a cloud of litigation over the homes of countless other families by filing a lawsuit that subsequently makes selling or buying other units next to impossible.

Let’s give credit to Ulibarri: although he probably introduces more bills likely to generate litigation than any other legislator, he is generally reasonable and willing to consider other, less adversarial means of resolving a problem that he’s identified.  Ulibarri sunk his teeth into this issue and came up with this bill.  In fact, he apparently came up with this bill more than a month ago, but got sidetracked by struggles with legislative leadership whose priority seems to be protecting the pockets of the aforementioned smooth-talking plaintiffs lawyers rather than resolving a problem that vexes homeowners, as well as homebuilders.  After all, and this may come as news to legislative leadership, would-be homebuyers need homebuilders in order to have homes they can buy. Read more

Businesses get right to cure ADA problems

Thanks to a bipartisan group of common-sense legislators, small businesses will have a chance to fix violations that impair access to people with disabilities under Senate Bill 118, which attempts to harmonize Colorado disability law with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.  Businesses that fix an accessibility problem within 30 days after a complaint is filed are entitled to a 50 percent reduction in fines that are imposed by the bill.

The bipartisan amendment to SB 118 includes a prohibition on “stacking” damages so that a business cannot be subjected to an additional fine for each day the violation exists and ensures that all defenses available under federal law are likewise available under state law.  The bill now moves to the House for consideration.

In other legislative action: Read more

Two weeks left, four new bills unveiled

Procrastinators are working overtime at the State Capitol with just over two weeks left in the legislative session.  Four new bills with potential bearing on Colorado’s litigation climate have been introduced, and with another which had been idling in its original committee since January has finally moved forward.

The ever-ambitious Sen. Jessie Ulibarri (D-Adams County) introduced a bill creating a new family leave insurance program to be administered by state government.  Senate Bill 196 would provide up to 12 weeks of compensation for employees who take leave of employment.  The program would be funded by a new payroll deduction of 0.42 percent of gross pay from all employees of Colorado businesses.  This bill wouldn’t be on our radar, except that it creates a new liability for employers who are accused of violating the law.

Workers compensation was the topic of many discussions last fall, but the resulting bills on that topic were only recently introduced.  The good news is that neither Senate Bill 191 nor House Bill 1383 make changes to existing no-fault system.  We’re keeping an eye on them, just in case!

Opponents of the upcoming personhood ballot initiative responded to our comments noting certain ironies and inconsistencies in their pre-emptive House Bill 1324.  After a committee hearing two weeks ago, no vote was taken and just yesterday an apparent replacement bill, House Bill 1388, was introduced.  The new bill would make civil damages for wrongful termination of a pregnancy much more consistent with the existing wrongful death statute.

Finally, Senate Bill 118, introduced on Jan. 27, received its first committee hearing on Monday, April 21, after being largely re-written.  The bill to increase penalties for disability discrimination has been substantially modified but still contains a patently unfair fee-shifting provision that allows recovery of attorney fees by successful plaintiffs – but not by defendants whose time and resources were wasted by specious claims.

Procrastinators surely are not yet finished.  After all, the construction affordability and liability bill that is a legislative priority for Denver metro mayors still has not been introduced.