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Civil Appeals from County Court in Colorado
In the Colorado civil court system there are three main levels of courts: small claims court, county court, and district court. The main difference between the levels is the monetary amount that can be awarded at each level. Specifically, in small claims court up to $7,500 can be awarded, in county court up to $15,000 can be awarded, and in district court there is no maximum.
Accordingly, county court is frequently used for cases that are serious enough that the involvement of attorneys may be necessary or where discovery is needed to pursue certain claims, but not serious enough to justify filing in district court which has much more intensive discovery procedures and a longer litigation timeline. Examples of cases that are often filed in county court include eviction proceedings, simple money or breach of contract claims, and simple tort claims.
If a case goes to trial in county court, after a judgment is entered that judgment can be appealed pursuant to Colorado Rule of Civil Procedure (“C.R.C.P.”) 411. See also Colorado Revised Statutes (“C.R.S.”) §§ 13-6-310, 13-6-311. However, unlike traditional appeals which go to the Colorado Court of Appeals, county court appeals go to the next highest level – that is, district court.
This article generally discusses the appeals from county court involving money claims. Note that appeals of evictions in landlord-tenant actions have their own appeal process and governing statutes as dictated by C.R.S. §§ 13-40-117, 13-40-118, 13-40-120, and 13-40-123.
County Court Appeal Process under C.R.C.P. 411
Under C.R.C.P. 411, “if either party . . . believes that the judgment of the county court is in error, that party may appeal to the district court by filing a notice of appeal in the county court within 14 days after the date of entry of judgment.”
In addition to filing a notice of appeal, the appealing party must also file an appeal bond within the same time frame with the clerk of the county clerk. See C.R.C.P. 411(a). The amount of the appeal bond will be set by the county court and typically represents the amount at issue in the lawsuit as well as the costs of appeal. That is, an appeal bond is intended to cover the judgment amount and costs of the appeal in case the appealing party loses.
Further, the appellant must also pay an estimated fee for preparing the record must in addition to the appeal bond. The estimated fee is separate from the bond and is a cost incurred on appeal that the appellant may recover if she prevails. Id.
Once the bond and estimated fee are paid, the “county court shall discontinue all proceedings and recall any execution issued.” Id. Accordingly, the count court will thereby be deprived of jurisdiction and any issued judgments or writs of execution relating to those judgments will be stayed pending the outcome of the appeal.
Lastly, the appellant must also file and docket the appeal with the district court within 35 days of filing the notice of appeal.
Preparation of the Appeal Record
Upon payment of the estimated record fee by the appellant, “the clerk of the court shall prepare and . . . issue a record of the proceeding in the county court, including the summons, the complaint, proof of service, and the judgment.” See C.R.C.P. 411(b). The record shall also include a transcript of the hearing or any other proceedings that the parties designate as part of the record. Id.
Importantly, the prepared record is required to be lodged with the clerk of the court within 42 days after the filing of the notice of appeal. Id. The clerk shall also notify the parties of the completion of the record when the lodging occurs. Id. The parties then have 14 days to make any objections regarding the completeness of the record – for example, if exhibits are missing from the record or if portions of the transcript are incomplete. Id.
If any objections are made the parties shall be called for hearing and settled by the county court judge as soon as possible. Id. Once any objections are settled, or if no objections were made, the record shall be certified by the judge, filed with the clerk of the district court, and the parties notified by the clerk of the county court. Id.
Upon certification of the record and filing with the district court, the appellant will then have 21 days to file her appeal brief with the district court. See C.R.C.P. 411(d). Upon the filing of the appellant’s brief, the appellee will have 21 days to file an answering brief, if she chooses. Id. Notably, the time for filing appeal briefs may be extended upon motion as permitted within the discretion of the district court. Id.
Importantly, while the Colorado Rules of Appellate Procedure (“C.A.R.”) govern the content and format of briefs in the Colorado Court of Appeals, there appear to be no specific rules or requirements for the formatting of appeal briefs in district court. However, parties involved in an appeal from county court would be wise to look to the Colorado Rules of Appellate Procedure for guidance in how to format and structure their brief.
Specifically, appeal briefs traditionally contain:
– A table of contents;
– A table of authorities listing all cases and other law cited in the brief;
– A brief statement of the issue presented in the appeal;
– A procedural statement of the case;
– A summary of the arguments;
– The argument itself; and
– A conclusion requesting specific relief.
See C.A.R. 28. While there appears to be no rules or regulations specifically requiring that format, following that format will make it easier on the district court to follow and understand your appeal brief.
Determination of Appeal
After both parties have submitted their appeal briefs, the issues on appeal will then be ripe for review. Accordingly, the district court will review the appeal briefs, the record as it deems necessary, and render its decision. Receiving a decision frequently takes weeks, if not months, and is not a particularly speedy process.
Importantly, and unlike traditional appeals, in an appeal from county court the district court has the ability to hold a completely new trial on the merits of the case instead of simply affirming or overruling the county court’s decision. However this is relatively rare since, as C.R.C.P. 411 indicates, new trials should only be held where “the record of the proceedings in the county court have been lost or destroyed or for some other valid reason cannot be produced; or unless a party by proper proof to the court establishes that there is new and material evidence unknown and undiscoverable at the time of the trial in the county court which . . . might affect the outcome.” See C.R.C.P. 411(d).
When the district court has made a ruling, the judgment on appeal shall be certified to the county court for action as directed by the district court. However, where the district court has held a completely new trial, the district court shall enter and enforce the judgment in its own court. See C.R.C.P. 411(e).
© 2016 J.D. Porter, LLC; Jordan Porter. Denver, Colorado.