Suing an Out-Of-State Resident in Colorado and Denver Courts
In today’s modern society where people can easily travel and conduct business across state borders, it is not uncommon for legal issues to arise between residents of different states. Additionally, due to each state having its own court systems and state laws, determining what state to file the lawsuit in can have important ramifications. In particular, if a lawsuit is filed in the wrong state or if there are insufficient ties to the forum state the lawsuit can be dismissed based on lack of jurisdiction.
Moreover, determining whether one can sue in her own state has logistical advantages due to the convenience of not having to travel to another state. Accordingly, determining whether a Colorado resident can sue an out-of-state resident in Colorado or Denver courts is an important first step in filing a lawsuit.
Colorado’s long-arm statute
In general, Colorado’s long-arm statute governs when a Colorado resident may sue an out-of-state resident in Colorado courts. In particular, the statute provides:
(1) Engaging in any act enumerated in this section by any person, whether or not a resident of the state of Colorado, either in person or by an agent, submits such person and, if a natural person, such person’s personal representative to the jurisdiction of the courts of this state concerning any cause of action arising from:
(a) The transaction of any business within this state;
(b) The commission of a tortious act within this state;
(c) The ownership, use, or possession of any real property situated in this state;
(d) Contracting to insure any person, property, or risk residing or located within this state at the time of contracting;
(e) The maintenance of a matrimonial domicile within this state with respect to all issues relating to obligations for support to children and spouse in any action for dissolution of marriage, legal separation, declaration of invalidity of marriage, or support of children if one of the parties of the marriage continues without interruption to be domiciled within the state;
(f) The engaging of sexual intercourse in this state as to an action brought under article 4 or article 6 of title 19, C.R.S., with respect to a child who may have been conceived by that act of intercourse, as set forth in verified petition; or
(g) The entering into of an agreement pursuant to part 2 or 5 of article 22 of this title.
C.R.S. § 13-1-124. In essence, the long-arm statute provides that a non-resident of Colorado may be sued in Colorado when he or she engages in some contact with Colorado. The long-arm statute essentially codifies due process requirements articulated by the U.S. Supreme Court that prevent a party from being hauled into court in a foreign state when that party has had no contact with that state. See International Shoe Co. v. State of Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 66 S.Ct. 154, 90 L.Ed. 95 (1945); Long Arm Jurisdiction in Colorado, 4 Colo.Law. 1715 (1975).
Where a defendant has engaged in sufficient actions to meet the requirements of Colorado’s long-arm statute, that party can be sued in Colorado and Denver courts.
Venue in Colorado courts for out-of-state residents
Under the Colorado court system, there are essentially three levels of courts where a civil lawsuit may be brought: (1) small claims court, (2) county court, and (3) district court. Each level of court has its own jurisdictional requirements, including rules governing appropriate venue – or physical location – where the lawsuit may be brought.
In particular, small claims court requires that the action be brought in the county where the defendant resides. See Colorado Rule of Civil Procedure (“C.R.C.P.”) 503. Accordingly, an action against an out-of-state resident may not be brought in small claims court in Colorado since, by definition, the defendant does not reside in Colorado and, thus, there is no county in Colorado where venue would be appropriate.
In contrast, a lawsuit may be brought against an out-of-state resident in county and district court. Jurisdictionally, the main difference between the county and district levels of court is monetary – that is, claims seeking more than $15,000 in damages can only be filed in district court while claims seeking less than $15,000 in damages can be filed in either district or county court. Aside from the monetary requirement, jurisdictional and venue rules for county court and district court are virtually identical.
Specifically, county court and district court venue rules provide that venue for an action brought against a nonresident “may be brought in any county in which the defendant may be found in this state, or in the county designated in the complaint . . . “ C.R.C.P. 98 (rule for venue in district court); C.R.C.P. 398 (rule for venue in county court).
Accordingly, where the Colorado long-arm statute is satisfied, an out-of-state resident may be sued in Colorado county or district court, and the action can be filed in the county where the out-of-state resident may be found or the county picked by the plaintiff in the complaint.
Service of process on an out-of-state resident
Once a lawsuit has been filed in appropriate venue in a Colorado court, the defendant must be served with the lawsuit. C.R.C.P. 4 governs service of process and generally requires personal service on the defendant. If the defendant is an individual, then the lawsuit must be personally given to him or otherwise served on him in a manner in conformance with the rule. If the defendant is a business entity, then service may be performed in a variety of ways, including giving the lawsuit to the entity’s registered agent, an officer of the business, or a manager of the business. Importantly, service must conform to Colorado rules as opposed to court rules of the state where the defendant resides. That is, service of process must follow the laws that apply where the action was filed, not the laws of the state where the defendant resides.
© 2016 J.D. Porter, LLC; Jordan Porter. Denver, Colorado.