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In Colorado’s County Courts

1) Money Cases

Money cases are initiated by filing a Summons and Complaint in the County Court.  The Court Costs of filing are usually $103.00 ($97.00, plus the ICCES fee).  A “return date” must be specified in the Summons after checking with the clerk about the Court’s preferences as to that date.  The return date must also be sufficiently far out to allow for the occurrence of process service.  Together with the Summons and Complaint, the Plaintiff must also serve a copy of a blank answer form on the defendant.

The state and federal Constitutions require that citizens be given procedural ‘due process,’ which means that when Court action is invoked, the defendant must be provided with ‘notice and an opportunity to be heard.’  This means that, when a private lawsuit is initiated, the Plaintiff must provide notice via ‘service of process.’  Service of process usually involves hiring a private process server or the County Sheriff.  The process server then takes a copy of the Summons, Complaint and blank Answer form (and any exhibits) and personally delivers those documents into the hands of the defendant, if possible.  The process server then swears out a written affidavit that must be filed with the Court by the plaintiff.

On the Return Date, which is the response deadline specified in the Summons, if the defendant fails to respond, and the Plaintiff’s attorney attends the return date in person, a default judgment will usually enter.  However, if an Answer is filed, then the case is usually set for a pre-trial conference.  In many cases, the parties will be ordered to attend mediation on the pre-trial conference date by standing order of the County Court.  Where mediation fails, and the matter proceeds to a pre-trial conference, the parties may be ordered to issue Form 9 disclosures to each other.  A trial date is also set at that time.

If the defendant responds to suit, will your County Court case go to trial?  Probably not, but it is certainly possible.  Frankly, the probability of settlement generally requires that the defendant believe that the plaintiff will in fact take the case to trial.  However, in fiscal 2016, a total of 84,985 money cases were filed in Colorado County Courts.  In the same period, the Colorado County Courts held a total of 796 trials to the Court (i.e., the judge) and 12 trials to the jury, for a total of 808 total trials.  Therefore, the odds of trial in County Court appear to be just shy of one percent (1%).    

2) Eviction Cases

County Court ‘Forcible Entry and Detainer’ suits constitute the vast bulk of all Colorado evictions filed.  By contrast, District Court evictions in Colorado are rare: they constitute less than one percent (1%) of all cases filed in the District Court.  Eviction occurs under Colorado’s Forcible Entry and Detainer statute.     

As a preliminary matter, the landlord should decide well in advance what he or she is really after in an eviction suit.  Often, simply obtaining a judgment for possession, which will allow the landlord to re-let the premises, is more economically viable than seeking a money judgment for back rent, depending on the tenant’s financial circumstances.

After deciding to proceed, the eviction action must be filed by a plaintiff who is a “person in interest,” i.e., the property owner or other individual or entity identified as the landlord or lessor on the lease.  The action should be initiated in the County Court in the County where the leased real estate is located.

Generally, before an action is filed, the plaintiff must have served the tenant with a Demand for Compliance or Right to Possession Notice or a Notice to Quit.  Service can be personal and/or achieved via posting at the premises.  The time period for the tenant to comply must have passed before suit can be filed.

After we have posted the notice, we draft a Summons and Complaint for Forcible Entry and Detainer.  Where a written lease exists, it is attached as an exhibit.  The posted notice is also included as an exhibit.  Court filing then occurs with a filing fee of $97.00, plus the ICCES filing fee, which is minimal.  The Court date will usually be set between 7 to 14 days from the date of issuance of the Summons, pursuant to Section 13-40-111.  However, service of process must generally occur at least 7 days prior to the Court date.

 

Service of process then proceeds in a similar fashion to that described in the Money Cases section of this page.

 

On the court date, and assuming an Answer is filed by the tenant, several of the local County Courts will require the landlord and tenant to participate in mandatory mediation prior to proceeding with a possession hearing.  If no Answer is filed, or the tenant does not appear, a default judgment for the relief requested in the Complaint will usually enter, provided that the Court is satisfied with the efforts made to serve the tenant.

 

If mediation is unsuccessful, the matter usually proceeds to a possession hearing, which the court will schedule within 7 to 14 days following the filing of the Answer.  The possession hearing is sometimes separate from a trial for money damages for back rent, if that is part of the complaint.  Upon the entry of a possession judgment, if the tenants have not vacated the property within 48 hours from the date of judgment, counsel files a proposed Writ of Restitution, which, when entered, is provided to the Court  Sheriff’s Office for execution.

 

3) Replevin

 

Replevin is a claim for the return of wrongfully withheld property and objects, not including real estate, but with the possible exception of trade fixtures.  In addition to wrongful possession cases (e.g., engagement rings, furnishings, lent equipment and vehicles), Replevin frequently arises in the probate context and in the commercial business context, e.g., for the return of leased office/industrial equipment.  Civil claims for Replevin are fairly evenly divided between District Court and County Court because some items are worth well in excess of $15,000.00.  In District Court, Replevin is the subject of CRCP 104.  In County Court, it is controlled by CRCP 404.

 

In County Court, the Summons and Complaint proceed in a manner similar to that described above in Money Cases.  However, in a Replevin Complaint, one must describe why one is entitled to possession of the property in question (e.g., pursuant to an equipment lease, gift, simple ownership via purchase in full, etc.).  The exhibits to the Replevin complaint include a list and valuation of the property in dispute and any other document showing title or the right to possess the property (e.g., a Will, trust, title document, contract, bill of sale, etc.).    

 

The plaintiff does, however, include a proposed Order to Show Cause with the initial filing.

After service has occurred and proof of service has been filed, and assuming an Answer has been filed by the Defendant, the Return Date is normally utilized to hold a “show cause” hearing in which the Court makes an initial pre-judgment determination regarding who is entitled to the property.  In clear cases, the court may enter judgment outright at this time.  However, in situations where the court deems that there is a reasonable dispute, the party awarded pre-judgment possession may be required to post a bond.  Alternatively, the Court may award temporary possession to the Sheriff’s Office, pending a final decision.  The dispute then proceeds to trial, or a final possession hearing, which the court will require to be set with notice to all parties.

Colorado Replevin claims can be brought together with other civil claims.  It is often useful to make a Replevin claim, where possible, because the applicable statute requires the initial possession hearing so soon after the initial Complaint filing.  As such, these matters go before the Court rather quickly compared to Money Cases, which is often helpful in bringing out a timely resolution.

Matthew J. Casebolt

Attorney & Counselor at Law

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