Cobbin by Cobbin v. City and County of Denver, 85CA0433

Docket NºNo. 85CA0433
Citation735 P.2d 214
Case DateFebruary 19, 1987
CourtCourt of Appeals of Colorado

Maley & Schiff, P.C., John T. Maley, Denver, for plaintiff-appellant.

Stephen H. Kaplan, City Atty., Frank A. Elzi, Asst. City Atty., Denver, for defendants-appellees.

KELLY, Judge.

In this action to recover for personal injuries, the plaintiff, Tammy Ann Cobbin, by her natural mother and next friend, Shirley Cobbin, appeals from the trial court order dismissing two defendants, the City and County of Denver and its Department of Social Services. We affirm.

Shortly after Tammy Ann's birth in 1981, the Denver Juvenile Court ordered custody of the infant given to the Denver Department of Social Services (Denver Department). In April 1984, the child was admitted to a Denver hospital suffering from multiple injuries, some of which left her permanently brain damaged. The injuries were allegedly inflicted by unknown persons while the child was in the custody of the Denver Department.

In May 1984, Tammy Ann's natural parents regained custody, and this lawsuit against the Denver Department followed. On the theory of respondeat superior, plaintiff also joined, as defendants, the City and County of Denver, the State of Colorado, and the State Department of Social Services (State Department). The complaint alleged that plaintiff's injuries would not have occurred but for the negligence or deliberate acts of some person or persons whose conduct was subject to the control of the Denver Department.

Denver moved to strike the Denver Department as a defendant on grounds it was not a suable public entity and to dismiss Denver based on the doctrine of sovereign immunity. The trial court granted the motion and entered judgment in favor of these two defendants.


In this case of first impression, plaintiff asserts that the trial court erred in dismissing Denver from the lawsuit. Plaintiff contends that Denver has waived sovereign immunity by covering, through self-insurance, any liability to which it might be subjected. We disagree.

Plaintiff argues that any public entity which elects to insure itself against liability pursuant to § 24-10-115(2)(a), C.R.S. (1982 Repl. Vol. 10) is an authorized insurance company from which it has "provided" or purchased insurance. Thus, such an entity, here the City and County of Denver, has "purchased" insurance and has waived sovereign immunity under the provisions of § 24-10-104(1), C.R.S. (1982 Repl. Vol. 10).

We decline to adopt such a strained interpretation of the statutes. Section 24-10-114, C.R.S. (1982 Repl. Vol. 10) unambiguously states that self-insurance "as permitted in this article shall not be considered insurance coverage." (emphasis added) This is consistent with the General Assembly's stated intention that a public entity which is otherwise immune from liability under the Governmental Immunity Act has, nevertheless, waived its immunity if it "provides liability insurance coverage provided by an insurance company authorized to do business in this state ..." Section 24-10-104, C.R.S. (1982 Repl. Vol. 10) (emphasis added).

Thus, Denver's self-insurance did not constitute a waiver of sovereign immunity, and since § 24-10-106, C.R.S. (1982 Repl. Vol. 10) does not contain any other explicit sovereign immunity exception upon which plaintiff can base a claim for relief against Denver, the trial court did not err in dismissing it from the lawsuit.


Plaintiff also contends that the trial court committed reversible error in granting the motion to strike the Denver Department of Social Services as a party defendant. Plaintiff argues that the Colorado Social Services Code, § 26-1-101, et seq., C.R.S. (1982 Repl. Vol. 11), makes the Denver Department a statutory agent of the State and its Department of Social Services. Thus, the plaintiffs assert that the Denver Department is a public entity as defined under the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act, § 24-10-103, C.R.S. (1982 Repl. Vol. 10) and is, therefore, a proper party in the case.

We agree with plaintiff that the Denver Department is a proper party; however, we decline to vacate the trial court order because the Department is not a necessary party for an adjudication on the merits.

Section 26-1-115, C.R.S. (1982 Repl. Vol. 11) requires each county to set up a department of social services. Each county department is an agency of the State Department and is "charged with the administration of public assistance and welfare and related activities ... in accordance with the rules and regulations of the state department." Section 26-1-118, C.R.S. (1982 Repl. Vol. 11). The social services programs are matters of exclusive statewide concern; therefore, the State Department's control of the Denver Department prevails over the powers reserved to the City and County of Denver under Colo. Const. art. XX. Dempsey v. City & County of Denver, 649 P.2d 726 (Colo.App.1982).

With limited, specific exceptions, Colorado public entities are immune from liability on all injury claims which are actionable in tort; however, any entity which purchases liability insurance from an authorized insurance company waives its sovereign immunity against liability for any injury for which it has purchased the insurance. Section 24-10-104 and § 24-10-106, C.R.S. (1982 Repl. Vol. 10).

Unlike other public entities, the General Assembly requires the State to obtain insurance to cover itself against any injury for which it might be liable; however, it may provide the coverage through self-insurance, an authorized insurance company, or through combining the other methods. Section 24-10-116, C.R.S. (1982 Repl. Vol. 10).

Under the statutory scheme established by the Colorado Social Services Code and the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act, the Denver Department is an agency of the State Department and fulfills the definition of a "public entity" as defined in § 24-10-103, C.R.S. (1982 Repl. Vol. 10). See Board of County Commissioners v. Merit System Council, 662 P.2d 1093 (Colo.App.1982); Nadeau v. Merit System Council, 36 Colo.App. 362, 545 P.2d 1061 (1975). Where a state or one of its departments makes a public entity its agent with power to act on its behalf and subject to its control, the state and the department can be subjected to liability based on the agent's acts under a theory of respondeat superior. Kenai Peninsula Borough v. State of Alaska, 532 P.2d 1019 (Ala.1975); Restatement (Second) of Agency § 224 (1958).

If the agent's act is the...

To continue reading

Request your trial
15 cases
  • Crowell v. School Dist. No. 7 of Gallatin County, Mont.
    • United States
    • Montana Supreme Court
    • 25 Enero 1991 the District Court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. States waiving immunity include: Cobbin v. City and County of Denver (Colo.App.1987), 735 P.2d 214; Lee v. Colorado Dept. of Health (Colo.1986), 718 P.2d 221; Evanston Ins. Co. v. City of Homestead (Fla.1990), 563 S......
  • Schwartz v. Booker
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Tenth Circuit
    • 19 Diciembre 2012
    ...the county departments serve as agents of the State of Colorado. SeeColo.Rev.Stat. § 26–1–111(f); Cobbin ex rel. Cobbin v. City & Cnty. of Denver, 735 P.2d 214, 216–17 (Colo.App.1987) (“The social services programs are matters of exclusive statewide concern.”); Wigger v. McKee, 809 P.2d 999......
  • Gregory v. Bruce
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Middle District of North Carolina
    • 25 Agosto 2016
    ...[the plaintiff's] claim against the agent himself) (internal citations and quotations omitted), and Cobbin by Cobbin v. City & Cty. of Denver, 735 P.2d 214, 217 (Colo. App. 1987)("If, as in the instant case, the agent is dismissed on procedural grounds, the dismissal does not bar the plaint......
  • Orwick v. Fox
    • United States
    • Washington Court of Appeals
    • 13 Abril 1992
    ... ... Does One Through Twenty, Respondents, ... City of Seattle, a municipal corporation, Patrick ... s, County of King, Harborview Medical Center and ... the Board of ... See, e.g., Cobbin v. City & Cy. of Denver, 735 P.2d 214, 217 ... ...
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT