Dawson v. Reider, 93SC83

Decision Date11 April 1994
Docket NumberNo. 93SC83,93SC83
Citation872 P.2d 212
PartiesRobert Dennis DAWSON, individually and as the employee of the Eagle County Sheriff's Department; and the Eagle County Sheriff's Department, a political subdivision of the State of Colorado; and Eagle County Board of Commissioners, a political subdivision of the State of Colorado, Petitioners, v. Garland Willard REIDER and Victoria Cordova Reider, both individually and as husband and wife, Respondents.
CourtColorado Supreme Court

Hall & Evans, Cathy H. Greer, Malcolm S. Mead, Denver, for petitioners.

Fredric Butler, Eagle, for respondents.

Gale A. Norton, Atty. Gen., Stephen K. ErkenBrack, Chief Deputy Atty. Gen., Timothy M. Tymkovich, Sol. Gen., Timothy R. Arnold, Deputy Atty. Gen., Jane R. Christman, First Asst. Atty. Gen., Denver, for amicus curiae State of Colo.

Charles H. Richardson, Aurora City Atty., Julie A. Bannon, Asst. Aurora City Atty., Aurora, for amicus curiae City of Aurora.

Daniel Muse, Denver City Atty., Denver, for amicus curiae City of Denver.

James G. Colvin, II, Colorado Springs City Atty., Stephen K. Hook, Asst. Colorado Springs City Atty., Colorado Springs, for amicus curiae City of Colorado Springs.

Justice ERICKSON delivered the Opinion of the Court.

We granted certiorari to review Reider v. Dawson, 856 P.2d 31 (Colo.App.1992), which held that the three-year statute of limitations for actions under the Colorado Auto Accident Reparations Act (No-Fault Act), § 13-80-101(1)(j), 6A C.R.S. (1987), is applicable when a party commences a civil action against a sheriff and his deputy predicated upon an automobile-pedestrian accident. In reaching this conclusion, the court of appeals rejected the assertion that the applicable statute is section 13-80-103(1)(c), 6A C.R.S. (1987), which addresses the period of limitation when a sheriff is a defendant in an action. The court also held that because a party moving for summary judgment has the burden of establishing the lack of a triable issue of fact, it was the petitioners' burden to establish that there was no insurance on the vehicle that struck the respondent.

If the respondents have stated a claim for relief under the No-Fault Act, they are entitled to the benefit of the statute of limitations that specifically addresses civil actions commenced pursuant to the No-Fault Act. 1 The question of whether the vehicle that struck the respondent was insured is a question of fact and the court of appeals properly placed the burden of establishing a lack of a triable issue of fact on the petitioners. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the court of appeals and return this case to the court of appeals with directions to remand to the trial court for additional proceedings consistent with this opinion.

I

The automobile-pedestrian accident that precipitated this civil action occurred on November 24, 1989, in Eagle County. 2 Garland Reider (Reider) was driving his automobile on Highway 24 when his car came in contact with a patch of ice and slid off the road and down an embankment. Deputy Sheriff Robert Dawson (Dawson) was the first person to arrive at the scene of the accident. He parked his patrol car on the patch of ice, put out flares, and started down the embankment to help Reider who was climbing up the embankment to reach the road. Unfortunately, Dawson's patrol car slid off the patch of ice and down the embankment, rolled over, and struck Reider. Reider was not injured until he was struck by the patrol car.

On January 22, 1991, Reider and his wife commenced a civil action against Dawson and the Eagle County Sheriff's Department (petitioners) for negligence and loss of consortium. 3 The petitioners filed a motion to dismiss which was supported by affidavits and other documents. The trial court treated the motion to dismiss as a motion for summary judgment and entered judgment in favor of the petitioners based upon section 13-80-103(1)(c). The Reiders appealed and the court of appeals reversed the trial court.

II

Section 13-80-103 provides in pertinent part:

(1) The following civil actions, regardless of the theory upon which suit is brought, or against whom suit is brought, shall be commenced within one year after the cause of action accrues, and not thereafter:

....

(c) All actions against sheriffs, coroners, police officers, firefighters, national guardsmen, or any other law enforcement authority....

Section 13-80-101 provides in pertinent part:

(1) The following civil actions, regardless of the theory upon which suit is brought, or against whom suit is brought, shall be commenced within three years after the cause of action accrues, and not thereafter:

....

(j) All actions under the "Colorado Auto Accident Reparations Act," part 7 of article 4 of title 10, C.R.S. ...

Assuming that the Reiders have stated a claim for relief pursuant to the No-Fault Act, both statutes appear to be applicable in this case and the language of the statutes does not establish which is controlling. Because the statutes are not clear as to which is controlling, our primary task is to construe the statutes to give effect to the intent of the General Assembly. See, e.g., Woodsmall v. Regional Transp. Dist., 800 P.2d 63, 67 (Colo.1990).

A

In Jones v. Cox, 828 P.2d 218, 223 (Colo.1992), we recognized that section 13-80-101(1)(j) is more specific than section 13-80-102(1)(a), 6A C.R.S. (1987), which generally applies to torts. Jones was based on three rules of statutory construction:

Our rules of statutory construction are that a special statute preempts a general statute, that a later statute is given effect over an earlier statute, and that because statutes of limitation are in derogation of a presumptively valid claim, a longer period of limitations should prevail where two statutes are arguably applicable.

Jones, 828 P.2d at 222 (quoting with approval Troxell v. Trammell, 730 S.W.2d 525, 528 (Ky.1987)).

In Jones, the comparison of the two statutes' specificity was of key importance because both statutes were defined in terms of the type of civil action. In this case, determining which statute is controlling by comparing the two statutes is not possible because one is defined in terms of the type of civil action while the other is defined in terms of the class of defendants. Thus, the specificity rule of statutory construction is not dispositive. 4 The second rule of statutory construction discussed in Jones is also not dispositive because the General Assembly repealed and reenacted sections 13-80-101 and 13-80-103 in 1986. Ch. 114, sec. 1, §§ 13-80-101, -103, 1986 Colo.Sess.Laws 695, 695-97.

The final rule of construction discussed in Jones is that "because statutes of limitation are in derogation of a presumptively valid claim, a longer period of limitations should prevail where two statutes are arguably applicable." Id. at 222; see also Payne v. Ostrus, 50 F.2d 1039, 1042 (8th Cir.1931) ("Of course if substantial doubt exists, the longer, rather than the shorter, period of limitation is to be preferred."); O'Malley v. Sims, 51 Ariz. 155, 159-60, 75 P.2d 50, 54-55 (1938) ("We have repeatedly held that while the defense of the statute of limitation is a legitimate one, it is not favored by the courts, and, where two constructions are possible, the one which gives the longer period of limitation is the one which is to be preferred."); Jefferson v. Nero, 225 Ark. 302, 280 S.W.2d 884, 886 (1955) ("If there is doubt as to which of two or more statutes of limitation applies to a particular action or proceeding, and it is necessary to resolve the doubt, it will generally be resolved in favor of the application of the statute containing the longest limitation."); Thiel v. Taurus Drilling Ltd., 218 Mont. 201, 710 P.2d 33, 40 (1985) ("Where there is a substantial question as to which of two or more statutes of limitations should apply, the general rule is that the doubt should be resolved in favor of the statute containing the longest limitations.").

Although neither of the first two principles of statutory construction applied in Jones is dispositive, the third principle establishes that section 13-80-101(1)(j) sets forth the controlling statute of limitations. Thus, the reasoning and principles set forth in Jones dictate that the Reiders are entitled to the benefit of the longer statute of limitations contained in the No-Fault Act if they have set forth a claim for relief under the No-Fault Act. 5

B

In addition to the conclusion reached by application of the rules of construction adopted in Jones, the legislative history of sections 13-80-101 and 13-80-103 indicates that section 13-80-101(1)(j) sets forth the controlling statute of limitations in this case.

The impetus for the revision of Colorado's statutes of limitation, which culminated in the repeal and reenactment of sections 13-80-101 and 13-80-103, was to consolidate, simplify, and make uniform the periods of limitation on civil actions. Hearings on S.B. 69 before the House Judiciary Committee, 55th Gen. Assembly, 1st Reg.Sess. (audio tape, Mar. 11, 1986, at 3:20-4:43). In revising the existing periods of limitation, the General Assembly adopted in large part a proposed statute on limitation of actions that was drafted by the Colorado Bar Association.

In adopting provisions from the model statute, the General Assembly recognized that it was acting in conformity with the recommendations of a special task force convened to study insurance and tort liability. The task force endorsed the Colorado Bar Association's model statute. Special Task Force on Tort Liability and Insurance, Liability Insurance and the Law of Torts in Colorado, Problems and Remedies (1986). In its report, the task force stated:

It has been generally recognized that Colorado's Limitations of Action system is outdated, poorly organized, and in need of reform.... It is probable that several proposals concerning the Statute of Limitations...

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