Hall v. Walter, 97SC100

Decision Date14 December 1998
Docket NumberNo. 97SC100,97SC100
Citation969 P.2d 224
Parties98 CJ C.A.R. 6087 Larry L. HALL and Craig A. Hammond, Petitioners, v. Patricia L. WALTER and Reuben A. Walter, Respondents.
CourtColorado Supreme Court

Mark A. MacDonnell, Las Animas, for Petitioners.

Roberta Earley, Colorado Springs, for Respondents.

E. Hil Margolin, Denver, for Dean T. Ogawa, Chapter 7 Trustee.

Kennedy & Christopher, P.C., John R. Mann, Denver, for Amicus Curiae Colorado Defense Lawyers Association.

Gale A. Norton, Attorney General, Martha Phillips Allbright, Chief Deputy Attorney General, Richard A. Westfall, Solicitor General, Garth Lucero, Deputy Attorney General, Jan Michael Zavislan, First Assistant Attorney General, Diana R. Maurer Schatz, Assistant Attorney General, Civil Litigation Section, Denver, for Amicus Curiae, Colorado Attorney General.

Chief Justice MULLARKEY delivered the opinion of the court.

We granted certiorari to review the court of appeals' judgment in Walter v. Hall, 940 P.2d 991 (Colo.App.1996), affirming the trial court's order awarding treble damages to the respondents, Patricia and Rueben Walter (the Walters), pursuant to section 6-1-113, 2 C.R.S. (1992). We address the question of whether the court of appeals properly found that the Walters had standing to bring a claim under the Colorado Consumer Protection Act, sections 6-1-101 to -511, 2 C.R.S. (1998). 1

The Walters initiated proceedings in the Las Animas County District Court (trial court) against petitioners Larry Hall and Craig Hammond, seeking damages for trespass, misrepresentation, unlawful taking, and deceptive trade practices contrary to the Colorado Consumer Protection Act (CCPA). At the conclusion of the trial, a jury verdict was entered in favor of the Walters in the amount of $72,000 for actual damages on the trespass claim and $28,000 in punitive damages because such conduct was willful and wanton. The trial court further determined that the actual damages as found by the jury were to be trebled because of a jury finding that Hall and Hammond had violated the CCPA.

On appeal, the court of appeals affirmed the judgment, concluding, as relevant here, that the respondents had standing to maintain this action under the CCPA and that the respondents presented sufficient evidence of causation at trial to recover under the CCPA. We now conclude that the respondents have standing under the CCPA, and we affirm the court of appeals' judgment.


Beginning in 1985, Hall and Hammond offered individual lots for sale in a subdivision known as Longhorn Ranch Phase III. Because Phase III of Longhorn Ranch (Longhorn Lots) had not been registered with the Colorado Real Estate Commission (Commission), Hall and Hammond applied in 1991 to the Commission for registration and certification as the subdivision developer. As part of the registration and certification process, they disclosed that at least forty-seven of the Longhorn Lots had been sold prior to the registration. They also stated that purchasers would have legal access to their properties within the Longhorn Lots by two access routes. One of the access routes was a road that ran through a pasture owned by the Walters.

Hall and Hammond widely advertised these lots and offered them for sale to the general public. They told prospective purchasers that the road on the Walters' property (the Walters' road) was a proper means of access, even though no easement or other license existed to permit the use of that road. As a consequence of this misrepresentation, actual and prospective purchasers used the Walters' road to access the Longhorn Lots. At trial, the Walters presented evidence of injury in two forms. First, Hammond testified that at some point after the Walters had installed locks on the gates across their road, he used wire cutters to cut the locks and gain access to the Longhorn Lots. Second, Howard Eggleston testified that he discontinued negotiations with the Walters for the lease of their pastures because the fences and gates surrounding these pastures were being either knocked down or cut open.

On January 30, 1992, the Walters filed a complaint for trespass, misrepresentation, unlawful taking, and deceptive trade practices against Hall and Hammond and their real estate partnership. The complaint requested both monetary and injunctive relief. On or about February 19, 1992, Hall filed a separate action against the Walters seeking an easement across the Walters' pasture. A hearing was held on March 2, 1992, at which time a preliminary injunction was issued preventing further trespass across the Walters' pasture. The two cases were then consolidated.

A jury trial was held in December 1994. Before submitting the case to the jury, the trial court found as a matter of law that the Walters' road was not a public roadway and that Hall and Hammond had no ownership interest in that road. 2 The trial court also determined as a matter of law that Hall and Hammond committed a trespass upon the property through the admitted breaking of a lock on the property's gates. 3 The jury subsequently returned verdicts in favor of the Walters, finding that Hall and Hammond's actions had caused damages in the amount of $72,000, that Hall and Hammond had engaged in a deceptive trade practice, and that their actions were attended by wanton and willful disregard for the Walters' rights and feelingswarranting punitive damages in the amount of $28,000. 4 Based on the jury's award of $72,000 for trespass and its finding that Hall and Hammond engaged in deceptive trade practices, the trial court trebled that amount pursuant to section 6-1-113(2)(a), 2 C.R.S. (1998). Accordingly, the trial court entered judgment in the total sum of $244,000 plus costs and attorney fees ($78,329.57) in favor of the Walters.

On appeal, the court of appeals affirmed. The court of appeals found that the Walters had standing to maintain this action under the CCPA and that they had presented sufficient evidence of causation at trial to succeed under the Act. See Walter, 940 P.2d at 998. The court reasoned that section 6-1-113(1) of the CCPA, providing that "any person" may bring an action under the CCPA, was available to the Walters because they satisfied the two-part test for standing announced in Wimberly v. Ettenberg, 194 Colo. 163, 570 P.2d 535 (1977). See Walter, 940 P.2d at 998. The court of appeals also relied on decisions from other states interpreting the phrase "any person" in comparable consumer protection statutes to permit private nonconsumer actions. See id. Regarding causation, the court found that the evidence showed that Hall and Hammond had misrepresented to their customers that an easement existed across the Walters' property, that they caused damage to the road, and that their actions caused the respondents to lose two prospective pasture leases. See id. at 998-99. The court also found it undisputed that Hall and Hammond's misrepresentations caused the Walters' fences to be torn down, locks to be cut, and gates to be left open. See id. Subsequently, in denying the petition for rehearing, the court of appeals modified its decision and struck the $28,000 in punitive damages as duplicative of the trebling sanction under the deceptive trade act portion of the CCPA. See id. at 1000. 5


This case requires our construction of the Colorado Consumer Protection Act, sections 6-1-101 to -511, 2 C.R.S. (1998) (CCPA). Specifically we review the damages provision, section 6-1-113, which provides, in relevant part:

6-1-113. Damages. (1) The provisions of this article shall be available to any person in a civil action for any claim against any person who has engaged in or caused another to engage in any deceptive trade practice listed in section 6-1-105 or 6-1-105.5.

(2) ... [A]ny person who, in a private civil action, is found to have engaged in or caused another to engage in any deceptive trade practice listed in section 6-1-105 or 6-1-105.5 shall be liable in an amount equal to the sum of:

(a) Three times the amount of actual damages sustained or two hundred fifty dollars, whichever is greater; and

(b) In the case of any successful action to enforce said liability, the costs of the action together with reasonable attorney fees as determined by the court.

§ 6-1-113, 2 C.R.S. (1998). 6 We begin by reviewing the principles governing our analysis.


Several well established principles of statutory construction guide our interpretation of section 6-1-113. We initially rely on the language of the statute, giving words and phrases their plain and ordinary meaning. See Moody v. Corsentino, 843 P.2d 1355, 1370 (Colo.1993); People v. Guenther, 740 P.2d 971, 975 (Colo.1987). We must give effect to the spirit and intent of the General Assembly in enacting the statute. See Brock v. Nyland, 955 P.2d 1037, 1040 (Colo.1998). A statutory interpretation that defeats the legislative intent or leads to an absurd result will not be followed. See AviComm, Inc. v. Colorado Pub. Utils. Comm'n, 955 P.2d 1023, 1031 (Colo.1998). Although we must give effect to the statute's plain and ordinary meaning, the intention of the legislature prevails over a literal interpretation of the statute that would lead to an absurd result, see id., or that would conflict with the Colorado or United States Constitutions. See People v. Washburn, 197 Colo. 419, 423, 593 P.2d 962, 964 (1979).

In prior cases concerning the CCPA, we have given the Act a liberal construction, relying on the Act's broad purpose and scope. See, e.g., May Dep't Stores Co. v. State ex rel. Woodard, 863 P.2d 967, 973-75 (Colo.1993); People ex rel. Dunbar v. Gym of America, Inc., 177 Colo. 97, 111-17, 493 P.2d 660, 667-69 (1972). In Dunbar, our seminal decision regarding the CCPA, this court reversed a trial court's ruling that the Act was unconstitutional. See Dunbar, 177 Colo. at 104-17, 493 P.2d at 663-70. In upholding the constitutionality of the CCPA, we observed: "The right to...

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