Important changes to the Colorado Rules of Civil Procedure will apply to most business lawsuits filed between January 1, 2012, and December 31, 2013, in five Colorado counties in the Denver metro area. The rules were implemented as part of the Colorado Civil Access Pilot Project, whose goal is to find effective ways of reducing cost and delay in lawsuits.
The new rules apply to business cases alleging breach of contract, unfair competition, breach of shareholder, officer or other fiduciary duties, fraud, misrepresentation, corporate restructuring, partnership, shareholder, joint venture and other business agreements, derivative lawsuits filed by owners or investors, and other types of business claims.
The new rules will govern cases filed in Jefferson, Gilpin, Denver, Adams and Arapahoe Counties. New lawsuits filed in other Colorado counties will be governed by pre-existing court rules.
The Pilot Project does not include debt collection lawsuits filed by banks and other financial institutions, rent collection or foreclosure cases, or medical malpractice actions, among other cases. These types of lawsuits also will continue to be governed by the pre-existing court rules.
The goal of the new rules is to streamline the civil litigation process and minimize opportunities for gamesmanship, so that the dispute can be resolved more quickly, fairly and at less cost than the current court rules allow. Many of the new rules are based on court rules in other states and were developed and adopted after extensive debate and compromise.
The Colorado Civil Access Pilot Project came about after the American College of Trial Lawyers formed a Task Force of experienced legal professionals throughout the U.S. and Canada to partner with the University of Denver’s Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS), which is headed by former Colorado Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Kourlis. The purpose was to address growing concerns throughout the United States that the pretrial process is too complicated, lengthy and expensive.
Colorado lawyers and judges participated in the Task Force and continued their discussions after a 2009 Task Force summit launched a national dialogue on these issues. A subcommittee focusing on business lawsuits developed a proposed set of rules for business cases and offered them to the Colorado Supreme Court. The Court asked for public comment, modified some of the rules, and eventually adopted the rules for the Pilot Project that began January 1, 2012.
IAALS will collect and analyze data from all Colorado cases to determine whether or not the new rules achieved their goals. Data will be collected from court clerks, judges, attorneys and litigants alike. No doubt further proposals will be made to the Colorado Supreme Court for permanent changes to the Colorado Rules of Civil Procedure after the data are analyzed and further dialogue occurs.
My law firm’s initial reaction to the new rules is that they are even-handed, affecting plaintiffs and defendants in similar ways. Over the years we have counseled many clients regarding the likely cost associated with a new lawsuit. For that reason we applaud thoughtful efforts to reduce the cost of civil litigation without unfairly prejudicing one side or the other in a dispute.
Since Underhill & Underhill, P.C. regularly litigates business lawsuits in the five counties selected for the Pilot Project, we will have ample opportunity to compare the impact of the Pilot Project rules on business litigation in Colorado during the next two years!