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Gomez v. Walker.

2023 COA 79. No. 22CA0463. Limitation of Actions—General Limitation of Actions Three Years—Computation of Time.

September 14, 2023

Gomez and Walker were involved in a car crash on June 15, 2016. Gomez filed her complaint on June 17, 2019, alleging that Walker negligently collided with her, causing her injuries. Walker moved to dismiss Gomez’s complaint under CRCP 12(b)(5) because it was filed two days after the three-year statute of limitations period in CRS § 13-80-101(1)(n)(I). Gomez maintained that the court should accept her filing because the deadline fell on a Saturday, and she filed on the next business day that the court was open. The district court initially concluded that the limitations period ended on June 17, 2019, and it denied Walker’s motion to dismiss. However, in April 2021, a court of appeals division published Morin v. ISS Facility Services, Inc., 2021 COA 55, which held that CRCP 6(a)(1) does not extend a statutory limitations period that expires on a weekend. Based on Morin, Walker filed a renewed motion to dismiss. The district court granted the renewed motion and dismissed Gomez’s claims as untimely. Gomez moved for reconsideration, which the district court denied. Walker moved for, and was granted, attorney fees and costs.

On appeal, Gomez argued that the district court erred by dismissing her complaint as untimely. The parties agree that Gomez’s claims were subject to the CRS § 13-80-101(1)(n)(I) three-year statute of limitations, that the limitations period began to run on June 15, 2016, and that June 15, 2019, was a Saturday. Accordingly, the division analyzed whether CRS § 2-4-108(2), which generally acts to extend statutory time periods that expire on a Saturday, Sunday, or legal holiday, applies to the statute of limitations in this case. The division first determined that Morin did not consider the effect of CRS § 2-4-108(2). Section 13-80-101(1) provides that certain tort actions, including those arising from car accidents, must be brought within three years after the cause of action accrues, and not thereafter; this period begins on the date the cause of action accrues and, under the definition of a “year” in CRS § 2-4-107, ends on the third calendar anniversary of that date. When read together with the rest of CRS § 13-80-101(1), the plain meaning is that the action cannot be filed after the three-year anniversary of the date the cause of action accrued. Therefore, CRS § 2-4-108(2) and CRS § 13-80-101 conflict, so the more specific provision must prevail. The division determined that CRS § 13-80-101(1) is both more specific and more recent and thus controls. Accordingly, Gomez’s complaint was untimely.

Gomez also argued that equitable tolling should apply as she should be entitled to rely on her good faith, erroneous interpretation of the interplay between CRS §§ 2-4-108(2) and 13-80-101(1). However, this case does not present the extraordinary circumstances contemplated by equitable tolling, so Gomez’s claim is time-barred.

Gomez further contended that the district court erred by construing Walker’s “renewed motion to dismiss” as one to reconsider its original order denying dismissal under Rule 12(b)(5) rather than as a motion for judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c). After the district court dismissed Gomez’s action, she filed a post-trial motion under CRCP 59.7 arguing for the first time that the district court should have construed Walker’s “renewed motion to dismiss” as a motion for judgment on the pleadings under CRCP 12(c) rather than a motion to dismiss under CRCP 12(b)(5). The court denied Gomez’s motion 80 days later. But the district court was required to rule on Gomez’s motion within 63 days of the date it was filed, so the ruling is void. Effectively, the district court never ruled on Gomez’s Rule 12(c) argument. Therefore, it is unpreserved, and the division declined to review it.

Gomez also asserted that the district court should have denied Walker’s renewed motion to dismiss because it was procedurally and legally deficient. However, a trial court has inherent authority to reconsider its own rulings and may exercise this authority any time before it enters a final judgment. Accordingly, the district court had authority to reconsider its prior order in the absence of any motion at all, so it did not err.

Gomez also contended that the district court lacked jurisdiction to award attorney fees and costs to Walker after dismissing her complaint. And even if it had jurisdiction, the court abused its discretion by entering an unreasonable award. In civil actions, an expired statute of limitations is an affirmative defense that deprives the plaintiff of a remedy; it does not deprive the trial court of jurisdiction. Here, Rule 54(d) and CRS §§ 13-17-202 and 13-16-105 all entitle Walker to a costs award, and the record does not indicate that the costs are facially unreasonable or that the district court abused its discretion. Accordingly, the district court did not err by awarding Walker his attorney fees and costs.

Lastly, the division concluded that because Walker successfully defended a dismissal order, he is entitled to recover reasonable attorney fees incurred on appeal.

The judgment was affirmed, the order for costs and fees was affirmed, and the case was remanded for further proceedings.

Official Colorado Court of Appeals proceedings can be found at the Colorado Court of Appeals website.

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