Supreme Court Cases Queued Up in February
The Colorado Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on the rescue doctrine, a life insurance case and whether a judge erred in allowing his wife on a jury

by Jessica Folker

The Colorado Supreme Court will hear oral arguments this week in six cases that raise questions about the legislature’s ability to delegate power, the right to a fair trial, the definition of a “rescuer” and ethical responsibilities of attorneys and judges. The state’s highest court will hear arguments Tuesday in the following cases.

POWER TO PREEMPT

Plaintiff’s lawyers and the insurance industry will be watching to see what the Colorado Supreme Court decides in Amica Life Insurance v. Michael Wertz, the first case to be heard this week.

The question before the court is whether the state legislature may dele- gate power to an interstate administrative commission to approve insurance policies sold in Colorado under a standard that differs from state statute.

Wertz is the beneficiary of an Amica Life Insurance policy on the life of Martin Fisher, who died by suicide 13 months after the policy was taken out. Under Colorado statute, a life insurance provider can’t deny claims for suicide after the first policy year. But Amica denied Wertz the death benefit, citing the policy’s two-year suicide exclusion — an exclusion the insurer says is allowed under a rule made by the Interstate Insurance Product Regulation Commission.

The industry-funded commission was created by the Insurance Product Regulation Compact, which 44 states have adopted, including Colorado. Amica argues the compact allows the commission to adopt standards for commission-approved insurance policies that differ from state statutes.

However, attorneys for Wertz argue that if the commission’s standards can preempt state statute, “the Commission is exercising a power that is purely legislative and cannot be delegated.” This delegation of power, they argue, violates Colorado’s constitutional separation of powers guarantee.

The question made its way to the state’s highest court after a federal district court made a summary judgment ruling in favor of Amica. Wertz appealed that decision, and the 10th Circuit certified the separation of powers question to the Colorado Supreme Court.

To read the rest of this article and others featured in the Feb. 10, 2020 print edition of Law Week Colorado, copies are available for purchase online.