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Simplified Procedure Demystified: An Overview of Colorado Rule of Civil Procedure 16.1

Simplified Procedure under Rule 16.1 is now over a decade old. Yet it is still not well understood by litigants or their attorneys. This two-part series demystifies Simplified Procedure. Part One outlines the general purposes and processes of Simplified Procedure. Part Two discusses the pros and cons of proceeding under Simplified Procedure in order to help litigants make an informed decision about which option is strategically better.

What is Rule 16.1 Simplified Procedure?

Housed in Rule 16.1 of the Colorado Rules of Civil Procedure, “Simplified Procedure” is indeed a way for most civil cases to be easier, expedited, and more cost-effective. Simplified Procedure is available for most civil actions filed in district court. But it does not apply to two main categories of cases: (1) certain cases exempt under the rule, and these are listed (such as domestic relations, juvenile, water law); or (2) cases where a party seeks a monetary judgment of over $100,000 from any other party.

The first exclusion is self-explanatory—if your case type is in the list of exempted cases, it does not qualify for Simplified Procedure. But the $100,000 damages limit category has some nuances. This category excludes cases where the damages sought are over $100,000—not counting interest and costs. But it includes any attorney fees that might be awarded. It doesn’t matter if fees are considered damages or costs in the action; they are included. So, for example, if a client is seeking $95,000 in damages, as well as attorney fees, the case is not proceeding under Simplified Procedure by default. In addition, the rule applies when any party seeks over $100,000 against any other party. This means that if a plaintiff initiated a lawsuit with damages of only $10,000, but a defendant counterclaimed for $100,000, the case is not automatically going to be under Simplified Procedure.

As explained in Part Two of this series, if the reason you don’t qualify is because you are seeking more than $100,000, you can “opt-in” to Simplified Procedure without being bound by the $100,000 limit.

What to Expect if Your Case is Proceeding Under Simplified Procedure

The main things to expect if your case is going forward under Simplified Procedure are a change in the process for pre-trial issues, and essentially no discovery. Any attorney proceeding under the Rule for the first time should take the time to familiarize herself with its requirements. But here are some of the major differences to be aware of when the case is under Simplified Procedure:

No Case Management Conference

Under Simplified Procedure, a case management conference is not normally held. Thus, the parties don’t have to complete a case management order. But if the parties think it would be beneficial to do so, they can always ask the court for a conference. If counsel is working well together, it is not usually necessary. Sometimes, opposing counsel will set a case management conference as a matter of habit, without realizing one is not necessary. If that occurs, it may be worthwhile to confer and see whether a conference is really necessary.

Setting Trial Early

Another difference with Simplified Procedure is that trial is set fairly early. Under the normal procedure, the responsible attorney (the plaintiff’s attorney, or the defendant’s attorney if the plaintiff is pro se) files a notice to set. This must occur no later than 42 days after the case is at issue. In practice, if the parties request a case management conference, the court may deal with the trial setting at that time. Because cases proceeding under Simplified Procedure get priority for trial dates, this means that you will likely have a trial date set much earlier in the process than you might otherwise.

Limited Discovery and Specific Disclosures

The main difference with Simplified Procedure is the limited discovery in the case. Most of the normal discovery mechanisms are off the table, although there are some exceptions listed in the rule. The parties can agree to conduct discovery by stipulation. For example, the parties could agree to make the main party available for a 3-hour deposition. But any discovery the parties agree to conduct cannot be the subject of a discovery dispute.

Along with the limited discovery comes the requirement to disclose. Mainly, this requirement mirrors the initial disclosures that must be made in any case. However, a party can also specifically request that another party disclose specific information. The receiving party then gets 21 days to respond. If the party fails to do so (or does so inadequately), the requesting party can use Rule 37 to enforce this requirement. In addition, in specific cases, parties must provide specific disclosures. For example, if the case is a personal injury case, the rule lists categories of information that must be disclosed. Disclosures are supposed to be exchanged no later than 35 days after the case is at issue.

In the next post, we’ll explore how to evaluate whether Simplified Procedure is right for a particular case, and what to do if you find yourself in a case with Simplified Procedure.

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