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Rule One Initiative Examines Colorado’s Rule 16.1 Simplified Civil Procedure

In November 2012, the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS) at the University of Denver released a Rule One Initiative report titled, Measuring Rule 16.1: Colorado’s Simplified Procedure Experiment (SJI-12-N-127). The report is a follow-up to the IAALS 2010 publication of Surveys of the Colorado Bench & Bar on Colorado’s Simplified Pretrial Procedure for Civil Actions, and provides empirical answers to the question: “what has happened with Rule 16.1 in Colorado?”

In 2004, the Colorado Supreme Court issued Rule 16.1, a voluntary pretrial process for smaller dollar-volume civil cases, in an effort to provide timely and efficient resolution of these cases. Rule 16.1 now serves as the default pretrial procedure in Colorado district courts for most civil cases of less than $100,000. Parties may elect to “opt out” and use the standard pretrial process instead of this “simplified” procedure, which replaces discovery with mandated disclosures, along with assurances of a faster route to trial. Recovery under Rule 16.1, including attorney fees but excluding costs, cannot exceed the $100,000 limit.

The latest IAALS report documents the analysis of Rule 16.1, including its role and impact. The value of the project is magnified by the growing interest nationally in streamlining pretrial procedures, case differentiation, and optional processes for both civil and criminal cases, although civil matters have generally been excluded from significant pretrial process improvement.

The IAALS highlighted that the analysis found the highest rate of Rule 16.1 cases occurred in consumer credit collection actions (95 percent) and other straightforward contract actions in which damages are fixed or liquidated. In 70 percent of cases proceeding under Rule 16.1, there is no appearance by any defendant, and more than half resolve by entry of default judgment. Overall, the perception among interviewed attorneys and judges is that the cap on damages and inflexible limits on discovery have discouraged attorneys from using the procedure.

In the 30 percent of Rule 16.1 cases that were contested and therefore invoked the provisions of the procedure, there is mixed evidence on the rule’s impact. Time to disposition and the county in which the case is filed were found to play a larger role than Rule 16.1. In addition, Rule 16.1 cases have not been shown to have a higher trial rate. However, Rule 16.1 is associated with a decrease in the number of motions filed. It is not possible to know whether the results would have been different if the rule was more frequently applied in actively litigated cases.

The report provides interesting insight for state courts who may be considering new methods to ensure the just, speedy, and inexpensive resolution of civil cases. The full report is available through IAALS Rule One Initiative website or the NCSC Library eCollection.