November 22, 2014

Colorado Supreme Court: No Collateral Estoppel; Entitlement to Water Not Actually Determined in Prior Litigation

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Reynolds v. Cotten, Division Engineer, Water Division 3 on April 16, 2012.

Collateral Estoppel—Water Law.

Plaintiffs, ditch owners who were diverting water from La Jara Creek, appealed to the Supreme Court from an order of the water court denying their claim for declaratory relief. Plaintiffs sought a declaration that their appropriative rights to La Jara Creek water were not limited to water flowing into the creek from the San Luis Valley Drain Ditch. Without directly addressing the merits of their claim, the water court granted summary judgment in favor of defendants on the ground that substantially the same issue had been litigated and decided against plaintiffs in a prior declaratory judgment action involving the same parties or their predecessors in interest. Specifically, the water court concluded that all of the water rights of the parties in La Jara Creek were not only at issue but were in fact finally determined in the prior litigation, and therefore plaintiffs’ current claim of entitlement to non-drain native La Jara Creek water had been implicitly resolved against them in the judgment concluding that litigation.

The Court found that plaintiffs’ entitlement to non-drain native La Jara Creek water was not actually determined in the prior litigation, either expressly or by necessary implication. It therefore reversed the summary judgment of the water court and remanded the case for further proceedings.

Summary and full case available here.

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