November 18, 2017

Tenth Circuit: Collection of Resource Data Considered Protected Speech Under the First Amendment

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Western Watersheds Project v. Michael on Thursday, September 7, 2017.

The State of Wyoming has enacted a pair of statutes imposing civil and criminal liability on individuals who enter open land for the purpose of collecting resource data without permission from the owner. “Resource data” was defined as data relating to land or land use. And the term “collect” was defined as requiring two elements: (1) taking a sample of material or a photograph, or otherwise preserving information in any form that is (2) submitted or intended to be submitted to any agency of the state or federal government. Information obtained in violation of these provisions could not be used in any proceeding other than an action under the statutes themselves. The statutes also required government agencies to expunge data collected in violation of their provisions and forbade the agencies from considering such data in determining any agency action.

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that the statutes regulate protected speech under the First Amendment and that they are not shielded from constitutional scrutiny merely because they touch upon access to private property. The statutes at issue target the creation of speech by imposing heightened penalties on those who collect resource data.

Plaintiffs in this case are advocacy organizations, arguing that the statutes violated Free Speech and Petition Clauses of the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and they were preempted by federal law. After the district court’s holding that Plaintiffs have stated claims for free speech, petition, and equal protection, Wyoming amended the two statutes, although the statutes continue to impose heightened criminal punishment and civil liability. The amendments penalize any individual who without authorization: (1) enters private land for the purpose of resource data; (2) enters private land and collects resource data; or (3) crosses private land to access adjacent or proximate land where he collects resource data. Under the current version of the statutes, there is no requirement that resource data be submitted to, or intended to be submitted, to a government agency. Instead, the term “collect” now means: (1) to take a sample of material or acquire, gather, photograph or otherwise preserve information in any form; and (2) to record a legal description or geographical coordinates of the location of the collection. The district court concluded that the revised version of the statutes did not implicate protected speech, Plaintiffs appealed to the Tenth Circuit.

The Tenth Circuit found that Wyoming already prohibits trespass, thus the effect of the challenged provisions is to increase a pre-existing penalty for trespassing if an individual collects resource data from public lands. To determine if such provisions are subject to scrutiny under the First Amendment, the question is not whether trespassing is protected conduct, but whether the act of collecting resource data on public lands qualifies as protected speech.

The Circuit concluded that the Plaintiffs’ collection of resource data constitutes the protected creation of speech, as the Supreme Court has explained that the creation and dissemination of information are speech within the meaning of the First Amendment; however, the court did not discuss the level of scrutiny to be applied, as the district court did not conduct an analysis on this matter and, as a general rule, the court will not consider an issue not passed upon below.

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals REVERSED the district court’s conclusion that the statutes are not entitled to First Amendment protection and REMANDED for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Permanent Injunction Barring Trespass Not Preempted by NLRA

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. United Food & Commercial Workers International Union on Thursday, May 5, 2016.

Unions—Trespass—Permanent Injunction—National Labor Relations Act—Preemption—Subject Matter Jurisdiction.

United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) and Organization United for Respect at Walmart (collectively, unions) engaged in demonstrations at Walmart stores at several locations in Colorado. In response, Walmart mailed a letter to UFCW’s general counsel asking him to direct the unions to immediately cease protesting on Walmart’s property. When the activities continued, Walmart filed an unfair labor practice charge (labor charge) with the National Labor Relations Board (Board), claiming that the unions violated the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). This charge was later dismissed by Walmart. However, Walmart then filed a complaint for injunctive and declaratory relief from trespass in district court, requesting a permanent injunction enjoining the unions from engaging in certain types of activities on Walmart’s property. The unions filed a motion to dismiss under C.R.C.P. 12(b)(1), claiming the NLRA preemption deprived the district court of subject matter jurisdiction. The court denied the motion and then granted Walmart’s motion for summary judgment.

On appeal, the unions argued that the district court erred in denying their motion to dismiss because Walmart’s lawsuit is preempted by the NLRA. The federal issue in Walmart’s labor charge is unrelated to the trespass issue in Walmart’s state claim, and therefore the controversies are not identical. The NLRA does not arguably prohibit, and thus does not preempt, Walmart’s state claim to enjoin the unions from trespassing on its premises.

The unions also argued that, assuming the district court has subject matter jurisdiction over their activities, it applied the incorrect legal standard and erred by granting Walmart’s motion for summary judgment and permanently enjoining the unions from trespassing at Walmart-owned stores that are subject to Walmart’s nonexclusive easements over the property. The unions contended that because the properties contain nonexclusive easements, Walmart does not have exclusive possession of them and the district court should have required Walmart to show that the unions’ activity unreasonably interfered with Walmart’s use and enjoyment of the property. The unions do not dispute that Walmart possesses and has title to the property in question. Thus, to sustain its trespass claim, Walmart only had to prove that the unions entered its property without its permission. Accordingly, the court did not abuse its discretion by issuing the injunction.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Entry Into Motor Vehicle Contemplated by Motor Vehicle Theft Statute

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Wentling on Thursday, December 3, 2015.

First-Degree Criminal Trespass—Evidence—Motor Vehicle Theft—CRS § 18-1-303(1)—Equal Protection—Presentence Confinement Credit.

Wentling was arrested in Utah after he was found asleep in a vehicle that had been reported as stolen in Colorado. Wentling was charged with multiple offenses in Colorado, including first-degree criminal trespass with intent to commit motor vehicle theft.

On appeal, Wentling contended that there was insufficient evidence to convict him of first-degree criminal trespass with intent to commit motor vehicle theft. However, the motor vehicle theft statute does not preclude prosecution under a general criminal statute, and the People had discretion to prosecute under either. Here, there was sufficient evidence that Wentling entered the motor vehicle with the intent to commit motor vehicle theft inside the vehicle, which was sufficient to prove first-degree criminal trespass with intent to commit motor vehicle theft.

In the alternative, Wentling contended that he was improperly prosecuted in Colorado in violation of CRS § 18-1-303 because he was previously convicted in Utah for the same conduct. Wentling’s prosecution under the Colorado statute was not barred by CRS § 18-1-303(1) because the law defining each offense was intended to prevent a substantially different harm or evil.

Wentling also contended that when the People charged him with first-degree criminal trespass with intent to commit motor vehicle theft rather than attempted motor vehicle theft, it violated his right to equal protection under the law because it subjected him to more severe punishment. Attempted motor vehicle theft and criminal trespass have different elements and, thus, it is permissible for the legislature to prescribe different penalties for similar conduct. Therefore, the trial court did not violate Wentling’s right to equal protection.

Wentling further contended that the trial court erred when it denied his request for 89 additional days of presentence confinement credit (PSCC). Wentling was entitled to PSCC from October 11, 2011, when he arrived in Moffat County Jail, until February 7, 2012, when he finished his Utah sentence, because this period of time resulted from the charges brought by the State of Colorado. The case was remanded to amend the mittimus to include the correct additional PSCC days.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Frederick Skillern: Real Estate Case Law — Property Taxation and Assessments

Editor’s note: This is Part 15 of a series of posts in which Denver-area real estate attorney Frederick Skillern provides summaries of case law pertinent to real estate practitioners (click here for previous posts). These updates originally appeared as materials for the 32nd Annual Real Estate Symposium in July 2014.

frederick-b-skillernBy Frederick B. Skillern

Roaring Fork Club, LLC v. Pitkin County Board of Equalization
Colorado Court of Appeals, December 5, 2013
2013 COA 167

Valuation of a private golf club property.

The Pitkin County assessor determined the value of the Roaring Fork Club property for tax year 2011, and The Pitkin County Board of Equalization and the Board of Assessment Appeals agrees with the valuation. On appeal, the club asserts that the assessor should not have included the value of sold club memberships in the assessment of the club’s property. The Court of Appeals agrees and reverses.

The club’s property is open only to its members. Membership rights are retained for life unless sold or relinquished or revoked by the club. The club uses membership deposits to improve the property and maintain the improvements. The deposits are treated as a liability for accounting purposes because all or a part of them are refunded if members maintain their membership for at least thirty years or if they resign earlier and replacement members fill their spots.

The club’s amenities were completed in 1999 and the club had sold about 82% of the memberships by 2011. The club argues that the value of the sold memberships should not be considered in determining the actual value of the club’s property for property tax purposes because they are not interests in the real property. The BOE contends that the membership deposits are akin to prepaid rent on leasehold interests and they would escape taxation if not included in the property value.

On appeal, the club and the BOE agree that the income approach is the proper method to value the club’s property. However, the county argues that the memberships are an interest in land, like a leasehold, and should be included in the value under the “unit assessment rule.” The club contends that memberships are licenses, and are not an interest in land. The court agrees, and holds: (1) the membership agreement is not a lease; (2) memberships are not life estates; (3) the membership agreement does not give members any other taxable interest in the club’s property; (4) the membership agreement establishes that memberships are revocable licenses; (5) the unit assessment rule does not apply to these memberships; and (6) the sold memberships are not usufructuary interests. Accordingly, the Board’s order is reversed and the case is remanded to hold a hearing to determine the actual value of the club’s property without taking into account the value of the sold memberships.

 

Village at Treehouse, Inc. v. Property Tax Administrator
Colorado Court of Appeals, January 16, 2014
2014 COA 6.

Property tax; unit assessment rule.

Village paid more than $1 million to purchase certain development rights from the Treehouse Condominium Association (HOA). This supposedly gave Village the right to construct up to nineteen condominium units in the complex. The development rights were created by an amendment to the Treehouse declaration in 2006. The rights were assigned to Village in 2008 in a document entitled “Warranty and Assignment of Supplemental Development Rights”. The question is whether this property right is a taxable interest in real property. The Board of Assessment Appeals found that the right to build new condominium units constituted a taxable interest in real property for ad valorem tax purposes.

On appeal, the court of appeals affirms the BAA, and holds that the assignment, in effect, severed the development rights from the common elements owned by the HOA, creating a new taxable property interest. Because the Village acquired an interest in land, taxation of the development rights was required under C.R.S. § 39-1-102(16) and (14)(a).

Because the Assignment evinced the intent to sever title to the development rights from the common elements, taxing the development rights separately from the common elements did not contravene §§39-1-103(10) or 38-33.3-105. This taxation does not violate the unit assessment rule.

The Assignment created separate interests in real estate as between the interests of the individual unit owners in the common elements and those of the developer. The order was affirmed.

 

Premises Liability, Trespass and Nuisance

S.W. v. Towers Boat Club, Inc.
Colorado Supreme Court, December 23, 2013
2013 CO 72

Attractive nuisance; premises liability statute.

The Supreme Court considers whether, in the context of our premises liability statute, the attractive nuisance doctrine applies to both (a) trespassing children and (b) children who are licensees or invitees. The Court held that the doctrine permits all children, regardless of their classification, to bring a claim for attractive nuisance. C.R.S. § 13-21-115. The court therefore reverses the judgment of the court of appeals, which had found that the doctrine only protects trespassing children.

 

Frederick B. Skillern, Esq., is a director and shareholder with Montgomery Little & Soran, P.C., practicing in real estate and related litigation and appeals. He serves as an expert witness in cases dealing with real estate, professional responsibility and attorney fees, and acts as a mediator and arbitrator in real estate cases. Before joining Montgomery Little in 2003, Fred was in private practice in Denver for 6 years with Carpenter & Klatskin and for 10 years with Isaacson Rosenbaum. He served as a district judge for Colorado’s Eighteenth Judicial District from 2000 through 2002. Fred is a graduate of Dartmouth College, and received his law degree at the University of Colorado in 1976, in another day and time in which the legal job market was simply awful.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Adverse Possession Requires Good Faith Belief of Ownership of Property for 18 Years or More

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Gutierrez-Vite on Thursday, November 20, 2014.

Adverse Possession—Defense—Theft—Offering a False Instrument for Recording—Jury Instructions—Testimony.

This case stems from defendant’s alleged attempt to adversely possess a home in Fraser, Colorado. At all relevant times, the home was privately owned by another party, but was unoccupied and in foreclosure. Defendant filed an Affidavit of Adverse Possession with the Grand County Clerk and Recorder’s Office even though she did not own or have permission to be in the home. A jury found defendant guilty of attempted theft and two counts of offering a false instrument for recording.

On appeal, defendant contended that the trial court erred because it denied her request to present a defense based on the adverse possession statute and an affirmative defense of mistake of law based on the adverse possession statute. Under the adverse possession statute, in actions filed on or after July 1, 2008, the party claiming the title must prove, by clear and convincing evidence, that his or her possession was actual, adverse, hostile, under a claim of right, exclusive, and uninterrupted for at least eighteen years. The statute also requires that an adverse claimant establish a good-faith belief that he or she was the property’s actual owner.

Because defendant admitted that she knew the property was owned by someone else and she only possessed the property for five months, she did not meet the requirements to claim adverse possession. Because her adverse possession claim to the property fails, the adverse possession statute could not relieve her of criminal liability. Further, defendant’s mistaken belief regarding adverse possession law does not relieve her of criminal liability. Therefore, the trial court did not err in denying her request to present a defense based on adverse possession and excluding this defense from the jury instructions.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Adverse Possession Not Affirmative Defense for Theft and Trespass

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Bruno on Thursday, November 20, 2014.

Adverse Possession—Defense—Theft—Trespassing—Offering a False Instrument for Recording—Jury Instructions—Testimony.

This case stems from Bruno’s alleged attempt to adversely possess a home in Fraser, Colorado. At all relevant times, the home was privately owned by another party, but was unoccupied and in foreclosure. Bruno filed an Affidavit of Adverse Possession with the Grand County Clerk and Recorder’s Office, even though he did not own or have permission to be in the home. A jury found Bruno guilty of theft, trespassing, and two counts of offering a false instrument for recording.

On appeal, Bruno contended that the district court erred in preventing him from raising the defense of adverse possession to the counts of theft and offering a false instrument. Bruno admitted that he knew the property belonged to someone else and he was attempting to begin a claim of adverse possession. Because the General Assembly did not provide and did not intend to create an adverse possession defense in the circumstances presented here, there is no defense of adverse possession to the crimes charged. Further, Bruno’s mistaken belief regarding adverse possession law does not relieve him of criminal liability. The judgment was affirmed.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Although Unusual, Forced Sale Appropriate Remedy to Continuing Trespass

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Graham v. Jules Investment, Inc. on Thursday, October 9, 2014.

Forced Sale in Encroachment Case.

Serenity Springs Wildlife Center is a ten-acre wildlife refuge in El Paso County that houses approximately 140 tigers, lions, and other exotic, threatened, or endangered animals. The refuge was once part of a 320-acre parcel of land. In 1997, a perimeter fence was erected enclosing the refuge and a deed was recorded severing it from the original parcel. In 1998, another deed severed a 36.5-acre parcel directly south from the refuge. A home was built on the severed parcel approximately 1,000 feet from the refuge.

Beginning in 2000, the property went through cycles of foreclosure and reacquisition. It was eventually sold to plaintiffs in 2010. In 2012, plaintiffs hired a surveyor, who told them that 1.7 acres (surrounded by a fence) was on plaintiffs’ parcel. The fence enclosed pens and lion and tiger dens. The footings were 16″-wide concrete slabs buried 2′ to 4′ in the ground and about nineteen lions and tigers lived on the 1.7 acres.

Plaintiffs sued defendants for trespass. The trial court held that the structures alone were not a trespass, but that the use and presence of the structures “deprive[d] . . . plaintiffs of the use of” 1.7 acres of their 36.5-acre parcel and “facilitated a regular, if not continuing trespass” of the refuge’s staff. The court held a hearing on the appropriate remedy. Defendants asked the court to allow them to purchase the 1.7 acres from plaintiffs, because removing the structures and rebuilding them would create a severe hardship. Plaintiffs asked for everything to be removed and the property restored to its “natural state.” The trial court held that under the “unique and unusual facts” of this case, it would order a forced sale of the 1.7 acres to defendants. It ordered conveyance in exchange for $5,870, which was the value of the 1.7 acres according to plaintiffs. The court also ordered payment of $1,737, which was the amount of the application fee for obtaining a waiver from the 35-acre requirement from El Paso County.

On appeal, plaintiffs argued it was error not to find that the structures themselves were a trespass and encroachment. The Court of Appeals did not decide this issue because the trial court had already determined there had been a trespass and had crafted a remedy. Regarding the remedy, the Court found that, though extraordinary, it is not unheard of to order a forced sale when the hardships weigh heavily on the defendant’s side. Therefore, it was not an abuse of discretion to order a sale under these unique circumstances. The judgment was affirmed.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Attractive Nuisance Doctrine Applies to All Children, Not Just Trespassing Children

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in S.W. v. Towers Boat Club, Inc. on Monday, December 23, 2013.

Attractive Nuisance—CRS § 13-21-115.

The Supreme Court considered whether, under Colorado’s premises liability statute, CRS § 13-21-115, the attractive nuisance doctrine applies to both trespassing children and licensees or invitees. The Court held that the doctrine permits all children, regardless of their classification, to bring a claim for attractive nuisance. The Court therefore reversed the judgment of the court of appeals, which had found that the doctrine only protects trespassing children.

Summary and full case available here.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Trespass Claim Could Not Be Maintained Against Defendants in Personal Injury Case

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Mikes v. Burnett on Thursday, June 20, 2013.

Trespass—Injuries—Possession.

Plaintiff Daniel Mikes appealed the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of defendants Lyndon B. Burnett, Joe Craven, and J & V Diller Ranch, LLC. The judgment was affirmed.

In July 2010, steers owned by Burnett and J & V Diller wandered onto neighboring land owned by Lester Friend. Friend asked several individuals, including Mikes, if they would assist him in herding the steers off his property. While Mikes was attempting to separate Burnett’s steers from Friend’s cows using his four-wheel vehicle, the vehicle flipped several times, and he was injured.

On appeal, Mikes contended that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment on his trespass claims. Specifically, he argued that he could maintain a claim for trespass of the steers because he was in possession of Friend’s land when he was injured. The owner of livestock is strictly liable for damages caused when the livestock trespass on another’s land. Further, a claim for trespass may be asserted by anyone injured while in possession of that land. Mikes did not claim he constructively possessed Friend’s land, and it was undisputed that Mikes does not own the land. Further, the record did not establish that Mikes had anything more than a temporary right to enter Friend’s land to help move the steers, and there is no evidence in the record suggesting that Friend granted Mikes any right to occupy, control, or manipulate the land in any manner. Consequently, as a matter of law, he could not maintain a trespass claim against defendants.

Summary and full case available here.