April 21, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: Evidence of Project Funds Inadmissible in Condemnation Proceeding

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Town of Silverthorne v. Lutz on Thursday, February 11, 2016.

Matthew Lutz and Edward Lutz (landowners) own a stretch of land over which the Town of Silverthorne wanted to build a trail. The town applied for and received funds from the Great Outdoors Colorado Program (GOCO) to use in construction of the trail. Landowners objected to having a portion of the trail built on their land. The town offered landowners $6,000 to purchase an easement, but landowners did not respond. The town next offered $75,000 for two easements, but landowners again did not respond. The town then filed a condemnation action under its eminent domain powers, and the matter proceeded to an immediate possession hearing and subsequent valuation trial. The district court granted the town’s motion for immediate possession and the landowners were compensated according to the jury’s valuation.

On appeal, the town initially argued the landowners waived any defense by failing to challenge the condemnation proceedings or make a counteroffer. The court of appeals found no error in the district court’s allowance for the landowners to reply to the condemnation proceedings out of time. The court noted, “Technically, there is no need to file an answer in a condemnation case, but it is good practice to do so.” Next, the court addressed the landowners’ assertion that the town was barred from exercising eminent domain power because of its receipt of GOCO funds, and the district court erred in granting the town’s motion in limine to exclude evidence of the source of funds. The court found it was bound by the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision in Pub. Serv. Co. v. City of Loveland, 79 Colo. 216, 233, 245 P. 493, 500-01 (1926), to exclude evidence of the source of funding for the eminent domain action, finding that the source of funds requires analysis of corporate finance which is wholly separate from a home rule city’s eminent domain authority. The court found no error in the district court’s grant of the town’s motion in limine to exclude evidence of the source of funds.

Landowners also argued the town acted in bad faith by planning the development of its trail in such a way as to receive all GOCO funds before commencing the eminent domain action. The landowners argue this is a jurisdictional challenge to the town’s condemnation suit. The court found several flaws with the landowners’ arguments that the town failed to act in good faith, and again affirmed the district court’s decision to exclude evidence of the GOCO funds. The court also rejected landowners’ contention that the district court erred in denying their motion for attorney fees.

The court of appeals affirmed the district court.

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