January 20, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: District Court Did Not Completely Discharge Mandate in Taylor Ranch Case Because Identification Process Was Not Comprehensive

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Cielo Vista Ranch I, LLC v. Alire on Thursday, November 15, 2018.

Real Property—Public Lands.

Fifteen years ago, the Colorado Supreme Court remanded this case to the district court with instructions to “identify all landowners who have access rights to the Taylor Ranch.” In 2004, the district court began identifying and decreeing access rights for landowners in the San Luis Valley whose land was settled by 1869. From 2004 until 2010, the district court relied on the best available evidence to decree access rights for individual landowners without requiring any landowner to come forward to assert a claim (the opt-out process). After 2010, the district court decreed access rights for only those landowners who came forward to assert claims (the opt-in process). In October 2016, the trial court issued a final order that certified all prior orders, adjudicating 26 access rights for landowners as final and appealable pursuant to C.R.C.P. 54(b). Remaining landowner claimants were not foreclosed from coming forward in the future.

Appellants in this case are CVR Properties, Ltd., Jaroso Creek Ranch, LLC, and Western Properties Investors LLC, the owners of Cielo Vista Ranch and other properties that were once known as the Taylor Ranch (the Ranch) (collectively, Ranch Owner). Appellees are landowners in Costilla County whose rights to access the Ranch to graze livestock and gather firewood and timber were decreed through the remand proceedings.

On appeal, Ranch Owner challenged the trial court’s implementation of the supreme court’s mandate on remand. The opt-out proceedings on remand from 2004 through 2010 were largely consistent with the mandate. But as to the opt-in process from 2010 through 2016, the district court did not completely discharge the mandate because that portion of the identification process could have been, but was not, comprehensive. The trial court mistakenly concluded that it was bound by the law of the case doctrine to implement an opt-in process during the last phase on remand.

The October 2016 order was reversed to the extent it requires any remaining landowners entitled to access to the Ranch to come forward. The case was remanded for the trial court to identify all remaining owners of benefited lands and adjudicate their rights. In all other respects the order was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

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