July 17, 2019

Colorado Supreme Court: Respondents’ Complaint Asserted Timely Claim Seeking Declaration that Ordinance Violated City Charter

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in City of Boulder v. Public Service Co. of Colorado on Monday, June 18, 2018.

Declaratory Judgment Actions—C.R.C.P. 57—C.R.C.P. 106—Municipal Ordinances—Finality.

This case arises out of respondents’ challenge to petitioner city’s attempt to create a light and power utility. Respondents assert that the ordinance establishing the utility violates the city’s charter. Respondents thus seek a declaratory judgment deeming that ordinance null and void. The city asserted that respondents’ complaint was, in reality, an untimely C.R.C.P. 106 challenge to a prior ordinance by which the city had concluded that it could meet certain prerequisites for the formation of the utility as prescribed by the city charter. The district court agreed with the city and dismissed respondents’ complaint for lack of jurisdiction. A division of the court of appeals, however, vacated the district court’s judgment, concluding that neither of the pertinent ordinances was final and therefore respondents’ complaint was premature.

The supreme court reversed the division’s decision and remanded the case for further proceedings on respondents’ declaratory judgment claim. Although the court agreed with the city that the division erred, contrary to petitioners’ position and the premises on which the courts below proceeded, the court agreed with respondents that the complaint asserted a viable and timely claim seeking a declaration that the ordinance establishing the utility violated the city charter. Accordingly, the court concluded that the district court had jurisdiction to hear respondents’ declaratory judgment claim, and the court remanded the case to allow that claim to proceed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Declaratory Judgment Appropriate and Statutory Definition of Firearm Encompasses Bow Hunting

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Moss v. Board of County Commissioners for Boulder County on Thursday, March 26, 2015.

Declaratory Judgment—Firearm—Definition—County Board—Geographic Area.

This case concerns a county resolution that prohibits firearm discharges in a designated area of Sugar Loaf Mountain in unincorporated Boulder County. Moss and Westby live and own property in this area. Colorado Advocates for Public Safety is a nonprofit corporation whose mission is to assist in protecting the public from safety hazards, such as those involving firearms. This dispute between plaintiffs and the Board of County Commissioners for Boulder County (County Board) centers around the definition and scope of this resolution.

On appeal, plaintiffs contended that the district court erred in dismissing their declaratory judgment claim, wherein plaintiffs sought a judicial determination that, as a matter of law, the word “firearm” in CRS §§ 30-15-301 to -302 and Resolution 80-52 includes bows and arrows. Because a declaratory judgment would terminate the controversy or uncertainty regarding the scope of the resolution, plaintiffs’ declaratory judgment claim was properly raised in the district court and the district court erred in declining to address it.

The statute that authorizes counties to prohibit firearm discharges expressly defines “firearm” or “firearms” as “any pistol, revolver, rifle, or other weapon of any description from which any shot, projectile, or bullet may be discharged.” A bow is a weapon and an arrow is a projectile. Therefore, a bow and arrow constitute a “firearm” under this statute, and plaintiffs were entitled to a declaratory judgment in their favor on this issue.

Plaintiffs also requested an expansion of the geographic area covered by the resolution in their claim for injunctive relief. CRS § 30-15-302 does not subject the County Board to any procedural requirements to address plaintiffs’ request, and Colorado’s Administrative Procedure Act does not apply to the County Board. Additionally, plaintiffs concede that they have not asserted and cannot assert a claim under CRCP 106(a)(4) because there has been no final agency action in this case. Finally, plaintiffs have failed to state a constitutional due process claim on which relief can be granted. Therefore, the district court did not err in dismissing plaintiffs’ claim for injunctive relief on this issue.

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

Colorado Court of Appeals: Reformation of Conservation Deed Appropriate to Correct Mutual Mistake

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Ranch O, LLC v. Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust on Thursday, February 26, 2015.

Conservation Easement—Summary Judgment—Reformation of Deed Based on Mutual Mistake.

Craig Walker was the sole manager and 99% membership owner of Walker I-Granby, LLC (LLC). Walker owned certain property that he conveyed to the LLC. Walker and the Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust (Land Trust) then signed a deed of conservation easement (Conservation Deed) that purported to give the Land Trust a conservation easement on the subject property. The Conservation Deed named Walker as the grantor, but Walker had previously conveyed the subject property to his LLC. The LLC should have been the grantor. Neither Walker nor the Land Trust was aware of this error.

Walker, on the LLC’s behalf, then entered into discussions with Ranch O, LLC’s principal about selling the subject property to Ranch O. Walker informed Ranch O of the Land Trust’s conservation easement.

Ranch O bought the subject property from the LLC. The deed conveying the property noted that the subject property was encumbered by a conservation easement held by the Land Trust and noted the recording information for the Conservation Deed.

Ranch O requested a declaratory judgment that the Conservation Deed was invalid and had no force and effect because Walker had no ownership interest in the subject property at the time the Conservation Deed was signed and recorded. The Land Trust answered, seeking a declaratory judgment that the Conservation Deed was valid and enforceable despite the scrivener’s error and reformation of the Conservation Deed to correct any error regarding the identity of the grantor. The Land Trust claimed any error was the result of mutual mistake. The district court granted the Land Trust’s motion for summary judgment and denied Ranch O’s request.

On appeal, Ranch O argued that the undisputed facts precluded the district court from reforming the Conservation Deed based on a mutual mistake of fact. The Court of Appeals disagreed. It found that the evidence clearly and unequivocally showed that reformation was appropriate because both parties to the Conservation Deed mistakenly believed that it correctly identified the grantor and that the grantor had the authority to convey the conservation easement. The mutual mistake justified reforming the Conservation Deed.

Ranch O also argued that reformation violated the policies and purposes behind Colorado’s race-notice statute. The Court disagreed, noting that Ranch O had actual notice of the Conservation Deed before it purchased the subject property. It was also advised of the Conservation Deed in the LLC’s deed to Ranch O. Ranch O, given its actual knowledge of the Conservation Deed, cannot simply ignore it and then seek to defeat its reformation in this action. Reformation is an equitable remedy and equity demands that the Conservation Deed be reformed. The judgment was affirmed.

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

Colorado Court of Appeals: Meaningful Remedy May Be Available to Landowners so Summary Judgment Inappropriate

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Sinclair Transportation Co. v. Sandberg on Thursday, June 5, 2014.

Easement — Partial Summary Judgment.

Sinclair Pipeline Company (Sinclair) operates a pipeline system that transports petroleum products from Wyoming to Denver and uses an easement that passes through defendants’ (landowners) properties. The easement was created by agreement in 1963 and provided its owner and “its successors and assigns” the right to “construct, maintain, inspect, operate, protect, repair, replace, change the size of, and remove” a six-inch pipeline across landowners’ property (original pipeline).

In 2006, Sinclair approached landowners to propose amending the easement to allow it to build a ten-inch pipeline on the property (new pipeline). Landowners declined, and Sinclair sought the right through a condemnation proceeding. The district court determined Sinclair had condemnation authority. In 2007, while the case was on appeal, Sinclair installed the new pipeline but did not put it to use. Ultimately, the Supreme Court determined Sinclair did not have statutory condemnation authority.

Sinclair then abandoned the condemnation proceeding and instituted this declaratory judgment action under CRCP 57 and CRS § 13-51-106 to determine its rights under the easement and prevent landowners from removing the new pipeline. The district court dismissed the condemnation action and addressed all other claims in this case.

Sinclair moved for partial summary judgment and the district court ruled, as a matter of law, that Sinclair had the right to treat the new pipeline as a replacement of the original one, as long as it removed the original one. The partial summary judgment was certified as a final judgment under CRCP 54(b) for purposes of appeal.

Sinclair removed the original pipeline and began using the new one. Four months after the summary judgment order was issued and Sinclair had begun using the new pipeline, landowners moved to stay the order, which the district court denied because Sinclair had “already fully executed” it and there “was nothing left . . . to stay.”

On appeal, landowners argued Sinclair lacked standing because factual disputes existed as to whether Sinclair was a successor in interest to the original owner of the easement, and an easement of the type involved in this case could not be assigned. The Court of Appeals disagreed, finding that the evidence presented by Sinclair was sufficient to prove its successorship interest in the easement.

The Court rejected landowners’ argument that Sinclair lacked standing, because ownership interests in this type of easement cannot be assigned. The language of the easement itself was a conveyance to Old Sinclair and its “successors and assigns.”

Landowners argued that partial summary judgment was inappropriate because any right to replace the pipeline was subject to numerous conditions as to which factual disputes exist and was defeated by Sinclair’s non-compliance with other parts of the agreement. The Court disagreed, finding that the reasonable expectation of the parties to such an agreement would be that the new pipeline could be put in before the old one being removed so as not to disrupt service.

Landowners further contended that Sinclair abandoned the contract right to the easement because it acted as though that right had expired when it sought to use condemnation authority to install the new pipeline. The Court disagreed. Sinclair’s condemnation action was an attempt to install the new pipeline and not remove the old pipeline after landowners had denied them the permission to do so. The order was affirmed.

Summary and full case available here.