April 25, 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.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Single Subject Rule for Charter Amendments Does Not Violate Municipal Home Rule Act

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Colorado Springs Citizens for Community Rights v. City of Colorado Springs on Thursday, August 27, 2015.

City Charter—Proposed Ballot Initiative—Single-Subject Rule—Municipal Home Rule Act.

Colorado Springs Citizens for Community Rights (CSCCR) is an advocacy group opposed to the use of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in oil and gas production. In 2013, CSCCR attempted to amend the Charter of the City of Colorado Springs (City Charter) to prohibit fracking within city limits. CSCCR formed a petition committee, which drafted a proposed ballot initiative to amend the City Charter. The initiative was rejected by the Title Board. The basis for the rejection was the City’s single-subject rule, which states that the City’s Initiative Review Committee (IRC) and the Title Board “shall ensure that initiatives contain only single subjects to enable voters to understand the subject matter of the initiative.”

On appeal, CSCCR contended that the single-subject rule is effectively an amendment to the City Charter because it alters, or adds to, the charter’s amendment requirements. The Municipal Home Rule Act (MHRA) provides that citizens seeking to amend a city charter can initiate the amendment process by filing a petition containing “the text of the proposed amendment” with the city clerk. The MHRA does not define “proposed amendment” or provide substantive criteria for such an amendment. Therefore, the statute leaves room for a home rule municipality to establish the criteria of a proposed amendment to its charter. Here, the City exercised its legislative powers to enact criteria for proposed amendments to its charter—among them, the single-subject rule. Because the MHRA amendment procedures are undisturbed by the City’s single-subject rule, the rule does not conflict with or effectively amend the City Charter provision stating that the MHRA shall govern the submission of charter amendments. Therefore, the district court did not err by upholding the single-subject rule. The order was affirmed.

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

Colorado Supreme Court: Home Rule Municipality Cannot Promulgate Laws that Conflict with State Law on Matters of Statewide Concern

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Webb v. City of Black Hawk on Monday, February 4, 2013.

Legality of Banning Bicycles on City Streets—Home-Rule Municipality—Local Government Law—Traffic Regulations—CRS § 42-4-109(11)—Matter of State and Local Concern—Preemption.

In this appeal from the Gilpin County District Court, petitioners Jamie Webb, Jeffrey Hermanson, and Michaleen Jeronimus challenged the legality of the City of Black Hawk’s ordinance banning bicycles on certain city streets. Petitioners, a group of bicyclists, were cited and fined for riding their bikes on Gregory Street in Black Hawk, the only street providing access through town from the state highway to Central City. The bicyclists argued that Black Hawk, as a home-rule municipality, lacked the authority to prohibit bicycles on local streets absent a suitable alternative bicycle route as provided by state statute. Both the trial and district courts ruled in favor of Black Hawk, finding that the city had the authority to ban bicycles through both its home-rule and police powers.

The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Black Hawk’s ordinance banning bicycles is a matter of mixed state and local concern, and conflicts with and is preempted by state law. As a home-rule municipality, Black Hawk may enact traffic regulations that cover the same subject matter as the model traffic code, but it may not promulgate regulations that conflict with state statute. Black Hawk’s ordinance banning bicycles on city streets is in conflict with CRS § 42-4-109(11), which requires any municipal bike prohibition to have an available alternate path within 450 feet. Because Black Hawk’s ordinance conflicts with a specific statutory provision in a matter of mixed state and local concern, it is preempted.

Summary and full case available here.