August 14, 2018

Colorado Court of Appeals: Plaintiff Need Not Post Bond in Every Land Use Appeal Under C.R.C.P. 106

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Stor-N-Lock Partners Inc. v. City of Thornton on Thursday, May 3, 2018.

Administrative Law—C.R.C.P. 106—Specific Use Permit—Zoning Regulations—Evidence—Bond—Preliminary Injunction.

Plaintiff, Stor-N-Lock Partners #15, LLC (Stor-N-Lock), owns a self-storage facility located in the City of Thornton (the City). The Stor-N-Lock facility is located next to vacant property. Defendant Resolute Investments, Inc. (Resolute) contracted to buy the vacant property and then sought a specific use permit from the City to operate a self-storage facility there. The City granted the permit. Stor-N-Lock appealed the City’s decision to the district court under C.R.C.P. 106. While the case was pending in district court, Resolute filed a motion to require Stor-N-Lock to post a bond, theorizing that by filing the Rule 106 action, Stor-N-Lock had effectively obtained an injunction. The district court summarily denied the motion and affirmed.

On appeal, Stor-N-Lock argued that the City granted the permit in violation of its own zoning regulations, because the City failed to find that Resolute’s use of the property as a self-storage facility enhanced Stor-N-Lock’s property. However, the record evidence supports the City Council’s determination that the proposed use of the property would contribute to, enhance, or promote the welfare of adjacent properties, including Stor-N-Lock’s property. This evidence was sufficient to clear Rule 106(a)(4)’s low no-competent-evidence bar. Thus, the City Council did not abuse its discretion in granting the permit.

On cross-appeal, Resolute argued that although Stor-N-Lock did not seek a preliminary injunction, and the district court did not enjoin Resolute’s use of the property in any way, Stor-N-Lock should nonetheless have been ordered to post a bond when it initiated its Rule 106 action in the district court. Resolute argued that the mere filing of the action increased the financial risk associated with the project and thus created an “effective stay” of its development plan. However, a plaintiff is required to post a bond only when a restraining order or preliminary injunction has been entered . Here, Stor-N-Lock did not seek injunctive relief or a temporary restraining order and therefore was not required to post a bond. The district court did not err in denying Resolute’s motion to require security.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: County’s Master Plan Retained Advisory Status when Not Incorporated Into Land Development Code

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Friends of the Black Forest Preservation Plan, Inc. v. Board of County Commissioners on Thursday, April 7, 2016.

C.R.C.P. 106(a)(4)—Special Use Permit Appeal—Binding Nature of Master Plans.

Under C.R.C.P. 106(a)(4), plaintiffs, Friends of Black Forest Preservation Plan, Inc. and several residents of the Black Forest area, appealed the district court’s judgment affirming the decision of defendant Board of County Commissioners of El Paso County (Board) approving the special use permit application of defendant Black Forest Mission, LLC (BFM) to construct a greenhouse operation in the Black Forest Preservation area.

BFM proposed to construct a 1.19-acre greenhouse on a 4.87-acre lot it owned in an area governed by the Black Forest Preservation Plan (BFPP), which is contained within El Paso County’s overall master plan. Greenhouses are allowed if less than one acre in size, but a special use permit is required for larger greenhouses.

The Planning Commission recommended by a 6–2 vote that the Board deny BFM’s application for a special use permit because of its inconsistency with both El Paso County’s Policy Plan and the BFPP. At the first hearing before the Board, BFM was granted a continuance to amend its application to attempt to ameliorate various concerns of the Planning Commission and residents. At the next hearing, BFM presented a revised plan proposing three smaller greenhouses that collectively would be larger and would be built on two parcels instead of one. BFM also modified the location to address concerns about light pollution, view obstruction, and traffic congestion. The Board approved BFM’s amended special use application by a vote of 3–2.

Plaintiffs filed this action, arguing the Board misapplied governing law and abused its discretion because of its belief, as relayed by a county attorney, that the county’s master plan was merely advisory. The district court affirmed the Board’s decision, agreeing that the county’s master plan was advisory and there was competent evidence in the record supporting the Board’s decision to approve BFM’s special use permit application. Plaintiffs appealed.

The court of appeals noted that C.R.S. § 30-28-106 provides that master plans may be made binding by formal inclusion in county land use regulations. The court undertook an extensive analysis of El Paso County’s land use regulation scheme and rejected plaintiffs’ argument that the Board’s approval was based on an erroneous legal standard, concluding there was a reasonable basis for the Board’s interpretation of its own regulatory framework. It held that the master plan was advisory and the Board has discretion in deciding how to apply the master plan in its decisions on special use applications.

Plaintiffs also argued it was error for the district court to find competent evidence in the record to support the Board’s decision. The court disagreed.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: CORA Exception for Prosecuting Attorney Does Not Apply to Land Use Violation

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Shook v. Pitkin County Board of County Commissioners on Thursday, June 18, 2015.

Colorado Open Records Act—Investigatory Records Exception.

In August 2012, the Pitkin County Attorney’s Office received a citizen complaint regarding a potential code violation of plaintiff Shook’s property. The complaint was investigated and a violation notice for failure to obtain a necessary construction permit was issued. Shook cured the violation by obtaining a permit.

Several months later, Shook submitted a Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) request to the county attorney (custodian), seeking access to records related to the violation. The custodian provided certain documents but denied access to the original citizen complaint and the investigating officer’s handwritten notes.

Shook then filed this action, seeking a declaratory judgment that the custodian violated CORA by withholding the records, an order directing the custodian to disclose the records, and attorney fees and costs. The district court held that the custodian properly denied access to the records under CORA’s investigatory records exception, CRS § 24-72-204(2)(a)(I).

The investigatory records exception allows a custodian to withhold records if (1) the records relate to investigations conducted by a sheriff, prosecuting attorney, or police department, or are contained in investigatory files compiled for criminal law enforcement purposes; and (2) disclosure would be contrary to the public interest. Here, the record did not support the finding that the records related to an investigation by a prosecuting attorney. Such an attorney refers to one prosecuting a criminal matter, and this was not a criminal prosecution. The order was reversed for failure to meet the first prong.

CRS § 24-72-204(5) requires the court to award costs and reasonable attorney fees to any person who applies for and receives an order requiring a custodian to permit inspection of public records. The case was remanded with directions to order the custodian to allow Shook to inspect the records and, upon Shook’s application, assess and award reasonable court costs and attorney fees in her favor.

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

Tenth Circuit: Express or Implicit Dispute of Title Necessary to Trigger Quiet Title Act’s “Disputed Title” Requirement

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Kane County, Utah v. United States on Tuesday, December 2, 2014.

In April 2008, Kane County, Utah brought an action under the Quiet Title Act (QTA), 28 U.S.C. § 2409a, to quiet title to five roads in southern Utah. It later amended its complaint to cover 15 roads or road segments. The county asserted the rights-of-way pursuant to R.S. 2477, which reserved a right-of-way for construction of highways over public lands not reserved for public uses. R.S. 2477 was repealed by the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1977 (FLPMA)  but existing rights-of-way were preserved. The State of Utah intervened in the county’s action as co-plaintiff. After a 9-day bench trial, the district court issued two orders. In the first order, the district court held that it had subject matter jurisdiction under the QTA as to all 15 roads at issue. The second order made findings of fact and addressed the merits, finding that Kane County and Utah had proven R.S. 2477 rights-of-way on 12 of the 15 roads and setting proper widths for the rights-of-way. Both orders were challenged on appeal.

Kane County and Utah argued that the district court erred by finding that Public Water Reserve (PWR) 107 reserved two parcels of land from the operation of R.S. 2477. They also challenged the district court’s requirement of proof by clear and convincing evidence of the R.S. 2477 rights-of-way. The United States also appealed, claiming that the district court lacked jurisdiction over the county’s claims regarding several roads because of the absence of a disputed title to real property. The United States also contended the district court erred in setting widths for the rights-of-way on three of the roads.

The Tenth Circuit first examined the subject matter jurisdiction claims of the United States and amici. For a court to have jurisdiction over a QTA claim, the plaintiff must show that (1) the United States “claims an interest” in the property at issue, and (2) title to the property is “disputed.” The Tenth Circuit, as a matter of first impression, evaluated what requirements satisfy the QTA’s “disputed title” requirement. The Tenth Circuit rejected the Ninth Circuit’s “cloud on title” standard and instead held that, to satisfy the QTA’s “disputed title” element, the plaintiff must show that the United States has either expressly disputed title or taken action that implicitly disputes it. Actions that produce ambiguity are not enough to satisfy the disputed title element.

Turning its attention to the roads at issue, the Tenth Circuit found that the district court did not have jurisdiction over the Sand Dunes Road and the Hancock Road. These roads were omitted from a BLM map, but later the map was amended to show the roads. The district court ruled this created an ambiguity as to the legal status of the roads, but the Tenth Circuit found the ambiguity was insufficient to satisfy the QTA’s disputed title element and therefore the district court lacked jurisdiction. The Tenth Circuit also found the district court lacked jurisdiction as to the four cave roads. The district court’s treatment of the United States’ denial of allegations as sufficient to establish jurisdiction was in error.

Amici had argued the plaintiffs lacked R.S. 2477 jurisdiction over another road, the North Swag Road, because the QTA’s limitations period had expired. The Tenth Circuit found that the limitations period was not triggered because no adverse action had occurred.

The Tenth Circuit then turned its attention to the district court’s conclusion that PWR 107 had served to “reserve” two parcels of land across which Swallow Park Road runs from operation of R.S. 2477. The Tenth Circuit analyzed PWR 107, finding that it was intended to provide public access to certain water springs, and noted that it would be “nonsensical” to hold that the provision of public access to the springs expressly excluded the construction of roadways under R.S. 2477 on which the public could access the water springs. The Tenth Circuit reversed the district court’s determination that plaintiffs could not establish a right-of-way on the part of Swallow Park Road running through the two reserved parcels of land.

Finally, the United States argued that the district court erred by not designating right-of-way widths on three roadways on the uses established in 1977, and by improperly allowing room for improvements on the roadways. The Tenth Circuit agreed on both points. The district court was required to inquire as to the reasonable and necessary uses of the road, and expansions are only allowable when reasonable and necessary in light of pre-1977 uses of the roadways. Similarly, the district court exceeded its authority by allowing room for improvements. The Tenth Circuit likened this to putting the cart before the horse, finding instead that if the roadways needed improvements the land management agency must be consulted and allowed an opportunity to determine if the improvements are reasonable and necessary.

The judgment of the district court was affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings.

SB 13-267: Permitting Judicial Review of a Final Action Regarding Land Use Regardless of Whether an Application for Reconsideration has been Filed with the Local Government

On Friday, April 12, 2013, Sen. Jessie Ulibarri introduced SB 13-267 – Concerning Judicial Review of Land Use Determinations by Local Governments. This summary is published here courtesy of the Colorado Bar Association’s e-Legislative Report.

Upon any final action of a county, home rule or statutory city, town, territorial charter city, or city and county (local government) that has the effect of approving or denying, in whole or in part, the use or development of a particular parcel of real property, the bill makes the final action subject to judicial review, whether or not an application for reconsideration of the final action has been filed, unless the filing of an application for reconsideration is required to obtain judicial review under the land development regulations of the local government.

The bill authorizes any person adversely affected or aggrieved by final action by a local government concerning the use or development of a particular parcel of real property, and who was a party to or participated in the proceedings resulting in the final action, to commence an action for judicial review of the final action in the district court in which the real property is located within 30 days after the action becomes final. The bill specifies the parties against whom the action may be brought.

The bill specifies the required components of a complaint requesting judicial review, and additional procedures governing service of the complaint, certification of the record, and a schedule for briefing the matter before the district court.

Judicial review under the bill is limited to a determination of whether the local government or an officer of the local government has exceeded its jurisdiction or abused its discretion, based on the evidence in the record before the defendant local government or officer.

The bill requires the district court to determine the matter within 63 days of the plaintiff’s reply brief, or, if no briefs are filed, within 63 days of the filing of the defendant’s answer. If the district court has not decided the matter by the applicable deadline, the final action of the local government that is under review is deemed affirmed and valid without any further action by the district court, for all purposes including authorization to seek appellate review of the district court’s order. The decision of the district court is subject to appellate review as permitted by existing appellate rules.

The bill was introduced on April 12 and assigned to the Local Government Committee. The bill is scheduled for committee review on April 23 at 2 p.m.

Since this summary, the bill was postponed indefinitely by the Local Government Committee.