Articles Posted in Colorado Supreme Court

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The Department of Transportation petitioned to acquire property owned by Amerco Real Estate Co. and occupied by U-Haul Co. by eminent domain, asserting that the property in question was necessary for a highway expansion project. U-Haul opposed the petition, asserting that the Department lacked authority to condemn its land on grounds that the statutory perquisites for acquiring land in the manner the Department used, were not met. The district court declined to dismiss the petition and instead granted the Department's motion for immediate possession. The Supreme Court reversed, finding that the transportation commission's enabling legislation, to the extent that it purported to delegate to the Department the choice of particular properties to be taken for highway projects and the manner of their taking, was an unlawful delegation of the commission's statutorily imposed obligation. The case was remanded back to the district court for dismissal of the Department's original petition. View "Colorado Dept. of Transportation v. Amerco Real Estate" on Justia Law

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Jesse Lipschuetz lived next door to Open Door Ministries. Lipschuetz filed claims against the City of Denver and Open Door looking to revoke a rooming and boarding permit the City granted to Open Door. The trial court concluded the City should not have issued the permit, but stayed revocation until Open Door's cross-claims were resolved. Several months later, the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Open Door on those cross-claims. On appeal, Lipscheutz argued Open Door's cross-claims against the City were barred by the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act because they "could lie in tort." Therefore, Lipscheutz argued, the trial court lacked jurisdiction over the cross-claims. The court of appeals agreed with that reasoning, and reversed the trial court. The Supreme Court reversed the appellate court, finding that the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act did not apply to Open Door's request for prospective relief to prevent future injury. Because Open Door had not suffered an injury before it filed its cross-claims, the Act did not bar those claims seeking prospective relief from future injury. Therefore, the trial court had jurisdiction over those cross-claims. View "Open Door Ministries v. Lipschuetz" on Justia Law

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On July 4, 2004, the Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority (the “Authority”) diverted 0.716 cubic feet per second (“cfs”) of water at the Edwards Drinking Water Facility on the Eagle River and delivered that water to the Cordillera area for beneficial use. On that date, there was a “free river” (meaning that there was no call on the Colorado or Eagle Rivers). Of the water diverted and delivered to Cordillera, the Authority allocated 0.47 cfs to its Eagle River Diversion Point No. 2 conditional water right (the “Junior Eagle River Right”) and filed an application to make this amount absolute. The State and Division Engineers opposed the application, asserting that the Authority could not make its Junior Eagle River Right absolute when it owned another, more senior conditional water right, the SCR Diversion Point No. 1 water right (the “Senior Lake Creek Right”), decreed for the same claimed beneficial uses at the same location and for diversion at the same point. The water court agreed with the Engineers, and held that the July 4, 2004, diversion had to be allocated first to the Senior Lake Creek Right. The Authority appealed, and the Colorado Supreme Court reversed, holding that where there was no evidence of waste, hoarding, or other mischief, and no injury to the rights of other water users, the owner of a portfolio of water rights was entitled to select which of its different, in-priority conditional water rights it wished to first divert and make absolute. "[T]he portfolio owner must live with its choice. Since it has chosen to make a portion of the Junior Eagle River Right absolute, the Authority may not now divert and use the Senior Lake Creek Right unless it demonstrates that it needs that water right in addition to the Junior Eagle River Right." View "Upper Eagle Reg'l Water Auth. v. Wolfe" on Justia Law

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In June 2010, the Denver City Council passed Ordinance 333, replacing the old zoning code but including an exception that allowed any person seeking to “erect or alter structures” to apply for a permit under the old zoning code until December 30, 2010. On December 30, 2010, Open Door Ministries (Open Door) applied for a use permit under the old code to change the use of 740 Clarkson Street to provide transitional housing for people in need. The Denver Zoning Authority (“the DZA”) issued the rooming and boarding permit. Open Door then purchased the property for $700,000; made improvements to the property; and began providing room and board to people at risk of becoming homeless. Several months later, Jesse Lipschuetz, who owned a home adjacent to 740 Clarkson, sought administrative review of the DZA’s decision to issue the permit. He argued that Open Door did not meet the exception under Ordinance 333 because the permit was for a change of use, not to “erect or alter” a structure. The DZA defended its decision to issue the permit, explaining that it had consistently interpreted the exception to allow parties to seek any kind of permit under the old zoning code until December30, 2010. The trial court concluded that the City should not have issued the permit, but stayed its order to revoke the permit until Open Door’s cross-claims were resolved. Several months later, the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Open Door on the cross-claims. On appeal, Lipschuetz argued that Open Door’s cross-claims against the City were barred by the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act because they “could lie in tort.” Because Open Door did not notify the City prior to filing its cross-claims, Lipschuetz argued that the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the cross-claims. The court of appeals agreed. The Supreme Court reversed, finding that the court of appeals failed to consider whether, at the time of filing, Open Door had suffered an injury that would subject its cross-claims to the Act. The Court concluded that the Act did not apply to Open Door’s request for prospective relief to prevent future injury. View "Open Door Ministries v. Lipschuetz" on Justia Law

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Boulder County chose to develop "the Bailey Farm" into a public open-space park which would feature several ponds formed from abandoned gravel pits filled with groundwater. The County had to replace out-of-priority stream depletions caused by evaporation from those ponds. To meet this obligation, the County filed an application for underground water rights, approval of a plan for augmentation, a change of water rights, and an appropriative right of substitution and exchange. The water court dismissed the application without prejudice, and the County now appeals that judgment. The components of the County’s application were interdependent, such that approval of the application as a whole hinged on approval of the plan for augmentation, which in turn hinged on approval of the change of water rights. To ensure this change would not unlawfully expand the Bailey Farm's water rights, the County conducted a parcel-specific historical consumptive use (“HCU”) analysis of that right. The water court found this HCU analysis inadequate for several reasons and therefore concluded the County failed to carry its burden of accurately demonstrating HCU. The pivotal consideration in this case was whether the County carried its burden of proving HCU. Like the water court, the Supreme Court concluded it did not. The Court therefore affirmed the water court’s judgment on that basis. View "Cty. of Boulder v. Boulder & Weld Cty. Ditch Co." on Justia Law

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Boulder County chose to develop "the Bailey Farm" into a public open-space park which would feature several ponds formed from abandoned gravel pits filled with groundwater. The County had to replace out-of-priority stream depletions caused by evaporation from those ponds. To meet this obligation, the County filed an application for underground water rights, approval of a plan for augmentation, a change of water rights, and an appropriative right of substitution and exchange. The water court dismissed the application without prejudice, and the County now appeals that judgment. The components of the County’s application were interdependent, such that approval of the application as a whole hinged on approval of the plan for augmentation, which in turn hinged on approval of the change of water rights. To ensure this change would not unlawfully expand the Bailey Farm's water rights, the County conducted a parcel-specific historical consumptive use (“HCU”) analysis of that right. The water court found this HCU analysis inadequate for several reasons and therefore concluded the County failed to carry its burden of accurately demonstrating HCU. The pivotal consideration in this case was whether the County carried its burden of proving HCU. Like the water court, the Supreme Court concluded it did not. The Court therefore affirmed the water court’s judgment on that basis. View "Cty. of Boulder v. Boulder & Weld Cty. Ditch Co." on Justia Law

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In 2011, In 2011, Regional Transportation District (“RTD”) filed a petition in condemnation against 750 West 48th Avenue, LLC (“Landowner”) to acquire approximately the approximately 1.6 acre property a light rail project. Landowner was leasing the property to a commercial waterproofing business ("Tenant"). Over the years, Landowner made several luxury improvements to the property, including adding a steam room, fitness room, atrium, ceramic and cherry-wood flooring, and marble and granite finishes. The parties stipulated to every condemnation issue except the property's reasonable market value. Landowner elected to litigate the property's value through a commission trial. RTD established the value at $1.8 million; Landowner thought the property was worth $2.57 million. Landowner's calculations focused solely on the cost of replacement; RTD based its estimation on a "superadequacy" theory, asserting that many of the luxury improvements that Landowner made to an industrial property would not fetch a price on the open market commensurate with the cost of replacement. The issue this case presented for the Supreme Court's review centered on the interplay between the respective authorities of the supervising judge and the commission to make evidentiary rulings in eminent domain valuation hearings. Specifically, the Court considered: (1) whether a commission could alter a supervising judge's ruling in limine regarding admissibility, and (2) whether the supervising judge could instruct the commission to disregard as irrelevant evidence that the commission had previously admitted. The Supreme Court held that judicial evidentiary rulings controlled in valuation hearings. Thus, the Court affirmed the court of appeals' judgment insofar as it approved the supervising judge instructing the commission to disregard previously admitted evidence as irrelevant. The Court reversed that portion of the appellate court's opinion permitting the commission to alter the judge's evidentiary ruling in limine. View "RTD v. 750 West 48th Ave., LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Jesse Reynolds and the owners of several other ditches that divert water from La Jara Creek appealed an order of the Water Court that denied their claim for declaratory relief. Plaintiffs sought a declaration that their appropriative rights to creek water were not limited to water flowing into the creek from the San Luis Valley Drain Ditch. Without directly addressing the merits of their claim, the water court granted summary judgment in favor of the State and Division Engineers (as well as other defendants) on the grounds that substantially the same issue had been litigated and decided against Plaintiffs in a prior declaratory action. The court concluded that all of the water rights of the parties in La Jara Creek were not only at issue, but were finally determined in that prior litigation, and therefore Plaintiffs’ claims were precluded. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that Plaintiffs' claims had not been determined in the prior litigation (either expressly or by implication), and that the grant of summary judgment was inappropriate. The Court reversed the water court's judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Reynolds v. Cotten" on Justia Law

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In this case, the District Court for Jefferson County dismissed a condemnation petition for a private way of necessity because the developer of the allegedly landlocked parcel did not sufficiently define the scope of and necessity for the proposed condemnation. Evidence showed that the development might vary from one to thirty residential dwellings which prevented the court from entering a condemnation order that would minimize the burden to be placed upon condemnee’s property. The court of appeals ruled that the condemnation could proceed based only upon the zoning of the condemnor’s property. The Supreme Court disagreed with the appellate court, and reinstated the district court’s judgment. The Supreme Court held that, when a petitioner seeks to condemn a private way of necessity for access to property it wishes to develop in the future, it must demonstrate a purpose for the condemnation that enables the trial court to examine both the scope of and necessity for the proposed condemnation, so that the burden to be imposed upon the condemnee’s property may be ascertained and circumscribed through the trial court’s condemnation order. The record in this case supported the trial court’s dismissal of the condemnation petition.

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In 2006, the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District (District) filed an application for absolute water rights, based on their conditional water rights on "Four Counties Ditch Number 3." The State Engineers opposed the application and moved for summary judgment. The water court denied the Engineers' motion, but ruled as a matter of law that in order to perfect a conditional water storage right, the District needed to show that “it diverted and put to beneficial use water in excess of its existing absolute decrees.” Upon careful consideration of the water court's record, the Supreme Court affirmed its decision.