Justia Real Estate & Property Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Colorado Supreme Court
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This appeal stemmed from an application for a conditional water storage right filed by United Water and Sanitation District, a special water district formed in Elbert County, Colorado, acting through the United Water Acquisition Project Water Activity Enterprise (“United”). United sought to secure various water rights in Weld County. United’s original applications were consolidated in a set of four cases. In response to a motion for determination of questions of law from opposer Farmers Reservoir and Irrigation Company (“FRICO”) in the consolidated cases, the District Court for Water Division 1 (“water court”) concluded that United’s applications failed to demonstrate non-speculative intent to appropriate water. In response to this ruling, United withdrew its applications in the consolidated cases and, a week later, filed a new application in Case No. 16CW3053 for a conditional water storage right that was the subject of this appeal. Pertinent here, United sought to appropriate water for use in a proposed residential development in another county. In support of its new application for a conditional storage right, United offered a new, purportedly binding contract with the landowners of the proposed development. United also claimed for the first time that its status as a special district qualified it for the governmental planning exception to the anti-speculation doctrine. FRICO opposed United's application, and the water court determined United's new application likewise failed to demonstrated non-speculative intent to appropriate water. The water court found that United was acting as a water broker to sell to third parties for their use, and not as a governmental agency seeking to procure water to serve its own municipal customers. Consequently, the water court held, United did not qualify for the governmental planning exception to the anti-speculation doctrine. United appealed. But concurring with the water court's judgment, the Colorado Supreme Court affirmed: United was ineligible for the governmental planning exception to the anti-speculation doctrine. View "United Water & Sanitation Dist. v. Burlington Ditch Reservoir & Land Co." on Justia Law

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In 2015, the owners of a 13,000-acre tract of land known as 70 Ranch successfully petitioned to include their tract in a special district. After 70 Ranch was incorporated into the district, the district began taxing the leaseholders of subsurface mineral rights, Bill Barrett Corporation, Bonanza Creek Energy, Inc., and Noble Energy, Inc. for the oil and gas they produced at wellheads located on 70 Ranch. The Lessees, however, objected to being taxed, arguing the mineral interests they leased could not be included in the special district because neither they nor the owners of the mineral estates consented to inclusion, which they asserted was required by section 32-1-401(1)(a), C.R.S. (2019), of the Special District Act. The Colorado Supreme Court determined that section 401(1)(a) permitted the inclusion of real property covered by the statute into a special taxing district when (1) the inclusion occurred without notice to or consent by the property’s owners and (2) that property was not capable of being served by the district. The Court answered "no," however, 32-1-401(1)(a) required the assent of all of the surface property owners to an inclusion under that provision, and inclusion was only appropriate if the surface property could be served by the district. "Section 32-1-401(1)(a) does not require assent from owners of subsurface mineral estates because those mineral estates, while they are real property, are not territory. Thus, Lessees’ consent was not required for the inclusion of 70 Ranch in the special district." The Court therefore affirmed the court of appeals on alternate grounds. View "Barrett Corp. v. Lembke" on Justia Law

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This case asked the Colorado Supreme Court to construe the definition of residential land in section 39-1-102(14.4)(a), C.R.S. (2019). Stephen Ziegler (through the Stephen J. Ziegler Revocable Trust Dated July 17, 2008) owned four parcels of land in Park County, Colorado. One parcel was classified as “residential land” under section 39-1-102(14.4)(a) and taxed accordingly. However, the other three parcels remained “vacant land” and are thus taxed at a higher rate. Ziegler sought to reclassify those vacant parcels as residential land to receive a corresponding tax abatement. As it concluded in Mook v. Summit Cty. Bd. of Cty. Comm'rs, 2020 CO 12 (2020): (1) a residential improvement isn’t needed on each contiguous and commonly owned parcel of land for that parcel to be “used as a unit;” and (2) a landowner can satisfy the “used as a unit” requirement by using multiple parcels of land together as a collective unit of residential property. The BAA here applied the same legal standards that the Court expressly disavowed in Mook. Thus, it reversed the BAA’s order and remanded for the BAA to apply the standards articulated in this case to determine whether the vacant parcels qualified as “residential land.” View "Ziegler v. Park Cty. Bd. of Cty. Comm'rs" on Justia Law

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The common issue from three property tax cases presented to the Colorado Supreme Court for review centered on what constituted "residential land" under 39-1-102(14.4)(a), C.R.S. (2019). In Colorado, residential land was taxed as a lower rate than vacant land. The Mooks owned two parcels of land in Summit County, Colorado. One parcel contained the Mooks’ house, classified as residential land. The other parcel was undeveloped, and it was classified as vacant land (“the subject parcel”). The parties agreed that these two parcels didn't physically touch. The Homeowners’ Association (“HOA”) owned an approximately seventeen-foot-wide strip of land that completely separated the two properties (that strip provided other members of the HOA access to adjacent public land). The Mooks petitioned the Board of County Commissioners of Summit County (“BCC”) to reclassify the subject parcel from vacant land to residential land. The BCC denied their petition, and the Mooks appealed to the Board of Assessment Appeals (“BAA”). The BAA upheld the BCC’s decision. Notably, the BAA determined that contiguous parcels are those that are “physically connected.” Here, the residential and subject parcels didn't physically touch, and the BAA “was not persuaded that the use of the subject lot in conjunction with the residential lot was sufficient to defeat the plain meaning of contiguity.” Thus, the BAA concluded that the two parcels aren’t contiguous, and it denied the Mooks’ appeal. Taking the three appeals together, the Colorado Supreme Court concluded: (1) only parcels of land that physically touch qualify as “contiguous parcels of land;” (2) a residential improvement isn’t needed on each contiguous and commonly owned parcel of land and a landowner can satisfy the “used as a unit” requirement by using multiple parcels of land together as a collective unit of residential property; and (3) county records dictate whether parcels are held under “common ownership.” View "Mook v. Bd. of Cty. Comm’rs" on Justia Law

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The Luskin Daughters 1996 Trust for the benefit of Lyndell Joy Luskin Ackerman, appealed a water court order dismissing its complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief, as well as for damages. The complaint alleged that the Trust and Steve and Heather Young owned adjacent parcels of land; that in 2017 the Youngs built a house that destroyed one or more ditches that had historically delivered spring water to the Trust’s property; and that those water rights had been used on the Trust’s property for purposes of irrigation, animal watering, wildlife, and recreation. The water court concluded that in the absence of an application for the determination of a water right, the Trust’s claim of interference by the Youngs with its unadjudicated appropriative rights to springs that arose on the Youngs’ land could not proceed before the water court. It therefore granted the Youngs’ motion, pursuant to C.R.C.P. 12(b)(1), (2), or (5), to dismiss. The Colorado Supreme Court found that while appropriation by diverting a specific amount of water and applying it to a beneficial purpose may entitle the appropriator to adjudicate a water right, according to the provisions of the applicable Colorado water law, it cannot afford a priority of use, even with respect to another specific user, without formal adjudication of a water right, in a specific amount, for a specific purpose, and relative to a specific structure for diversion. Therefore, the Court concluded the water court did not err in dismissing the Trust’s complaint. View "The Luskin Daughters 1996 Trust v. Young" on Justia Law

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A condominium association, Dakota Station II Condominium, filed two claims with its insurer, Owners Insurance Company, for weather damage. The parties couldn’t agree on the money owed, so Dakota invoked the appraisal provision of its insurance policy. The parties each selected an appraiser, putting the rest of the provision’s terms into motion. Ultimately, the appraisers submitted conflicting value estimates to an umpire, and the umpire issued a final award, accepting some estimates from each appraiser. Dakota’s appraiser signed onto the award, and Owners paid Dakota. Owners later moved to vacate the award, arguing that Dakota’s appraiser was not “impartial” as required by the insurance policy’s appraisal provision and that she failed to disclose material facts. The trial court disagreed and “dismissed” the motion to vacate. A division of the court of appeals affirmed. In its review, the Colorado Supreme Court interpreted the policy’s impartiality requirement and determined whether a contingent-cap fee agreement between Dakota and its appraiser rendered the appraiser partial as a matter of law. The Court concluded the plain language of the policy required appraisers to be unbiased, disinterested, and unswayed by personal interest, and the contingent-cap fee agreement didn’t render Dakota’s appraiser partial as a matter of law. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals with respect to the contingent-cap fee agreement, reversed with respect to the impartiality requirement, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Owners Ins. v. Dakota Station II Condo. Ass'n" on Justia Law

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Before the 2007-2008 financial crisis, Woodcrest Homes was poised to construct a new development. Woodcrest secured only a small parcel, "Parcel C" which was stuck between two larger parcels that were necessary for completion of the project. Over a decade after the failed development, a special metropolitan district controlled by a competitor, Century Communities, sought to condemn Parcel C and finish what Woodcrest started. Woodcrest objected, claiming the entire condemnation proceeding was really a sham designed to benefit Century. Woodcrest contended the condemnation violated both the public use protections of the Colorado Constitution and the statutory prohibition on economic development takings. According to Woodcrest, the purpose of the taking, at the time it occurred, was to satisfy contractual obligations between Century and the Town of Parker. Because the public would not be the beneficiary at the time of the taking, Woodcrest contends that this condemnation violated the Colorado Constitution. Moreover, it argued, the taking effectively transfers the condemned land to Century, which violated section 38-1-101(1)(b)(I), C.R.S. (2018), the state’s anti-economic development takings statute. The Colorado Supreme Court disagreed, finding that condemnation of Parcel C would benefit the public. And the Court found Colorado’s prohibition on economic development takings had no bearing on the condemnation at issue here: the plain language of section 38-1-101(1)(b)(I) prevented public entities from transferring condemned land to private entities. "But there was no transfer, and the only entity involved was a public one, the special district." View "Carousel Farms v. Woodcrest Homes" on Justia Law

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In 2008, defendant-appellees Roger Brooks and Veryl Goodnight (together “Brooks”) filed an application in the water court to change the point of diversion of their water right from the Giles Ditch to the Davenport Ditch. The application and the required notice published in the local newspaper misidentified the section and range in which the Davenport Ditch headgate was located. However, both referred repeatedly to the Davenport Ditch. Brooks successfully moved to amend the application with the correct section and range shortly afterward. The water court, finding that “no person [would] be injured by the amendment,” concluded that republication of the notice was unnecessary. Eight years later, plaintiff-appellant Gary Sheek filed this action in the water court, seeking judgment on five claims for relief: (1) declaratory judgment that Brooks’ decree was void for insufficient notice; (2) quiet title to a prescriptive access easement for the Davenport Ditch, including ancillary access rights; (3) trespass; (4) theft and interference with a water right; and (5) a permanent injunction prohibiting Brooks from continued use of the Davenport Ditch. After concluding that sufficient notice was provided, the water court granted Brooks’ motion for summary judgment and deemed the trespass and injunction claims moot in light of that ruling. The court then dismissed the prescriptive easement claim as well as the theft and interference claim for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. The Colorado Supreme Court agreed with the water court’s conclusion that the published notice was sufficient. As a result, all of the remaining claims should have been dismissed for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. View "Sheek v. Brooks" on Justia Law

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Respondents were four Ranch owners who, with notice of the Lake Fork Hunting and Fishing Club’s (the Club) restrictive covenants and bylaws, purchased deeds conferring record title to their respective Ranches. In 2015, the Hinsdale County Assessor conducted valuations of the Respondents’ Ranches and assessed property taxes to their parcels. Respondents protested these valuations and assessments to the Hinsdale County Board of Equalization (the BOE), which denied their petitions. Respondents then appealed the BOE’s determination to the Board of Assessment Appeals (the BAA), arguing that because of the Club’s restrictive covenants and bylaws, the Club was the true owner of those parcels and should have been held responsible for real property taxes. The BAA denied the Respondents’ appeal and affirmed the Assessor’s valuation of the Ranch parcels. The Ranch owners then appealed the BAA’s decision to the court of appeals, which reversed the BAA’s order. Given the extent of the Club’s control over the property, the court of appeals concluded that the Club was the true owner of the parcels for purposes of property taxation and viewed the Ranch owners’ interests as akin to mere licenses to conduct certain activities on the Club’s property. The Colorado Supreme Court reversed, finding Colorado’s property tax scheme reflected the legislative intent to assess property taxes to the record fee owners of real property. “Because Respondents voluntarily agreed to the restrictive covenants and bylaws that facilitate the collective use of their property for recreational purposes, we hold that they cannot rely on these same restrictive covenants and bylaws to avoid property tax liability that flows from their record title ownership.” Accordingly, the court of appeals erred in relying on the Club’s restrictive covenants and bylaws to conclude that the Club is the “owner” of the Ranch parcels and that the Ranch owners hold mere licenses to use Club grounds. The court further erred in holding that the Assessor therefore improperly valued the Respondents’ parcels. View "Hinsdale County v. HDH Partnership" on Justia Law

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Brooks Tower was comprised of 566 residential units, 13 commercial units, and 297 associated garage units. Plaintiff Anthony Accetta and his wife owned a condominium in the Tower. All Brooks Tower unit owners are governed by a Declaration, which allocated condominium fees among the unit owners based on the “value” of each unit. As pertinent here, this value (1) “may or may not be the list price of the Unit as quoted to prospective third-party purchasers” as of the date of the declaration; (2) was determined “in Declarant’s sole and arbitrary discretion”; (3) was to be used for the purpose of computing the unit owners’ percentage interests in Brooks Tower’s common elements; and (4) “shall be final and conclusive.” Accetta claimed his unit was allocated association dues that were over fifty percent higher than the dues allocated to comparable units, and that this misallocation resulted in hundreds of dollars in monthly overcharges. Accordingly, he filed the underlying action against the Brooks Towers Residences Condominium Association, Inc. seeking, among other things, a declaratory judgment invalidating the portion of the Declaration allowing the Declarant to allocate values in its “sole and arbitrary discretion,” rather than by way of a formula that allocates percentage ownership consistently among comparable units. The district court ordered plaintiff to join the approximately 500 individual unit owners in Brooks Tower as indispensable parties to his suit, rather than proceeding solely against the Association. The Colorado Supreme Court determined the Association could adequately represent the interests of the absent unit owners for the purposes of Accetta's declaratory judgment claim in this case, and according, he needed not to join those owners as parties. The Court reversed the district court and remanded for further proceedings. View "In re Accetta v. Brooks Towers" on Justia Law