Justia Colorado Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Real Estate & Property 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

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This quiet title action called on the Colorado Supreme Court to determine whether the owner of a garage condominium unit could validly subdivide that unit under section 38-33.3-213, C.R.S. (2018) of the Colorado Common Interest Ownership Act (“CCIOA”) by merely painting or marking lines on the garage wall, and thereafter separately convey the spaces thus marked as individual condominium parking units. Petitioner Perfect Place, LLC (“Perfect Place”) claimed ownership of three parking spaces (spaces “C, D, and E”) in a mixed-use residential and commercial building. Respondent R. Parker Semler contended he owned spaces C and D. The dimensions of these parking spaces were not marked or otherwise discernible from the condominium declaration or accompanying map. Quail Street Company (“Quail Street”) obtained a majority of the building’s condominium units, including the Garage Unit, from the original owner. Quail Street’s manager and sole shareholder, John Watson, later physically marked the boundaries of spaces C, D, and E with paint or tape, purportedly subdividing the Garage Unit into three individual units that could be separately conveyed. However, there was no evidence that Watson ever recorded any amendment to the declaration reflecting the subdivision of the Garage Unit, as required by section 38-33.3-213 of CCIOA. Watson later transferred his interests in spaces C and D to different buyers; those buyers later transferred their interests to others, including Semler. In June 2013, Perfect Place filed a quiet title action, asserting superior title to spaces C, D, and E based on a quitclaim deed it obtained from Watson in 2011 (the “2011 Quitclaim Deed”) that purportedly conveyed the Garage Unit as a single, undivided condominium unit. Although the individual spaces C, D, and E had been conveyed to other owners, Perfect Place contended that these conveyances were invalid because Watson had never validly subdivided the Garage Unit. Perfect Place thus claimed title to all three parking spaces, contending that the quitclaim deed it obtained from Watson was the only valid conveyance of the Garage Unit. Semler claimed superior title to spaces C and D based on deeds that conveyed these spaces to him as individual units. He further argued that Perfect Place obtained the quitclaim deed from Watson through fraudulent misrepresentations. The court of appeals affirmed the trial court’s conclusion that the Garage Unit was properly subdivided and that Semler owned spaces C and D. The Colorado Supreme Court concluded Watson did not validly subdivide the Garage Unity; and the court of appeals erred in concluding the 2011 Quitclaim Deed was void for fraud in the factum. View "Perfect Place v. Semler" on Justia Law

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In 2011, Defendants Mitchell Davis, Samuel Stimson, Peter Stimson, and Christopher Torres threw a party at a house they were renting in Boulder to celebrate one defendant’s birthday and another’s college graduation. They invited a number of people, and information about the party was posted on social media. Between 20 and 120 guests attended at various points throughout the evening. Not all who came to the party had been specifically invited by the defendants. Some heard about it from other party-goers. Some guests may have brought their own alcohol, but alcohol was provided by the party hosts as well. Plaintiff Jared Prezkurat and Hank Sieck went to the party that night with Victor Mejia. Mejia had heard about the party through a friend, Robert Fix, who knew the defendants and helped plan the party. Sieck was twenty-years old. None of the defendants knew Sieck before that night. Sieck drank both beer and hard alcohol at the party. Around 2 a.m., Sieck, Mejia, and Przekurat left the party in Przekurat’s car. Sieck drove, at times going more than one-hundred miles per hour. He lost control of the car and drove into a ditch, rolling the car several times. Przekurat was thrown from the vehicle and suffered severe, life-altering injuries. The issue this case presented for the Colorado Supreme Court's review was whether Colorado’s dram-shop liability statute required a social host who provided a place to drink alcohol have actual knowledge that a specific guest was underage to be held liable for any damage or injury caused by that underage guest. Concluding that the plain language of the statute was unambiguous, the Supreme Court held that it did: a social host have actual knowledge of an underage guest’s age in order to be liable for injury or damages resulting from that guest’s intoxication. View "Przekurat v. Torres" on Justia Law