A (Fourth) Day in Court

Colorado Court of Appeals Hears Oral Arguments in 37-Year Civil Case

After 37 years and tens of thousands of pages of official record, the Colorado Court of Appeals heard the fourth appeal in a land access case out of Costilla County that puts the property rights of about 5,000 parcel owners in question. Dozens of the case’s plaintiffs packed the first-floor courtroom and the Supreme Court room for overflow capacity to watch a live feed of the arguments.

The defense’s appeal in Alire v. Cielo Vista Ranch focused on the administrative process implemented by the trial court on remand to determine property access rights after the Colorado Supreme Court issued two opinions in 2002. Spencer Fane partner Ron Fano, who appeared for Cielo Vista Ranch, argued the trial court improperly applied the Supreme Court’s findings in Lobato I and II by granting profit rights to thousands of property owners without giving notice to most of them, requiring them to make claims of their property rights, or requiring an evidentiary hearing or to present proof.

But according to the plaintiffs’ arguing attorney, Squire Patton Boggs senior associate Aaron Boschee, the ranch’s owner has not claimed any harm as a result of the administrative process or because of the property owners’ use of the land. The relief they are seeking is unclear, he said, since they have only challenged the process rather than its outcome.

“There is nothing in the Supreme Court opinions in Lobato I or Lobato II that excused the trial court from following Rule 105 or the standard process whereby people become parties to a case, they make claims, the defendants are able to confront those claims and those people and the evidence,” Fano said. In actuality, he said, the Supreme Court stated in Lobato II its intent for a process of plaintiffs making claims and meet a burden of proof to show their property rights.

To read this story and other complete articles featured in the September 10, 2018 print edition of Law Week Colorado, copies are available for purchase online.