71 P.3d 938 (Colo. 2002), 00SC527, Lobato v. Taylor
|Citation:||71 P.3d 938|
|Opinion Judge:||MULLARKEY Chief Justice.|
|Party Name:||Eugene LOBATO; Zack Bernal; Gabrielita Adeline Espinosa; Edward Espinosa; Pete E. Espinosa, Jr.; Corpus Gallegos, by and through his conservator Yvette Gallegos; Gloria Gallegos; Rupert Gallegos; Raymond Garcia; Charlie Jacquez, Jr.; Adolph J. Lobato; Bonifacio|
|Attorney:||Eley, Goldstein and Dodge, LLC, Jeffrey A. Goldstein, Otten, Johnson, Robinson, Neff & Ragonetti, PC, William F. Schoeberlein, Robert Maes, David Martinez, Walters & Joyce, PC, Julia T. Waggener, Kelly, Haglund, Garnsey & Kahn LLC, Norman D. Haglund, Don Hiller & Galleher, PC, Watson Galleher, El...|
|Case Date:||June 24, 2002|
|Court:||Supreme Court of Colorado|
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Eley, Goldstein and Dodge, LLC, Jeffrey A. Goldstein, Otten, Johnson, Robinson, Neff & Ragonetti, PC, William F. Schoeberlein, Robert Maes, David Martinez, Walters & Joyce, PC, Julia T. Waggener, Kelly, Haglund, Garnsey & Kahn LLC, Norman D. Haglund, Don Hiller & Galleher, PC, Watson Galleher, Elisabeth Arenales, Denver, CO, Attorneys for Petitioners.
Richard Garcia, Denver, CO, Peter Reich, Costa Mesa, CA, Attorneys for Amici Curiae Bi-National Human Rights Commission, International Indian Treaty Council, National Chicano Human Rights Council, Comision De Derechos Humanos De Seminario Permanente De Estudios Chicanos Y De Fronteras.
The history of this property rights controversy began Before Colorado's statehood, at a time when southern Colorado was part of Mexico; at a time when all of the parties' lands were part of the one million acre Sangre de Cristo grant, an 1844 Mexican land grant. Here, we determine access rights of the owners of farmlands in Costilla County to a mountainous parcel of land now known as the Taylor Ranch. As successors in title to the original settlers in the region, the landowners exercised rights to enter and use the Taylor Ranch property for over one hundred years until Jack Taylor fenced the land in 1960 and forcibly excluded them. These rights, they assert, derive from Mexican law, prescription, and an express or implied grant, and were impermissibly denied when the mountain land was fenced.
We are reviewing this case for the second time in this protracted twenty-one year litigation. In the first phase of this litigation, the trial court dismissed the plaintiffs' claims, holding that a federal decision in the 1960s on the same issue barred their suit. We reversed and remanded, holding that the notice given in the federal case did not comport with due process. The subject matter of the current appeal is the landowners' substantive claims of rights. The trial court and the court of appeals held that the landowners failed to prove rights on any of their three theories.
We find that evidence of traditional settlement practices, repeated references to settlement rights in documents associated with the Sangre de Cristo grant, the one hundred year history of the landowners' use of the Taylor Ranch, and other evidence of necessity, reliance, and intention support a finding of implied rights in this case. While we reject the landowners' claims for hunting,
fishing, and recreation rights, we find that the landowners have rights of access for grazing, firewood, and timber through a prescriptive easement, an easement by estoppel, and an easement from prior use. Furthermore, we retain jurisdiction in order to examine the trial court's due process determination.
I. Facts and Prior Proceedings
In 1844, the governor of New Mexico granted two Mexican nationals a one million-acre land grant, located mainly in present-day southern Colorado (Sangre de Cristo grant), for the purpose of settlement. The original grantees died during the war between the United States and Mexico. The land was not settled in earnest until after the cessation of the war, and Charles (Carlos) Beaubien then owned the grant.
In 1848, the United States and Mexico entered into the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, ending the war between the two countries. Treaty of Peace, Friendship, Limits, and Settlement (Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo), February 2, 1848, U.S. -Mex., 9 Stat. 922. Pursuant to the treaty, Mexico ceded land to the United States, including all of California, Nevada, and Utah; most of New Mexico and Arizona; and a portion of Colorado. The United States agreed to honor the existing property rights in the ceded territory. Relevant to the Sangre de Cristo grant, Congress asked the Surveyor General of the Territory of New Mexico to determine what property rights existed at the time of the treaty. On the Surveyor General's recommendation, Congress confirmed Carlos Beaubien's claim to the Sangre de Cristo grant in the 1860 Act of Confirmation. 12 Stat. 71 (1860).
In the early 1850s, Beaubien successfully recruited farm families to settle the Colorado portion of the Sangre de Cristo grant. He leased a portion of his land to the United States government to be used to establish Fort Massachusetts and recruited farmers to settle other areas. The settlement system he employed was common to Spain and Mexico: strips of arable land called vara strips were allotted to families for farming, and areas not open for cultivation were available for common use. These common areas were used for grazing and recreation and as a source for timber, firewood, fish, and game.
In 1863, Beaubien gave established settlers deeds to their vara strips. That same year, Beaubien executed and recorded a Spanish language document that purports to grant rights of access to common lands to settlers on the Sangre de Cristo grant (Beaubien Document). In relevant part, this document guarantees that "all the inhabitants will have enjoyment of benefits of pastures, water, firewood and timber, always taking care that one does not injure another."
A year later, Beaubien died. Pursuant to a prior oral agreement, his heirs sold his interest in the Sangre de Cristo grant to William Gilpin, who was Colorado's first territorial governor. The sales agreement (Gilpin agreement) stated that Gilpin agreed to provide vara strip deeds to settlers who had not yet received them. The agreement further stated that Gilpin took the land on condition that certain "settlement rights Before then conceded ... to the residents of the settlements ... shall be confirmed by said William Gilpin as made by him."
In 1960, Jack Taylor, a North Carolina lumberman, purchased roughly 77,000 acres of the Sangre de Cristo grant (mountain tract) from a successor in interest to William Gilpin. Taylor's deed indicated that he took the land subject to "claims of the local people by prescription or otherwise to right to pasture, wood, and lumber and so-called settlement rights in, to, and upon said land."
Despite the language in Taylor's deed, he denied the local landowners access to his land and began to fence the property. Taylor then filed a Torrens title action in the United States District Court for the District of Colorado to perfect his title (Torrens action).1 Taylor v. Jaquez, No. 6904 (D.Colo. Oct. 5, 1965).
The district court found that the local landowners did not have any rights to the mountain tract; the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. Sanchez v. Taylor, 377 F.2d 733 (10th Cir.1967).
In 1973, Taylor purchased an adjoining, roughly 2,500 acre parcel that was also part of the Sangre de Cristo grant (Salazar estate). Taylor's predecessor in title to the Salazar estate had also filed a Torrens title action in 1960 which determined that local landowners had no rights in the estate. Together, the mountain tract and the Salazar estate are known as the Taylor Ranch.
The current case began in 1981. In that year a number of local landowners filed suit in Costilla County District Court. The landowners asserted that they had settlement rights to the Taylor Ranch and that Taylor...
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