876 P.2d 1210 (Colo. 1994), 92SC74, Rael v. Taylor

Docket Nº:92SC74.
Citation:876 P.2d 1210
Opinion Judge:Justice KIRSHBAUM Justice.
Party Name:Apolinar RAEL, Rosendo Martinez, Joseph E. Medina, Daniel Sequra, Gilbert Medina, Loyola Medina, Juan LaCoombe, Bonnie Lobato, Walter Vigil, Eugene Lobato, Rudy Montoya, Clorindo Martinez, Adelmo Kaber, Emilio Lobato, Leandardo Medina, Alfanzo Medina, Rupert Gallegos, Gloria Gallegos, Robert Atencio, Frank Sanchez Bentura Roybal, S.R. Sanchez, Leon
Attorney:Goldstein and Dodge, Jeffrey A. Goldstein, Stern and Elkind, Kenneth H. Stern, Sander N. Karp, Don & Hiller, P.C., Watson W. Galleher, Denver, for petitioners and cross-respondents., Wolf & Slatkin, P.C., Albert B. Wolf, Denver, for respondent and cross-petitioner., Feiger, Collison & Killmer, Gi...
Case Date:May 02, 1994
Court:Supreme Court of Colorado
 
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876 P.2d 1210 (Colo. 1994)

Apolinar RAEL, Rosendo Martinez, Joseph E. Medina, Daniel Sequra, Gilbert Medina, Loyola Medina, Juan LaCoombe, Bonnie Lobato, Walter Vigil, Eugene Lobato, Rudy Montoya, Clorindo Martinez, Adelmo Kaber, Emilio Lobato, Leandardo Medina, Alfanzo Medina, Rupert Gallegos, Gloria Gallegos, Robert Atencio, Frank Sanchez Bentura Roybal, S.R. Sanchez, Leonides Atencio, Cruicito Maez, Henry Lobato, Vernon Sanchez, Ruben Herrera, Billy Alire, Willie Alire, Richard Garcia, Eppy Quintana, Willie Ray Montoya, Pete E. Espinoza, Raymond J. Maestas, Bobby Maestas, Shirley Romero, Marvin Medina, Manuel Gardunio, Leonardo Martinez, Tonita Garcia, Orry Medina, Raymond Garcia, Floyd R. Solan, Adolph J. Lobato, Presentacion Lobato, Elesam Santistevan, Raymond N. Medina, Agatha Medina, Juan DeHerrera, Hubert J. Martinez, Emejido Vialpando, Joe P. Vigil, Larry J. Vigil, David Martinez, Charlies Jaquez, Jr., Ervin L. Vigil, Manuel Maestas, Pete Lobato, Anthony Sanchez, Emilio DeHerrera, Jose F. Lobato, Eugene Sanchez, Gerald Sanchez, Lawrence Vialpando, Bonnie Sanchez, Jose G. Sanchez, Elmer Manuel Espinoza, James Sanchez, Gilbert Herrera, Robert Romero, Carlos Lobato, Andres Montoya, Bert Maestas, Henry Rodriguez, Michael J. Vigil, Jose R. Torres, Manuel Vigil, Evan Sanchez, Solestiano Martinez, Rufino Sanchez, Arnold Valdez, Caroline Taylor, Martha Vialpando, Mark Martinez, Jesse Martinez, Ruben Gallegos, Joe A. Gallegos, Moises Gallegos, Margarito Espinoza, Sam Valdez, Jose F. Carson, Ronald A. Sandoval, Daniel Martinez, Frances D. Berggran, Maria Jaquez, J.R. Jaquez, Alberto Quintana, Jeffrey Jaquez, Frank Olivas, Gertrude C. Olivas, individually and as representatives of the Class of Heirs and successor in interest to the original settlers of the Sangre de Cristo Grant, Petitioners and Cross-Respondents,

v.

Zachary TAYLOR, as Executor of the Estate of Jack T. Taylor, Jr., Deceased, Respondent and Cross-Petitioner.

No. 92SC74.

Supreme Court of Colorado, En Banc

May 2, 1994

As Modified on Denial of Rehearing July 25, 1994.

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Goldstein and Dodge, Jeffrey A. Goldstein, Stern and Elkind, Kenneth H. Stern, Sander N. Karp, Don & Hiller, P.C., Watson W. Galleher, Denver, for petitioners and cross-respondents.

Wolf & Slatkin, P.C., Albert B. Wolf, Denver, for respondent and cross-petitioner.

Feiger, Collison & Killmer, Gilbert M. Roman, Darold W. Killmer, David H. Miller, Denver, for amicus curiae American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Colorado.

Robert M. Maes, Lisa D. Hamilton-Fieldman, F. Lee Maes, Patti J. Enoch, Denver, Nora Jaquez, Englewood, for amici curiae Hispanic Natl. Bar Ass'n, Colorado Hispanic Bar Ass'n, and The Hispanic League.

California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, Richard Garcia, Stephen A. Rosenbaum, Sacramento, CA, Intern. Center for Human Rights Litigation, Todd Howland, Eliot Lee Grossman Brezin, Centro, Mexico, D.F., for amici curiae Bi-National Human Rights Com'n, Intern. Indian Treaty Council, Natl. Chicano Human Rights Council, and Comision De Derechos Humanos De Seminario Permanente De Estudios Chicanos Y De Fronteras.

Karsh & Fulton, P.C., Larry C. Fulton, Alan E. Karsh, Seymour Joseph, Denver, for amicus curiae Land Title Ass'n of Colorado.

OPINION

Justice KIRSHBAUM Justice.

In Rael v. Taylor, 832 P.2d 1011 (Colo.App.1991), the court of appeals affirmed a judgment entered by the Costilla County District Court in favor of the respondent, Zachary Taylor, executor of the estate of Jack T. Taylor, Jr., 1 against the petitioners, 100 persons claiming usufructuary rights in a parcel of land consisting of approximately 77,500 acres located in Costilla County, Colorado (the "Mountain Tract"). 2 The trial court held, inter alia, that in view of the decision in a federal court Torrens Act proceeding filed by Taylor in 1960 (the 1960 Torrens action), the petitioners' claims were barred by the doctrine of res judicata and by certain statutes of limitation. 3 The court of appeals also affirmed the trial court's denial of Taylor's request for attorney fees. Having

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granted certiorari to review the court of appeals' judgment, we affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand the case to the court of appeals with directions.

I

In 1844, Narcisco Beaubien and Stephen Luis Lee received a land grant (the Sangre de Cristo Grant) from the then Mexican governor of New Mexico, of approximately 1,000,000 acres of land located to a large extent in the central southern portion of Colorado. After Beaubien and Lee were killed in 1847, Narcisco Beaubien's father, Carlos, inherited his son's undivided one-half interest in the property and purchased the remaining interest from Lee's estate.

Following the Mexican-American War, the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo transferred sovereignty over the Sangre de Christo Grant property to the United States. In 1860, the Congress of the United States adopted a recommendation by the United States Surveyor General to confirm that Carlos Beaubien owned the land, and Carlos Beaubien was issued a patent for the land in 1880.

Prior to 1860, Carlos Beaubien had sold numerous small parcels of the land to various settlers. On May 11, 1863, he executed and recorded a document written in the Spanish language that described, inter alia, usufructuary rights for wood, timber, water, and pasture of the residents of certain towns located within the boundaries of the property. The document, translated, provides in pertinent part as follows:

Town of San Luis of the Culebra, May 11, 1863 Book 1, Page 256

It has been decided that the Rito Seco lands shall remain uncultivated for the use of the residents of San Luis, San Pablo and the Vallejos, and other inhabitants of said towns, for pastures and community grounds, etc. And that the Rito Seco waters are hereby distributed among the said inhabitants of the town of San Luis, and those on the other side of the Vega, whose lands lie in the vicinity and cannot be irrigated by the water of the Rio Culebra. After measuring off three acres in front of the Church, which are hereby donated to it, the Vega shall be for the use of the inhabitants of this town and of the others up [unintelligible] the Vallejos Creek and also for the benefit of those who may in the future, settle on the Gregorio Martin Creek (San Francisco) from the road down to the narrows. It is understood that the lots shall run East and West, 50 varas, and never North and South and no one shall have a right as they might have thought, to place any obstacles or hindrances to interfere with the rights of others. The regulations as to roads shall be also observed so as to allow every one to have access to his farm lands. Also, in using the water, care shall be taken not to cause damage to any one.

All the inhabitants shall have the use of pasture, wood, water, and timber and the mills that have been erected shall remain where they are, not interfering with the rights of others. No stock shall be allowed in said lands, except for household purposes. All those who come as settlers shall agree to abide by the rules and regulations and shall help, as good citizens and be provided with the necessary weapons for the defense of the settlement.

TWO WITNESSES (Signed) Carlos Beaubien

Carlos Beaubien died in 1863. On April 7, 1864, pursuant to an oral agreement Carlos Beaubien made prior to his death, his heirs conveyed all the unsold Sangre de Christo Grant property to William Gilpin. The instrument of conveyance contained the following "express condition":

[C]ertain settlement rights before then conceded by said Charles Beaubien to residents of the settlements of Costilla, Culebra & Trinchera, within said Tract included, shall be confirmed by said William Gilpin as made by him, the said Charles Beaubien during his his [sic] occupancy of

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said Tract and as understood and agreed by and between him and said settlers. and sale & conveyance and title be made to the parties lawfully, and title thereto on compliance on their part with the terms by them entered into, of which parties so entitled a list marked .A. accompanying this agreement and is annexed to and made a part hereof [sic]. Now therefor this agreement and obligation in its full intent, meaning & object and under the liabilities assumed in the covenance and agreements in the same contained, is made to secure the specific performance of the obligations & liabilities of the said Charles Beaubien on the part of said William Gilpin and to perfect the right of said parties entitled as aforesaid in accordance with the conditions of the said Charles Beaubien entered into, and all of which are hereby said William Gilpin recognized and confirmed.

Between 1864 and 1960, Gilpin and his successors in interest sold most of the remaining property. In 1960, Taylor purchased one of the few remaining large parcels. Known as "the Mountain Tract," the parcel consisted of some 77,500 acres of undivided and unfenced land located in Costilla County, Colorado, southwest of San Luis, Colorado, containing significant timber, grazing, water, and wildlife resources. Taylor's deed to the Mountain Tract contains the following pertinent provisions:

All of the land hereby conveyed being subject to rights of way of record and all rights of way heretofore located and now maintained and used on, through, over, and across the same; and also subject to claims of the local people by prescription or otherwise to right to pasture, wood, and lumber and so-called settlements [sic] rights in, to and upon said land, but not subject to rights granted by the party of the first part or its predecessors from and after January 1, 1900; and also subject to taxes for the year 1960 and subsequent years, and existing leases, if any.

On September 1, 1960, shortly after purchasing the Mountain Tract, Taylor filed a petition in the United States District Court for the District...

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