Court Opinions: Colorado Court of Appeals Opinions for Feb. 2

Editor’s Note: Law Week Colorado edits court opinion summaries for style and, when necessary, length.

San Juan Hut Systems, Inc. v. Board of County Commissioners of the County of Ouray

The Colorado Court of Appeals unanimously dismissed an appeal in part and affirmed an order connected to the statutory authority of a county board.

The appeal began as a dispute between the Board of County Commissioners of the County of Ouray and property owners over vehicular access to about 3.5 miles of Ouray County Road 5. The landowners have property accessed from CR5. 

The landowners had winter maintenance agreements with the county but years ago the county decided not to enter into a new WMA and closed CR5 to vehicular traffic. The landowners proposed a new WMA but disagreed with the county over terms. The county eventually decided it would adopt a WMA with more restrictions and conditions than the landowners wanted.

The landowners filed an action in district court challenging the county’s decision. San Juan Hut Systems, Inc. operates rental huts with some of them easily accessed from CR5. SJHS filed, and the district court granted, a motion to intervene in the landowner’s action. SJHS’s intervenor complaint sought declaratory judgment and injunctive relief to bar the county from entering into any WMAs that would permit only the landowners to vehicular access along the upper CR5. It argued road traffic should be open or closed to all.

Colorado Revised Statute 43-2-201.1(1) provides that anyone, other than a governing body, who intentionally blocks or closes a public highway that extends to public land without good cause commits a misdemeanor.

SJHS and the landowners filed summary judgment motions against the county. The district court found there weren’t any material facts in dispute. The lower court found the county had not violated any protected property right of the landowners, violated 43-2-201.1 or exceeded the scope of its discretion under its authority. The court denied both motions. 

The county and landowners settled their dispute and entered into a new winter maintenance easement agreement. The WMEA gave the landowners a nonexclusive right to plow and access their properties along CR5 by installing an additional gate. In the exchange, it also mandated the construction of a separate trail that generally parallels CR5 to provide nonvehicular, over-the-snow access to the upper portion of CR5. The district court dismissed SJHS’s claims with the same reasoning from its denial of summary judgment.

On appeal of the order denying its motion for summary judgment, SJHS contended the district court erred concluding the county had the authority to allow only landowners access to CR5 by vehicle during the winter and the county wasn’t in violation of 43-2-201.1. The county and landowners contended SJHS lacked standing, the issue of the county’s authority was moot and the county didn’t violate 43-2-201.1. 

The county also filed two notices of supplemental authority to bring statutory change to the appeals court’s attention. The appeals court in response directed all parties to address two issues in supplemental briefs: the scope of the authority granted to the county under 42-4-106(3)(d) to enter into WMAs that limit vehicular road access and whether reversing the district court’s decision denying SJHS’s summary judgment motion would afford the relief sought given the current state of affairs of the upper portion of CR5.

The appeals court noted after the litigation began, the Colorado General Assembly amended 42-4-106 in 2022 by adding subsection (3)(d) which holds that local authorities, when snow-packed conditions exist on a highway, can designate all or portion of a highway for over-snow use only, which the local jurisdiction can limit travel on. The subsection added when wheeled winter access is requested, it doesn’t prohibit a local authority from entering into private WMAs.

The appeals court concluded the questions around the county’s authority to restrict vehicular access on CR5 under 42-4-106(3)(d) and the landowners’ right to access their properties under their easement are moot based on the new law. The appeals court dismissed that portion of the appeal.

SJHS contended the county violated 43-2-201.1 by installing or allowing a gate to close CR5 to vehicular traffic. The appeals court disagreed, arguing the county directed travelers to the over-the-snow trail. The appeals court didn’t discuss whether 43-2-201.1 applied to the county, but it concluded the county hadn’t closed off all access.

The Colorado Court of Appeals dismissed the appeal in part and the district court’s order was affirmed.

Colorado Stormwater Council v. Water Quality Control Division of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment

The Colorado Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed a judgment involving the Colorado Water Quality Control Act.

The Water Quality Control Division, within the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, administers the act that provides judicial review of agency decisions. 

Depending on the type of agency action, a party could seek an adjudicatory hearing under Colorado Revised Statute 25-8-403, which is governed by the State Administrative Procedure Act. For some agency actions, according to the appeals court, seeking a hearing under the act is not a prerequisite before a party can seek judicial review under 25-8-404. 

The appeals court concluded that for agency actions concerning general permits issued under 25-8-503.5, a party must first request and have an adjudicatory hearing governed by the APA as a prerequisite to seeking judicial review under 25-8-404.

The Colorado Stormwater Council is a nonprofit organization of public entities with stormwater drainage systems that have nonstandard municipal separate storm sewer systems or MS4s. The Department of Public Health and Environment, through the division, administers permits for nonstandard MS4s. 

The Water Quality Control Division in April 2021 issued a new version of general renewal permits for nonstandard MS4s. The Stormwater Council filed a complaint for judicial review in a district court challenging several portions of the new permit. 

The council didn’t request an adjudicatory hearing following the division’s issuance of a general stormwater discharge permit. Instead, the council filed a complaint for judicial review in district court. The lower court said it had a lack of subject matter jurisdiction and dismissed the complaint, finding the Colorado General Assembly created an administrative appeal process for general permits issued by the division and the council was required to pursue that remedy before seeking judicial review. 

The Stormwater Council appealed the dismissal. 

The appeals court found that since the council didn’t exhaust its administrative remedies before seeking judicial review, it didn’t have grounds to bring the complaint in district court and affirmed the lower court’s dismissal of the complaint. 

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