Mountain Law: Supreme court decision on Summit County dispute explained
June 26, 2014
I'll take a shot at trying to explain the recent decision of the Colorado Supreme Court regarding the seemingly never-ending dispute between the town of Dillon and the Yacht Club.
For the uninitiated, the dispute has to do with whether Dillon can prevent Yacht Club owners from parking on a town right-of-way. Dillon wants to use the right-of-way for a bike path and asserts that the parking is a safety concern. In turn, the Yacht Club owners claim that parking on the right-of-way is required because there is no reasonable alternative to meet their parking needs and that Dillon has less intrusive ways that it can build the bike path.
The Yacht Club owners won the case at trial on three distinct legal bases, all of which Dillon appealed to the Colorado Court of Appeals. That court affirmed the trial court's decision on one of the bases, which meant it did not need to consider the other two. Dillon then convinced the Colorado Supreme Court to review the matter and that court recently reversed the lower court. That means the case now goes back to the Court of Appeals for consideration of the remaining two bases.
If the Colorado Court of Appeals affirms either of the two remaining bases, the Yacht Club owners will remain the legal victors, subject to Dillon's right to appeal again. Similarly, if the Colorado Court of Appeals rejects both of the two remaining bases, the Yacht Club owners will be the legal losers, subject to their own right to appeal. The Colorado Supreme Court is not required to accept any appeals and, if it chooses not to do so, the decision of the Colorado Court of Appeals will be final.
Turning to the actual decision, the Colorado Supreme Court was concerned with whether Dillon properly adopted the ordinances that banned parking by the Yacht Club owners on the right-of-way. In legal terms, the question was whether Dillon properly exercised its "police power," which is its power to regulate public concerns like bike paths and parking. Usually when police power is at issue, a citizen's own property is affected by a given ordinance. For example, one case involved a town banning property owners from digging below the water table, which effectively shut down a mining business. Whenever a person's own property is affected, it raises constitutional concerns, namely whether the ordinance at issue is an improper "taking."
The Yacht Club case is unusual in that the right-of-way at issue is owned by Dillon, not the Yacht Club owners. In other words, we are talking about whether Dillon can regulate its own property, not whether it can regulate property owned by the Yacht Club owners. As a result, there are no takings concerns.
Given that they typically arise together, consideration of police power issues and takings issues were historically treated hand in hand (which is essentially how the lower courts decided this case). However, the Colorado Supreme Court indicated that these are separate issues requiring separate analyses. Specifically, the court said that an ordinance is valid under police power analysis if it reasonably relates to the legitimate objective that it seeks to achieve. This is in contrast to takings analysis, which is concerned with whether the ordinance unfairly deprives a property owner of the use of his or her own property.
In the end, the decision determined that Dillon properly exercised its police power because it had a legitimate interest in issues relating to the right-of-way and the ordinance reasonably related to that interest. Therefore, the lower courts erred by considering the impact that the ordinance would have on the Yacht Club owners, which was a takings issue that shouldn't have come into the police power analysis.
The upshot of all this is that the legal wrangling has gone on since 2009 and, unless the parties work out a resolution, it will continue for years to come.
Noah Klug is owner of The Klug Law Firm LLC in Summit County. He may be reached at (970) 468-4953 or Noah@TheKlugLawFirm.com.
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