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High Plains Library District v. Kirkmeyer

Court of Appeals of Colorado, Fifth Division

July 2, 2015

High Plains Library District; Karen Rademacher, Trustee; Lucille Arnusch, Trustee; Jacqueline Maslowe, Trustee; Brian Larson, Trustee; and Stan Sameshima, Trustee, Plaintiffs-Appellees,
Barbara Kirkmeyer, Mike Freeman, Douglas Rademacher, William Garcia, and Sean Conway, in their official capacities as members of the Board of County Commissioners of Weld County, Defendants-Appellants.

Weld County District Court No. 14CV30358 Honorable Julie C. Hoskins, Judge

Otis, Bedingfield & Peters, LLC, Jennifer Lynn Peters, Timothy R. Odil, Greeley, Colorado; Godsey Law Office LLC, Nathan A. Godsey, Eaton, Colorado, for Plaintiffs-Appellees

Bruce Barker, County Attorney, Bob Choate, Assistant County Attorney, Greeley, Colorado, for Defendants-Appellants

Seter & Vander Wall, P.C., Kim J. Seter, Elizabeth A. Dauer, Greenwood Village, Colorado, for Amicus Curiae Colorado Association of Libraries



¶ 1 Appellants[1] are members of the Weld County Board of County Commissioners (commissioners). They and the other defendants[2] in the district court adopted resolutions to remove the board of trustees (board) of the High Plains Library District (district). Plaintiffs, the trustees[3] and the district, filed a complaint and sought a preliminary injunction. The commissioners appeal the district court's order granting a preliminary injunction enjoining them from removing the trustees. We affirm.

¶ 2 The question before us is whether the district court abused its discretion by granting the preliminary injunction. To answer that question, we must first determine whether the court

(1) erred in concluding that the determination of "good cause" for the removal of a library trustee under section 24-90-108(5), C.R.S. 2014, of the Colorado Library Law, was a quasi-judicial decision subject to judicial review, and
(2) abused its discretion in finding, under the test articulated in Rathke v. MacFarlane, 648 P.2d 648, 653-54 (Colo. 1982), that plaintiffs sufficiently demonstrated their likelihood of success on the merits, to justify the preliminary injunction order.

¶ 3 We conclude as a matter of first impression that determination of "good cause" for the removal of trustees under the Colorado Library Law is subject to judicial review, and we affirm the district court's order preliminarily enjoining the removal of the trustees and placing limitations on the actions they may take on behalf of the district.

I. Background

¶ 4 The district was established in 1985 pursuant to the Colorado Library Law, sections 24-90-101 to -606, C.R.S. 2014. A library district is "a public library established as its own taxing authority by one or more governmental units or parts thereof. A library district shall be a political subdivision of the state." § 24-90-103(6), C.R.S. 2014. Acting together, Weld County; the municipalities of Ault, Eaton, Hudson, Fort Lupton, Greeley, and Evans; and the RE-8 School District (serving Fort Lupton) (collectively, the establishing entities) established and participated in the district. The district's board consists of seven trustees, serving staggered five-year terms. The district's bylaws provide for nomination of a trustee candidate by a selection committee comprised of one member from each establishing entity who chooses to participate on the committee and two members of the board of trustees. The selection committee then sends the name of its nominee to the establishing entities for ratification, which requires a two-thirds majority of the establishing entities.

¶ 5 In October 2013, a scheduled vacancy arose for a trustee position. The selection committee interviewed candidates and selected a nominee, but the establishing entities failed to ratify the committee's nominee by the required two-thirds majority. Accordingly, the board of trustees reconvened the selection committee to begin the nomination process again.

¶ 6 In the meantime, the commissioners and the other defendants met on April 1, 2014, and planned to remove the district's board. Representatives of the establishing entities met again a week later to nominate replacement trustees. The City of Greeley declined to participate in this meeting. Over the course of the following week, the establishing entities, except for the cities of Evans and Greeley, passed resolutions to remove the entire board, effective immediately, and to substitute commissioner Mike Freeman as well as Tom Holton, Mayor of Fort Lupton; Mike Simone, President of the RE-8 School Board of Education; Scott Moser, Mayor of Eaton; Gary White, Mayor of Ault; and Ray Patch, Mayor of Hudson (collectively, the replacement board), as new members of the board. The resolutions also named Greeley Mayor Tom Norton for the "at large" position, but he did not accept the nomination.

¶ 7 The resolutions contained largely identical language. They stated that the establishing entities sought removal of the entire board because the board had "moved away" from the "original promise" to the establishing entities to allow (1) municipal retention of the title to its library property; (2) continuation of the boards of municipal library trustees to ensure local control; and (3) the sharing of the library-related mill levies through a two-thirds to one-third allocation of the property tax generated from the service area of the municipal libraries.

¶ 8 Plaintiffs filed a complaint seeking a declaratory judgment stating that their removal and the election of the replacement board of trustees was contrary to Colorado law and the district's bylaws. Plaintiffs further sought preliminary and permanent injunctions enjoining their removal and replacement as trustees.

¶ 9 Following an evidentiary hearing in which defendants presented no evidence, the district court granted a preliminary injunction (1) prohibiting the trustees' removal and (2) limiting the trustees' ability to enter into any new contracts, begin new projects, or adopt new policies until the resolution of this action.

II. Scope of Review

ΒΆ 10 The commissioners argue that the district court erred in allowing evidence regarding the existence of good cause "in fact" under section 24-90-108(5) for the removal of the trustees because the decision to remove the trustees was a ministerial or administrative act of each ...

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