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Aspen Springs Metropolitan District v. Keno

Court of Appeals of Colorado, Fourth Division

July 16, 2015

Aspen Springs Metropolitan District, Petitioner-Appellee,
Stephen Keno, Respondent-Appellant.

Archuleta County District Court No. 13CV18 Honorable Gregory G. Lyman, Judge Honorable James E. Denvir, Judge

Colorado Animal Law, LLC, Katherine A. Burke, Durango, Colorado, for Petitioner-Appellee

Richard L. Emmett, Durango, Colorado; Law Office David G. Cox, David G. Cox, Columbus, Ohio, for Respondent-Appellant



¶1 Stephen Keno appeals the district court's judgment declaring that Aspen Springs Metropolitan District (Aspen Springs) can regulate the use of property Aspen Springs owns; finding that Aspen Springs has standing to bring a declaratory judgment action; and declaring that Colorado's Fence Law, specifically section 35-46-102, C.R.S. 2014, does not authorize willful trespass on Aspen Springs' property. Keno also challenges the scope of the permanent injunction entered against him and appeals portions of an order finding him in contempt and awarding Aspen Springs its costs and attorney fees as a contempt sanction. We affirm the district court's judgment and vacate the portion of the contempt order imposing attorney fees and costs against Keno.

¶2 As a matter of apparent first impression in Colorado, we hold that a special or metropolitan district may regulate the use of and access to property it owns.

I. Background

¶3 The case arises from a disagreement over grazing by a flock of sheep. For some time, Keno has maintained the flock and grazed it on a parcel of land known as the "Greenbelt." Aspen Springs owns the Greenbelt (which runs through portions of Aspen Springs' district), and has constructed on it a pavilion, a horseshoe pit, a volleyball court, and a disc golf or "frolf" course. In 2011, the Aspen Springs Metropolitan District Board passed a resolution prohibiting the grazing or tethering of livestock on the Greenbelt without the board's prior, written permission.

¶ 4 Nonetheless, Keno continued to graze his flock on the Greenbelt. Keno did so intentionally, taking the position that the Fence Law gave him the right to graze his sheep anywhere that is not enclosed by a lawful fence.[1] The continued grazing caused concern within the Aspen Springs community, as the sheep were damaging the Greenbelt and neighboring properties.

¶ 5 After the parties failed to resolve the issue through mediation, Aspen Springs sought (1) a declaratory judgment that Colorado's Fence Law prohibits Keno from grazing his animals on the Greenbelt and (2) an injunction prohibiting the grazing. The district court preliminarily enjoined Keno from grazing his sheep on the Greenbelt. Keno nonetheless continued to pasture his sheep on the Greenbelt and had twice been found in contempt by the time the court issued its final judgment. The final judgment declared that the Fence Law protects Aspen Springs from willful trespass, even though the Greenbelt is not enclosed by a lawful fence, and it permanently enjoined Keno from causing or allowing his animals to wander outside his own property and graze the Greenbelt.

II. Aspen Springs Has Authority to Regulate the Use of Property it Owns

¶ 6 Keno contends that, as a special district and creature of statute, Aspen Springs lacks authority to regulate the use of property it owns.[2] We disagree.

A. Standard of Review

¶ 7 Whether Aspen Springs has statutory authority to regulate property it owns is a question of statutory construction we review de novo. See SDI, Inc. v. Pivotal Parker Commercial, LLC, 2014 CO 80, ¶ 15. When construing a statute, an appellate court seeks to effectuate the intent of the General Assembly; this objective requires that we consider the plain meaning of the statutory language within the context of the statute as a whole. Bly v. Story, 241 P.3d 529, 533 (Colo. 2010). We analyze the entire statutory scheme to give consistent, harmonious, and sensible effect to all of its parts, id.; Qwest Corp. v. Colo. Div. of Prop. Taxation, 2013 CO 39, ¶ 16, and to avoid any interpretation that would lead to an absurd result. Crandall v. City & Cnty. of Denver, 238 P.3d 659, 662 (Colo. 2010). The Special District Act, sections 32-1-101 to -1807, C.R.S. 2014, must be construed liberally to effect its purposes. § 32-1-113, C.R.S. 2014; SDI, Inc., ¶ 16.

B. Powers of Special Districts

¶ 8 The Special District Act was enacted with the intent that special districts would '"promote the health, safety, prosperity, security, and general welfare'" of their inhabitants and of the people of Colorado. SDI, Inc., ¶ 16 (quoting § 32-1-102(1), C.R.S. 2014). To this end, special districts have specific powers expressly conferred by the constitution or statute. See S. Fork Water & Sanitation Dist. v. Town of S. Fork, 252 P.3d 465, 468 (Colo. 2011). Special districts also "have and exercise all rights and powers necessary or incidental to or implied from the specific powers granted to special districts by [the Special District Act]." § 32-1-1001(1)(n), C.R.S. 2014; see S. Fork, 252 P.3d at 468–69 (special districts have those incidental and implied powers reasonably necessary to carry out express powers); Romer v. Fountain Sanitation Dist., 898 P.2d 37, 41 (Colo. 1995). Express "powers shall not be considered as a limitation upon any power necessary or appropriate to carry out the purposes and intent of [the Special District Act]." ...

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