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Lobato v. Taylor - 13 P.3d 821 (Colo. App. 2000)

Rule:

A prevailing party is one who has succeeded upon a significant issue presented by the litigation and has achieved some of the benefits sought in the lawsuit. If each party prevails in part, an award of costs is committed to the sole discretion of the trial court.

Facts:

Beginning in the mid-19th century, settlers in the area, including plaintiffs' ancestors and predecessors in title, grazed cattle and sheep, harvested timber, gathered firewood, fished, hunted, and engaged in recreation on the Taylor Ranch property which was unfenced land. In 1960, Jack Taylor purchased the property. That same year, Taylor filed a petition in the United States District Court for the District of Colorado to register title in his land as provided for in Colorado's Torrens Title Registration Act. The application listed over 300 individuals as interested parties and referred to others claiming an interest in the property, including persons asserting claims to "settlement rights" by virtue of an 1863 document known as the Beaubien document. The district court determined that the defendants had no rights in Taylor's property and entered a Final Decree of Confirmation of Title and Registration pursuant to the Torrens Act. On appeal, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision. After purchasing the property, Taylor had begun fencing the land and cutting off public access to it. In 1981, plaintiffs, on behalf of themselves and a class of heirs and successors in interest to the original settlers of the Sangre de Cristo grant, filed a quiet title action in Costilla County District Court against Taylor and others who had interests in the property. Citing Mexican law and custom as well as representations made by Charles Beaubien in the Beaubien document, the complaint alleged that the Taylor Ranch was subject to community rights and uses for grazing, lumber, water, pasturing, hunting, and recreation, and that Taylor was violating plaintiffs' rights by fencing off the property and barricading the roads. The District Court of Costilla County (Colorado) dismissed the plaintiffs’ complaint.

Issue:

Was the Taylor Ranch subject to community rights and uses for grazing, lumber, water, pasturing, hunting, and recreation?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The Court affirmed the dismissal of the action, holding that the Act of Confirmation of June 21, 1860 (Act), ch. 167, 12 Stat. 71, established title in one man and foreclosed judicial review of claims based on rights arising before the Act. According to the Court, a document of the man holding title granting rights to pasture, firewood, and timber on the property did not contain the language required by then-existing law to pass those rights to plaintiffs, the successors of the original inhabitants. The Court concluded that the public rights which plaintiffs claimed could not be acquired by prescription.

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