A court can imply an easement created by estoppel when: (1) the owner of the servient estate permitted another to use that land under circumstances in which it was reasonable to foresee that the user would substantially change position believing that the permission would not be revoked, (2) the user substantially changed position in reasonable reliance on that belief, and (3) injustice can be avoided only by establishment of a servitude. Whether reliance is justified depends upon the nature of the transaction, including the sophistication of the parties. Colorado does not have a requirement of deception.
Landowners who are the successors in title to the original settlers on the Sangre de Cristo grant, an 1844 Mexican land grant, claim access and use rights to property commonly known as the Taylor Ranch. The landowners claim that rights to graze livestock, gather firewood and timber, hunt, fish and recreate, derive from Mexican law, prescription, and express or implied grant. Both the trial court and the court of appeals held the landowners have no legally enforceable rights. The Supreme Court reversed.
Can a court imply an easement created by estoppel when the landowner permitted another party to use the land under circumstances in which it was reasonably foreseeable that the user would substantially change position?
The supreme court reverses. It held the landowners have rights of access for grazing, firewood, and timber, but not for fishing, hunting, and recreation. Evidence of traditional settlement practices, repeated references to settlement rights in documents associated with the Sangre de Cristo grant including Taylor's deed, the one hundred year history of the landowners' use of the Taylor Ranch, and other evidence of necessity, reliance, and intention support a finding of implied rights in the Taylor Ranch. Specifically, the landowners have rights under a prescriptive easement, an easement by estoppel, and an easement from prior use to access and use the Taylor Ranch for grazing, firewood, and timber.