A Squire Patton Boggs team, led by Denver senior associate Aaron Boschee, secured a significant appellate victory at the Colorado Court of Appeals in the 37-year-running pro bono Taylor Ranch litigation. The case involves an effort to secure access for a largely Hispanic community to 77,500 acres of mountainous land known as Taylor Ranch in southern Colorado.
The complexity of the case centers around land settled in the 1850s and 1860s, before Colorado became a state, by families from New Mexico. The settlers were persuaded to come to the San Luis Valley area with the promise of rights to use the resources of the surrounding mountains to support their livelihoods. Those rights were memorialized in an 1863 Spanish-language document, commonly referred to as the Beaubien Document.
In 1960, timber baron Jack Taylor purchased the Taylor Ranch and attempted to extinguish residents’ rights to the land, cutting off their livelihood. In 1981, with the assistance of pro bono counsel, the local community organized and filed a lawsuit to preserve their rights. In a trilogy of opinions, the Colorado Supreme Court upheld the rights of the plaintiff property owners to exercise their traditional land rights on the Taylor Ranch. Following the third opinion in 2004, the Colorado Supreme Court remanded the case to the trial court, directing it to identify all landowners meeting the requirements of access rights – namely, settlement prior to 1870.
On remand, the trial court ruled that all areas marked on a historic map known as “Map A” were presumed to be settled prior to 1870 and, therefore, those living in the mapped areas have presumptive access to the Taylor Ranch. The trial court spent approximately six years identifying the current owners of the timely-settled land located on Map A. The trial court then revoked the favorable presumption of pre-1870 settlement for landowners whose land was not identified on Map A, leaving the residents of several historical settlement areas without access to the Taylor Ranch.
Following this ruling, Squire Patton Boggs actively engaged in establishing the timely settlement of areas outside Map A, eventually reaching a critical stipulation in 2015 with the then-owner of the Taylor Ranch to secure access for virtually all the affected landowners based upon a different historic map. Yet, the trial court declined to comprehensively identify the owners of the land identified on the map, which the parties agreed was timely-settled and entitled to use rights.
In early 2018, the ranch owner appealed, challenging nearly every aspect of the remand process – including the critical 2015 stipulation. With assistance from Squire Patton Boggs, the plaintiff-class cross-appealed, seeking a remand to identify and provide access rights for all remaining landowners in Costilla County, Colorado. Mr. Boschee argued the case on behalf of the landowners at oral arguments in early September.
On November 15, the three-member panel for the Colorado Court of Appeals rejected all of the ranch owner’s arguments challenging the remand process. The unanimous opinion confirmed the access-rights obtained by the legal team in the proceeding. Punctuating the complete victory for the firm’s clients, the panel agreed with the plaintiff-class’s cross-appeal and remanded the case to the trial court for a complete adjudication of all land with access rights.
In addition to Mr. Boschee, the Squire Patton Boggs team included Carolyn McIntosh, Brent Owen, Keith Bradley and Sarah Conley.