City and County of Denver v. Monaghan Farms, Inc.
2023 COA 60. No. 22CA0956. Eminent Domain—Condemnation—Settlement Agreement—Fee Simple Absolute—Possibility of Reverter.
June 29, 2023
Over 30 years ago, Monaghan Farms, Inc. (MF) ceded 8,360 acres of land (the Monaghan parcels) to the City and County of Denver (Denver) via eminent domain for the construction and operation of Denver International Airport (DIA). The parties disagreed with the condemnation court’s decree regarding MF’s compensation for the Monaghan parcels but ultimately entered into a settlement agreement that the condemnation court later adopted in its Second Amended Rule and Order. In 2017, MF learned that Denver planned to lease part of the condemned property for private commercial use instead of for DIA. MF subsequently sent Denver two letters requesting good-faith negotiations under the settlement agreement, contending that it retained a “right to reversion” if the parcels were no longer used for DIA. In 2021, Denver filed a complaint against MF for quiet title and declaratory judgment. It requested (1) an order quieting its title to the Monaghan parcels and rejecting MF’s claims to a right of reverter; (2) a declaration that the 1992 settlement agreement barred MF from pursuing any claims that it had any reversionary interest in or to the Monaghan parcels; and (3) a declaration that the development of commercial, nonaeronautical land uses at DIA, including within any Monaghan parcels, was in the service and support of DIA, and therefore a “public airport use.” MF moved to dismiss for failure to join an indispensable party under CRCP 12(b)(6), asserting that Adams County should be joined. Before a hearing could be held on the motion to dismiss, Denver moved for summary judgment on its claims to quiet title and to release claims, arguing that those claims were determinative and should be considered first because the public use issue was relevant only to the motion to dismiss. The district court (1) denied MF’s motion to dismiss, (2) granted summary judgment for Denver on its claims for quiet title and release of claims, (3) denied MF’s CRCP 56(f) motion for a denial or continuance on Denver’s summary judgment motion, and (4) entered a final judgment and decree quieting title in favor of Denver.
On appeal, MF contended that the district court reversibly erred by concluding that Denver condemned the Monaghan parcels in fee simple absolute because Denver’s 1988 petition didn’t request condemnation in fee simple absolute and Denver did not pay for the parcels to be taken in fee simple absolute. MF asserted that Denver obtained only a defeasible fee subject to the possibility of reverter if the land was not used for “public airport use.” However, pursuant to the Second Amended Rule and Order, Denver sought and acquired the Monaghan parcels, “and any and all interests therein,” free and clear of any possibility of reverter to MF; the only limitations related to mineral rights and prior right-of-way easements, none of which grant MF a right of reverter. Further, a condemnor is not required to seek and pay for an absolute fee interest to obtain fee simple absolute, and the settlement agreement makes clear that the parties agreed that the price paid did not necessarily reflect the property’s market value. And court of appeals divisions have recognized that private interests taken via condemnation are not subject to defeasement simply because the property is later put to private use. Accordingly, the district court properly determined that Denver acquired the Monaghan parcels in fee simple absolute and that MF did not retain any reversionary interest, regardless of the use to which the property is put.
The judgment was affirmed.