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Woo v. El Paso County Sheriff’s Office.

2020 COA 134. No. 19CA1360. Colorado Governmental Immunity Act—Replevin—Due Process.

September 10, 2020

Woo was convicted of first degree murder. Thereafter, he filed this replevin action against the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office and the Fourth Judicial District Attorney’s Office (collectively, defendants) seeking return of personal items seized during and after his arrest. Defendants moved to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act (CGIA). The district court dismissed the complaint with prejudice.

On appeal, Woo challenged the dismissal. The CGIA does not waive immunity for an action in replevin to obtain possession of property validly seized pursuant to a public entity’s police power and to recover damages for its detention. Here, Woo did not allege that the initial seizure of the property was wrongful but rather that defendants’ continued detention of it had become wrongful. He also sought monetary damages for the wrongful detention. Therefore, the CGIA bars the replevin action.

Woo also contended that barring his action violates his federal and state constitutional rights against deprivations of property without due process of law because replevin was the only remedy to recover the property. However, Woo had an adequate post-seizure remedy to seek return of the property in his criminal case by filing a verified motion for return of the property. Thus, he was adequately protected against any erroneous property deprivation. Moreover, parties do not have a constitutionally protected property right to sue the government for damages for their alleged injuries.
Woo also argued that the dismissal “with prejudice” was error because it was based on the lack of subject matter jurisdiction and did not adjudicate the merits of his claim. Here, the district court lacks jurisdiction to hear the merits of Woo’s replevin action because the CGIA bars the claim. Accordingly, the dismissal with prejudice was appropriate.

The judgment was affirmed.

Official Colorado Court of Appeals proceedings can be found at the Colorado Court of Appeals website.

Related Topics

Colorado Governmental Immunity Act Replevin Due Process

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