Rael v. Lobato

Criminal Justice
Case No. 00SC527, Colorado Supreme Court
ACLU Case No. 1998-21


This case asserts the right of local residents in Costilla County in southeastern Colorado to graze, hunt, fish, and take firewood from a 77,000 acre tract in the Sangre De Cristo Mountains. The local population had continuously accessed the property for such purposes from the time they arrived from Mexico in the mid-1800s until the early 1960s, when lumberman Jack Taylor bought the property, fenced the land, and claimed that the local residents had no right of access. Taylor also filed a legal action in federal court in Denver, which declared in 1965 that he had clear title to the property. The local residents trace their right to use the property to the terms of a Mexican land grant; to the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which preserved property rights when Mexico ceded sovereignty to the United States; and to a later conveyance of the property that recognized the rights of the local residents. The current suit was filed in 1981 in state court by local residents who contend that they did not have adequate notice of Taylor’s federal court lawsuit and thus had no opportunity to prove their legal right to access the land for grazing, hunting, fishing, and taking firewood. The case has gone through the Colorado appellate courts twice, with the ACLU filing amicus briefs in support of the plaintiffs’ due process arguments that individuals who did not receive actual notice of Taylor’s federal court action are not bound by the decision. The Colorado Supreme Court issued decisions favorable to the plaintiffs in 1994, 2002, and 2003.


David H. Miller

Return to Search Menu