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Colorado Court of Appeals clarifies that a finding of irreparable harm is not required to enter a permanent injunction to enforce an easement

Former Associate
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On March 21, 2019, the Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Rinker v. Colina-Lee, holding for the first time that the “irreparable harm” element typically required to grant a permanent injunction is not needed for injunctions issued to enforce easements. 2019 COA 45. While the facts underlying the case are long and somewhat convoluted, for the purposes of the court’s “irreparable harm” holding, the case involves two real property owners along a private road governed by an association agreement. Id., ¶¶ 12-14. Uphill property alterations by the association and other members caused debris to accumulate on Mr. Rinker’s property via a culvert he had installed to redirect drainage water. Id., ¶¶ 4-6. After other unsuccessful attempts to prevent this debris accumulation, Mr. Rinker ultimately decided to block the culvert, which redirected water across the private road. Id., ¶¶ 7-8. Predictably, Mr. Rinker’s drainage alteration damaged the road, causing another association member, Ms. Colina-Lee, to request an order from the district court enjoining Mr. Rinker from blocking the culvert. She based her request on the association agreement, which prohibited members from damaging the road beyond wear from normal use. Id., ¶¶ 11-16, 86.

The court began its analysis by reciting the four elements a party seeking a permanent injunction typically must prove: “(1) he or she has achieved actual success on the merits; (2) irreparable harm will result unless the injunction is issued; (3) the threatened injury outweighs the harm that the injunction may cause to the opposing party; and (4) the injunction, if issued, will not adversely affect the public interest.” Id., ¶ 64. Then, after noting that Colorado courts have not previously considered this issue, the court cited the Restatement (Third) of Prop.: Servitudes § 8.3 cmt. b (Am. Law Inst. 2000) for the proposition that “[i]njunctive relief is normally available to redress violations of easements . . . without proof of irreparable injury or a showing that a judgment for damages would be inadequate.” Id., ¶¶ 67-68. The Restatement comment reasons that the element is not necessary because the value of an easement can be difficult to quantify, market values may not reflect the easement’s value to the landowner, and a party should not be able to buy out of an easement obligation if the easement continues to serve its purpose. Id., ¶ 69.

Finding the Restatement’s reasoning persuasive, the Rinker court held as a matter of first impression in Colorado that the typical “irreparable harm” element does not apply where a party seeks injunctive relief to enforce an easement. Id., ¶ 70-71.

Rinker could still be subject to a petition for rehearing or certiorari, but for the time being, a party seeking to enforce an easement through an injunction no longer has to prove irreparable harm to obtain injunctive relief. The opinion does not decide whether the third or fourth elements are still required because the trial court’s factual findings sufficiently addressed these elements, leaving that question open for future debate. Id., ¶¶ 71-72.