In jurisdictional duel, federal judge favors Garfield County over RMR
A federal judge in Grand Junction recommended halting RMR Industrial’s federal lawsuit against Garfield County while the state court case proceeds.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Gordon Gallagher entered his order recommending the stay in the federal case Tuesday, signaling an end to the “dueling motions to stay.”
RMR, owner of the quarry north of Glenwood Springs, filed two lawsuits, one in state court and one in federal court, arguing that Garfield County commissioners acted arbitrarily and capriciously in issuing a notice of violations.
After filing the state lawsuit May 17, RMR filed the federal lawsuit May 21, and later urged the state court to stay the case. Garfield County, however, wants the case heard in state court, and asked the federal court to dismiss or stay the case.
Gallagher’s recommendation would pause the federal case in favor of letting the Colorado Ninth District Court in Glenwood Springs to hear the parallel case.
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The state court “is an adequate forum” to address claims, and the state court also “has jurisdiction to address federal law issues,” Gallagher wrote in the order.
Several municipalities, including Glenwood Spring, Rifle and Carbondale, expressed concern in recent weeks that RMR’s lawsuit, if successful, would erode the county’s regulatory authority.
RMR argued it is not an issue of state importance, since it only involved the county.
Gallagher called that reasoning “misguided,” and noted that a county’s regulatory authority is of great importance to Colorado communities.
“The state interests involved here are no small matter. Colorado and its discreet counties have developed systems for the granting and denial of mining permits. These systems ensure viability and conservation of the state’s natural resources,” Gallagher wrote.
Gallagher did not recommend dismissing the federal case completely, leaving RMR the option to pursue damages, court costs and fees in the future.
The Glenwood Springs Citizens’ Alliance, which formed to oppose RMR’s quarry expansion proposal currently under review by the Bureau of Land Management, praised Gallagher’s recommendation.
“This is exactly what we were hoping for at this time,” Citizens’ Alliance volunteer Heather McGregor said. “We see the state court as the best forum for the county’s points to be heard.”
RMR and Garfield County have 14 days to file any written objections to Gallagher’s order.
In the state case, Judge Anne Norrdin is considering RMR’s motion to stay its own lawsuit.
Both parties have accused the other of “forum shopping,” and in a recent filing, lawyers for the county said RMR “is not entitled to use the state court as a precautionary backup option should it fail in federal court.”
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Richard Miller and Allison Marcus were sentenced to 45, days in jail, 1,500 hours of useful public service and $100,000 of restitution on June 30, 2019, as their sentence for starting the Lake Christine Fire the prior year. They have made significant strides in fulfilling their debt to society, according to the district attorney’s office.