An Arvada couple is suing over an order that barred them from their second home in Gunnison County, which has implemented the state’s broadest restrictions on visitation regarding the coronavirus pandemic.
James and Joyce Cillessen filed a lawsuit against Gunnison County’s Board of Commissioners and county Public Health Director Joni Reynolds on Friday.
The couple, whose primary residence is in Arvada but who also own a home on 74 acres in Gunnison, allege the order “constitutes a regulatory taking, and the failure to pay just compensation,” as well as a violation of substantive due process rights, and thus violates the U.S. and state constitutions.
The Gunnison County Attorney’s Office did not respond to a request for comment Monday. In implementing the order, the county said it was trying to slow the spread of the coronavirus to avoid overwhelming its health care facilities, and that it felt nonresidents could face more complications because they’re not acclimated to the county’s high altitude.
Much of Colorado’s high country has taken steps in the last two months to discourage visitation. Summit County, for example, ordered all hotels and short-term rental properties to close.
But Gunnison County, whose primary municipalities are Crested Butte and Gunnison, is alone in banning those who don’t live in the county year-round. The county’s decision made national news this month when Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton wrote a letter to Gunnison County, arguing the move was unconstitutional.
But the Cillessens’ lawsuit is the first challenging the decision, as far as one of the attorneys representing the couple knows.
“I’m not aware of other lawsuits that have been filed against the county,” said Theodore Wells, of Denver’s Allen & Curry.
According to the lawsuit, Gunnison County declared a “Local Disaster Emergency” on March 12, which resulted in Reynolds issuing multiple public health orders.
One of those orders, issued April 5, was for all nonresident homeowners to immediately leave Gunnison County and to not enter or re-enter the county unless they received a written exemption from Reynold, according to the lawsuit. Violations could result in fines up to $5,000 and up to 18 months in jail.
James Cillessen, who is president of Arvada-based Interstate Electrical Contractors, requested an exemption on April 17, because the couple wanted to travel to their second home, according to the lawsuit. He said the couple planned to practice social distancing, limit interactions with essential businesses and leave their property as little as possible.
One day later, Cillessen received notice that Reynolds had denied his request, the lawsuit states, adding that there was no way to appeal the decision.
“Notwithstanding the legitimate public purpose which Director Reynolds was pursuing, the Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Public Health Orders violate Plaintiffs’ fundamental rights protected by the United States Constitution and the Colorado Constitution,” the lawsuit reads.
Along with Wells, attorneys Jay Labe and Michael Curry of Allen & Curry also are representing the couple in the litigation.
On Saturday, a day after the lawsuit was filed, Gunnison County updated its public health order. As of Monday, nonresident homeowners could return, as long as they isolate themselves for seven days on arrival, according to the county’s website.
“We’re reviewing the order and evaluating how it will affect our clients and the lawsuit,” Wells told BusinessDen.