Judge denies Farmington's motion to dismiss

Hannah Grover
The north side of U.S. Highway 64 in Bloomfield is lined with utility poles and power lines. City officials in Bloomfield are trying to acquire local electrical assets as part of an attempt to start their own electric utility.

FARMINGTON – After about a month of deliberation, Judge Bradford Dalley on Thursday denied Farmington’s motion to dismiss Bloomfield’s breach of contract lawsuit.

Bloomfield filed the lawsuit in August as part of its attempt to purchase an electric utility from the city of Farmington.

"A municipality must be able to control the utilities within its jurisdictional boundaries and acquire the necessary property and equipment to do so," Dalley stated in the order denying Farmington's motion to dismiss. "It cannot be said that the passage of time extinguishes that role, especially when the right has been recognized in an agreement preserved in a court order."

The city of Bloomfield alleges that a 1960 court case and the subsequent judgment and decree served as a contract between the two cities that recognized Bloomfield’s right to purchase the utility from Farmington at any time.

Farmington argues that the 1960 decree, known as the Culpepper Decree, was not a contract and was subject to the statute of limitations. In the motion to dismiss filed in October, Farmington argued that Bloomfield should have moved to acquire the utility within 14 years of the court's decision in the Culpepper Decree.

Dalley heard the two cities' arguments in December. In March, he met with representatives from the two cities and asked them to reopen the Culpepper Case. After the case was reopened and the lawsuit and motion to dismiss were moved into the Culpepper Case, Daley issued his decision.

Farmington City Attorney Jennifer Breakell said the judge's denial of the motion to dismiss is a procedural step in the lawsuit.

"This lawsuit is far from over," she said.

She said that while the city's motion to dismiss was denied, Farmington remains confident that the court will rule in their favor regarding the interpretation of the Culpepper Final Judgment and Decree.

Farmington holds that the judgment and decree only applies to infrastructure that was in place when the city acquired the utility in 1959. Because much of the infrastructure has been updated and replaced, Bloomfield says that would leave the city with, maybe, three power poles.

Nann Winter, an attorney representing Bloomfield, said the Culpepper Decree makes it so the two cities will have to decide what infrastructure Bloomfield has the right to acquire and what is the value of that infrastructure.

"I think we're likely to see a disagreement on both counts," she said.

If the two cities cannot come to an agreement on those two issues, the court will have the ultimate say in what property Bloomfield can purchase and for how much money.

Winter said Bloomfield is close to completing an appraisal on the infrastructure within city boundaries.

"It would be in everyone's best interest to sit down and have a candid conversation about this," Winter said.

Hannah Grover covers Aztec and Bloomfield, as well as general news, for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.