Posted by: Patricia Salkin | August 22, 2008

Ninth Circuit Finds that Dogs May Be “Livestock” for Purposes of Easement

The Parks operated a dog training and kennel service on property along the Clearwater River in Idaho. The property was subject to a scenic easement granted to the United States, which prohibited “professional or commercial activities” but permitted “general crop and livestock farming.” Neither term was defined. The stated purpose of the easement was to allow the U.S. Forest Service to administer the land “to protect the scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic, cultural, and other similar values [of the region] and to prevent any developments that will tend to mar or detract from their scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic, cultural, or other similar values. . . .” The Forest Service notified the Parks that their dog business violated the terms of the easement, and brought suit. The district court held in favor of the government, finding that the easement terms were “unambiguous.” The court did not look to any particular source to define “livestock farming” but stated that “[r]egardless of how broadly one defines livestock farming, the Parks’ activities do not fall within its terms.”

 

On appeal, summary judgment for the government was reversed. Given the lack of a uniform definition of “livestock” and the absence of any guidance within the four corners of the easement, the term “livestock” was ambiguous and summary judgment was premature. The Ninth Circuit noted that generally, it would follow state law to resolve property disputes, such the interpretation of an ambiguous easement. However, the easement did not expressly incorporate a state law definition of “livestock” so as to “compel” reference to state statutes, and the use of the word “farming” in conjunction with the term “livestock” in the easement was not helpful.  The “plain meaning of the term,” as determined by dictionary definitions of “livestock,” indicated the term was very broad and captured “every type of domesticated animal.” Accordingly, the matter was remanded for further proceedings.

 

U.S. v. Park, 2008 WL 3271049 (9th Cir. Aug. 11, 2008).

 

The opinion can be accessed at:http://tinyurl.com/6og2dp

 

This abstract appeared in IMLA News (Issue No.13, August 20, 2008).  For more information about the benefits of membership in the International Municipal Lawyers Association, visit: www.imla.org

 


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