Light v. United States

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Court Documents

United States Supreme Court

220 U.S. 523

Light  v.  United States

 Argued: February 27 and 28, 1911. --- Decided: May 1, 1911

The Holy Cross Forest Reserve was established under the provisions of the Act of March 3, 1891. By that and subsequent statutes the Secretary of Agriculture was authorized to make provisions for the protection against destruction by fire and depredations of the public forest and forest reservations, and to 'make such rules and regulations and establish such service as will insure the objects of such reservations; namely, to regulate their occupancy and use, and to preserve the forests thereon from destruction.' 26 Stat. at L. 1103, chap. 561, U.S.C.omp. Stat. 1901, p. 1537; 30 Stat. at L. 35, chap. 2, U.S.C.omp. Stat. 1901, p. 1540; act of Congress February 1, 1905 [33 Stat. at L. 628, chap. 288, U.S.C.omp. Stat. Supp. 1909, p. 577]; 7 Fed. Stat. Anno. 310, 312; and Fed. Stat. Anno. Supp. 1909, page 663. In pursuance of these statutes, regulations were adopted establishing grazing districts on which only a limited number of cattle were allowed. The regulations provided that a few head of cattle of prospectors, campers, and not more than ten belonging to a settler residing near the forest, might be admitted without permit; but, saving these exceptions, the general rule was that 'all persons must secure permits before grazing any stock in a national forest.'

On April 7, 1908, the United States, through the district attorney, filed a bill in the circuit court for the district of Colorado, reciting the matters above outlined, and alleging that the defendant, Fred Light, owned a herd of about 500 cattle and a ranch of 540 acres, located 2 1/2 miles to the east, and 5 miles to the north, of the reservation. This herd was turned out to range during the spring and summer, and the ranch then used as a place on which to raise hay for their sustenance.

That between the ranch and the reservation was other public and unoccupied land of the United States; but, owing to the fact that only a limited number of cattle were allowed on the reservation, the grazing there was better than on this public land. For this reason, and because of the superior water facilities and the tendency of the cattle to follow the trails and stream leading from the ranch to the reservation, they naturally went direct to the reservation. The bill charged that the defendant, when turning them loose, knew and expected that they would go upon the reservation, and took no action to prevent them from trespassing. That by thus knowingly and wrongfully permitting them to enter on the reservation he intentionally caused his cattle to make a trespass, in breach of the United States property and administrative rights, and has openly and privately stated his purpose to disregard the regulations, and without permit to allow, and, in the manner stated, to cause, his cattle to enter, feed, and graze thereon.

The bill prayed for an injunction. The defendant's general demurrer was overruled.

His answer denied that the topography of the country around his ranch or the water and grazing conditions were such as to cause his cattle to go on the reservation; he denied that many of them did go thereon, though admitting that some had grazed on the reservation. He admitted that he had liberated his cattle without having secured or intending to apply for a permit, but denied that he wilfully or intentionally caused them to go on the reservation, submitting that he was not required to obtain any such permit. He admits that it is his intention hereafter, as heretofore, to turn his cattle out on the unreserved public land of the United States adjoining his ranch to the northeast thereof, without securing or applying for any permit for the cattle to graze upon the so-called Holy Cross Reserve; denies that any damage will be done if they do go upon the reserve; and contends that if, because of their straying proclivities, they shall go on the reserve, the complainant is without remedy against the defendant, at law or in equity, so long as complainant fails to fence the reserve, as required by the laws of Colorado. He claims the benefit of the Colorado statute requiring the owner of land to erect and maintain a fence of given height and strength, in default of which the owner is not entitled to recover for damage occasioned by cattle or other animals going thereon.

Evidence was taken, and after hearing, the circuit court found for the government, and entered a decree enjoining the defendant from in any manner causing, or permitting, his stock to go, stray upon, or remain within the said forest or any portion thereof.

The defendant appealed and assigned that the decree against him was erroneous; that the public lands are held in trust for the people of the several states, and the proclamation creating the reserve without the consent of the state of Colorado is contrary to and in violation of said trust; that the decree is void because it, in effect, holds that the United States is exempt from the municipal laws of the state of Colorado, relating to fences; that the statute conferring upon the said Secretary of Agriculture the power to make rules and regulations was an unconstitutional delegation of authority to him, and the rules and regulations therefore void; and that the rules mentioned in the bill are unreasonable, do not tend to insure the object of forest reservation, and constitute an unconstitutional interference by the government of the United States with fence and other statutes of the state of Colorado, enacted through the exercise of the police power of the state.

Messrs. James H. Teller, John T. Barnett, Henry M. Teller, C. S. Thomas, E. C. Stimson, Milton Smith, H. A. Hicks, and Ralph McCrillis for appellant.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 527-531 intentionally omitted]

Mr. Ernest Knaebel for appellee.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 531-534 intentionally omitted]

Mr. Justice Lamar, after making the foregoing statement, delivered the opinion of the court:


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).