Camfield and Drury were cattle
ranchers in Colorado. They built a fence on their property in order to
keep in the cattle. The way the fence was constructed though, it
basically cordoned off 20,000 acres of Federally-owned land.
At the time, Federally-owned
land was available for use by anyone, but by building their fences the
way they did, Camfield and Drury made it impossible for anyone else's
cattle to get to the land.
Based on the Unlawful
Enclosures Act (43 U.S.C.
§1061), the Federal government told
Camfield and Drury to tear down the fence and allow free access to the
Federal land. Camfield and Drury refused. The Federal government sued.
The Trial Court found for the
US. Camfield and Drury appealed.
Camfield and Drury argued
that they weren't intentionally stopping people from access the Federal
land. They had even put in gates to allow passage.
Camfield and Drury also
argued that they had made a lot of irrigation improvement to their land,
which also benefited the Federal land.
Camfield and Drury also
argued that they owned their property and had a right to put up fences on
it as they liked.
The Appellate Court affirmed.
Camfield and Drury appealed.
The US Supreme Court affirmed
and ordered the fences removed.
The US Supreme Court found
that property rights are limited when they become a nuisance or limit the property rights of neighbors.
The Court found that the
fences did constitute a nuisance,
and that the Federal government (as owner of the public lands) had a
right to order the nuisance
Camfield and Drury didn't make
the argument that the Unlawful Enclosures Act was unconstitutional since it affected private
However, the US could have
argued that the Property Clause
gave them the authority to make the law.
Part of the problem in this
case was that when the US had partitioned parts of Colorado into private
sections and public lands, it did so in a checkerboard pattern, where
every odd section was private and every even section was public. That
made it really inconvenient for the owners of the private sections to use
their land effectively.
The Court said that the
private individuals who bought the land knew what the deal was, and were
taking a calculated risk when they made the purchase.
Of course, you could make
the reverse argument that if the Federal government didn't want people
enclosing their land, they shouldn't have sold it off in such a