United States v. Gardner
107 F.3d 1314 (9th Cir. 1997)

  • Historically, when the US acquired new territory (like the acquisition of Nevada from Mexico), the general process was that all of the land was considered the property of the Federal government, and they would divvy it up and sell most of it off to private individuals, and give the rest to the State.
    • This land sale included most of the land acquired early in US history (like the Louisiana Purchase), but as time went on, the Federal government retained more and more of the land for military bases, national forests etc.
      • For example, over 80% of the land in Nevada has been retained by the Federal government.
  • Gardner owned a cattle ranch in Nevada next to a National Forest. He had a permit that allowed his cattle to graze in the Forest.
  • There was a forest fire that burned the land Gardner's cows were grazing on. The US Forest Service reseeded the area, and closed it to grazing for two years in order to allow the land to recover.
  • Gardner disobeyed the order and sent his cattle in. The US Forest Service fined Gardner for trespassing. Gardner refused to pay the fine and the US Forest Service sued.
    • Gardner argued that the Federal government didn't have title to the land, and so he couldn't be convicted of trespassing.
      • Gardner argued that when the US acquired the land from Mexico, it was only to be held in trust for the creation of future States, the Federal government didn't have the right to retain it for its own purposes, they were required to sell it off to private individuals.
  • The Trial Court upheld the fine. Gardner appealed.
  • The Appellate Court affirmed.
    • Gardner had argued that the decision in Pollard's Lessee v. Hagan (44 U.S. (3 How.) 212 (1845)), meant that the US only held land in trust, but the Appellate Court distinguished that decision by saying that that only applied to land acquired from the 13 original States (mostly Virginia and Georgia), and it did not apply to land acquired by the US later.
      • In those cases, the Federal government wasn't the original owner of the land, it was owned by the States. As part of the agreement to give the land to the Federal government, the Federal government agreed to hold it in trust.
      • In this case, the Federal government directly acquired Nevada from Mexico, so they didn't have to abide by the same agreement they made in Pollard.
    • The Court found that under the Property Clause (Article IV, 3, cl. 2) the Federal government has the authority to administer Federal lands anyway they choose, including the establishment of national forests and stopping Gardner's cattle from grazing there.
    • Gardner argued that the Equal Footing Doctrine meant that the Federal government was required to give Nevada the same rights as they gave other States, but the Court found that only applied to political sovereignty, not to economic or physical characteristics.
      • Gardner's argument was that the land in the eastern US was mostly owned by the States or private landholders. Therefore it wasn't fair that most of the land in the western US was mostly owned by the Federal government.