United States ex rel. Bergen v. Lawrence
848 F.2d 1502 (10th Cir. 1988)

  • Under the Union Pacific Act of 1862, the US partitioned parts of Wyoming into private sections and public lands in a checkerboard pattern, where every odd section was private and every even section was public.
    • The private sections were given to the railroads in return for building railroads. They were eventually sold off to various other people.
  • Lawrence owned a number of checkerboard squares. He built a fence around his squares that had the effect of completely enclosing some of the public squares.
    • Lawrence felt that this was ok because he had a permit to graze his cattle on the public lands (under the Taylor Grazing Act).
    • Lawrence fenced the land to keep the antelope out. Antelopes were eating all of the grass that Lawrence had paid for.
  • The problem was that this long fence blocked antelope migration. The Federal government told Lawrence to tear down the fence. When he refused, they sued.
    • The Federal government argued that under the Unlawful Enclosures Act (43 U.S.C. 1061), a private landowner like Lawrence did not have the right to completely close off Federal public lands.
      • See Camfield v. United States (167 U.S. 518 (1897)).
    • The Federal government also argued that under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA) they had the authority to make regulations for the protection of wildlife.
  • The Trial Court found for the US. Lawrence appealed.
    • Lawrence argued that the Unlawful Enclosures Act was designed to open the land to other cattle ranchers, it wasn't to open the land to wildlife. Since Lawrence had a permit that gave him exclusive right to graze cattle on the enclosed land, there was no legal reason to tear down the fence.
    • Lawrence also argued that he had purchased an exclusive right to graze that land, and that included the right to stop wild animals from grazing there.
  • The Appellate Court affirmed. Lawrence appealed.
  • The US Supreme Court affirmed.
    • The US Supreme Court looked to the plain language of the Unlawful Enclosures Act and found that it was unambiguous and did not mention other cattle ranchers. It simply said you could not build a fence. Therefore, you can't build a fence, regardless of what the underlying reasons for the law were.
    • The Court found that forage by wildlife was a lawful purpose, and so the Federal government was within their rights to enforce the Unlawful Enclosures Act for that purpose.