Welcome to the zombie apocalypse, where the war against the living dead never ends.
On June 6, 2008, a federal judge in the case of the Estate of Hage v. the U.S. awarded the estate of Nye County rancher Wayne Hage $4.2 million in damages plus interest, attorney fees and costs in compensation for the federal government’s Fifth Amendment “taking” of grazing and water rights. Hage had died two years earlier almost to the day.
On June 5, 2012, federal Judge Robert Jones in Reno in the case of the U.S. v. the Estate of Hage began civil contempt proceedings against Thomas Seley, the field manager of the Tonopah office of the Bureau of Land Management.
The battle began in 1979 and wages on and on and on.
Jones stated from the bench that Seley, who became head of his office in 2007, “undertook a pattern to obtain his own remedy in derogation of this Court’s jurisdiction over these issues, and that’s the contempt.” The judge accused Seley of trying to interfere with water and grazing rights, as well as filing trespass notices despite the matter being in the jurisdiction of the court.
The 2008 Hage v. U.S. ruling included this strongly worded conclusion:
“The taking clause was not written to protect merely against frivolous exercises of governmental power, but more precisely to protect against the opposite. Presumably, the political process protects against most frivolous exercises. The protection of the Fifth Amendment is most needed to protect the minority against the exercise of governmental power when the need of government to regulate is greatest, and the desire of the popular majority is strongest. In this way, and in this way only, does the judiciary properly affect policy, and that effect is to adjudicate the limits that the rule of law and a written Constitution impose upon popular government. The existence of property rights, not the judiciary’s finding of a ‘taking,’ impose these limits.”
But the government is a deathless beast that can carry its fight on for generations until it has vanquished or outlived mere mortal citizens.
According to a Nevada Journal article, the fight began in 1979 when Hage ran into federal agents on his grazing allotment who were surveying the area so the Forest Service could file a water rights claim. Hage’s ranch had held those waters since 1865, before the Forest Service was created.
The government later claimed Hage was overgrazing the land and canceled his grazing and water rights permits for five years.
According to court records, in 1983 Hage received 40 letters from the Forest Service charging various violations and agents of the Forest Service visited the ranch 70 times. The Forest Service then filed 22 charges against Hage, many for extremely minor infractions. “In addition, the Forest Service insisted that Plaintiffs maintain their 1866 Act ditches with nothing other than hand tools.” (Welcome to Tombstone.)
In 1991, the Forest Service twice impounded Hage’s cattle. When he could not get them back by paying the cost of impoundment, the government auctioned the cattle for $39,000 and kept the proceeds.
Hage filed his federal “takings” suit in the fall of 1991 — 21 years later …
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The description of the Hage range war with the feds in this court ruling is harrowing: Hage2008
Read Judge Jone’s statement from the bench about the potential for civil contempt against a federal agent: Hage2012