Plaintiff farms land in Idaho, while Defendant runs a ranch across the road which included 130 cows, calves, and 8 bulls. On multiple occasions a few of Defendant’s cattle broke through the fence line and waded into Plaintiff’s property. On one particular occasion “a major breakout” occurred where 137 heads of cattle entered Plaintiff’s hayfield. The hay in the field was substantially damaged. Plaintiff sued for actual damages of roughly $4K and $10K for punitive damages. At trial, the court refused to award punitive damages.
Whether a livestock owner has a duty to fence his animals where a herd district has not been legally formed.
It is the duty of the landowner to fence and control his animal livestock. At common law, “the owners of livestock were liable for the damage caused by their stock straying upon another’s land whether the land was enclosed or not.” However, many western states rejected this, because roaming herds were so common, as did Idaho. Idaho code, to provide a remedy for damaged property stated that an owner who builds a fence and has his fence broached by stray animals can sue for damages. This represents the animal owner’s right to let his cattle roam. A landowner wishing not to erect a fence can create a herd district, whether animals are prohibited from roaming. The effect of the herd district is to reinstate the old common law duties of animal owners. While defendant technically did not live in a herd district, the custom and procedures of the locality had disallowed open range activities for centuries. This creates a third category of land ownership which encompasses “… all land which livestock by custom, license, lease, or permit are not permitted to roam at large or graze.” In this new category, the landowner has a duty to fence his livestock. This third category is incorrect and not authorized by law. It effectively authorized the law of herd districts established by code, where community custom dictates. The entire purpose of the creation of herd districts is to legally enshrine community custom into law by majority property owner vote. When that is done, herd districts are legally created. Here, Plaintiff had a duty to fence livestock out in order to have the ability to bring a claim against defendant.