United States v. Park, 2008 U.S. App. LEXIS 17075 (9th Cir. Aug. 11, 2008).
Arthur Park, 2L, University of Mississippi School of Law
Does operating a dog kennel constitute “livestock farming”? Are dogs “livestock”? These unique questions were recently explored by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
In 1973, Earl and Iona Monroe, the previous owners of Tract 160A along Idaho’s Clearwater River, granted the U.S. government a scenic easement pursuant to the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.1 The purpose of the easement was to permit the U.S. Forest Service to “protect the scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic, cultural” and other values of the area while preventing development that would detract from those values.2
The language of the easement provides that the “lands within the easement area shall not be used for any professional or commercial activities except such as can be and are, in fact, conducted from a residential dwelling without outside alteration of the dwelling.”3 The terms of the easement do protect the “right to use the easement for general crop and livestock farming.”4
Ron and Mary Park purchased Tract 160A in 1989. Subsequently, the Parks received permission from the U.S. Forest Service to add horse stalls (in 1989), use part of their home as a craft and hobby shop (in 1990), and run a bed and breakfast out of their home (in 1991). In 1997, the Parks began advertising a kennel and dog training business. In 1998, the Forest Service notified the Parks that the kennel was an unauthorized commercial activity that violated the terms of the easement and that the new structures had been built without Forest Service approval. The parties exchanged letters, without coming to a resolution, in 1998 and again in 2003. In 2005, the U.S. filed suit.
On cross-motions for summary judgment, the U.S. argued that the kennel was a commercial activity (and thus prohibited) while the Parks contended that the kennel was livestock farming (and thus protected). The Idaho District Court concluded that the terms of the easement were unambiguous and that no matter “how broadly one defines livestock farming, the Parks’ activities do not fall within its terms.”5 The district court granted the government’s motion for summary judgment and ordered the Parks to end the kennel business and remove any structures related to the kennel or convert such structures to non-commercial use.
Under Idaho law, a property conveyance whose language is unambiguous must be interpreted by its plain language, using only what is contained within the four corners of the document. Ambiguity exists only if the language is “subject to conflicting interpretations.”6
The easement for Tract 160A does not define the terms “livestock” or “livestock farming.” The Court looked to the dictionary definitions of “livestock,” such as “animals kept or raised for use or pleasure; esp: farm animals kept for use and profit,”7 “animals, esp. on a farm, regarded as an asset,”8 and “domestic animals and fowls that (1) are kept for profit or pleasure, (2) can normally be confined within boundaries without seriously impairing their utility, and (3) do not normally intrude on others’ land in such a way as to harm the land or growing crops.”9 Similarly, a recent California case analyzed the dictionary definitions of “livestock” and concluded that “the scope of domestic animals used or raised on a farm can potentially extend to guinea pigs, cats, dogs, fish, ants, and bees.”10
The U.S. argued that “livestock” should be defined as “cattle, horses, mules, or asses” as found in an Idaho statute.11 This statutory provision, however, dealt only with the branding of animals. Other Idaho statutes define “livestock” to include cassowary, ostrich, emu, and rhea12 as well as fallow deer, elk, and reindeer.13
Relying on Mountainview Landowners Cooperative Association, Inc. v. Cool,14 a dispute over the language of a property easement that protected “swimming and boating,” the Ninth Circuit found a latent ambiguity in the Parks’ easement. A “latent ambiguity is not evident on the face of the instrument alone, but becomes apparent when applying the instrument to the facts as they exist.”15 In Mountainview, the easement did not define swimming nor was there a uniform definition of swimming in the dictionaries. Furthermore, a strict definition of swimming (to propel oneself through water) would have led to illogical results.16 Thus, the Idaho Supreme Court found a “latent ambiguity” with regard to swimming.
The Ninth Circuit was not persuaded by the government’s definition of “livestock” as “cattle, horses, mules, or asses.” The easement did not incorporate the definitions of the Idaho Code, so there was no compelling reason to disregard the plain dictionary meaning. And even if the easement did incorporate the definitions of the Idaho Code, there is more than one definition of “livestock” found therein.
The Ninth Circuit reversed the order of the Idaho District Court and remanded the case for further proceedings at the trial level. Since there is no uniform definition of “livestock” or any guidance within the four corners of the document, the Ninth Circuit held that the term “livestock” is ambiguous. The District Court’s granting of summary judgment, based on an unambiguous definition of “livestock,” was therefore premature. It is important to note that the Ninth Circuit did not decide the question of whether the term “livestock” does encompass dogs. The Court merely held that the term “livestock” could encompass dogs. The Idaho District Court is now charged with answering that question.
1. The goal of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act is to preserve “selected rivers of the Nation which, with their immediate environments, possess outstandingly remarkable scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic, cultural, or other similar values85in free-flowing condition” for the current and future generations. 16 U.S.C. A7 1271.
2. U.S. v. Park, 2008 U.S. App. LEXIS 17075, at *2 (9th Cir. Aug. 11, 2008).
4. Id. at *2-3.
5. Id. at *4.
6. Neider v. Shaw, 65 P.3d 525, 530 (Idaho 2003).
7. Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary 728 (11th ed. 2003).
8. The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English 797 (9th ed. 1995).
9. Black’s Law Dictionary 953 (8th ed. 2004).
10. Levine v. Conner, 540 F. Supp. 2d 1113, 1116 (N.D. Cal. 2008).
11. Idaho Code Ann. A7 25-1101.
12. Id. A7 25-3601.
13. Id. A7 25-3701.
14. 86 P.3d 484, 487 (Idaho 2004).
15. Salfeety v. Seideman, 907 P.2d 794, 801 (Idaho 1995).
16. The strict definition would not have included cooling one’s feet in the water or parents standing in the water to watch over their children.