Posthumous Justice for Wayne Hage

A recent decision by the U.S. Court of Federal Claims brings to an end – at least at the trial court level – the 14-year fight by rancher Wayne Hage who sued the U.S. government in 1996 for the taking of his water rights, and ditch rights-of-way over federal land that he was using under a federal permit for cattle ranching.

The feds decided that this land would be just dandy for elk which they imported and turned loose. The problem was that there was not enough water and forage for both types of critters, so the feds sharply limited the numbers of cattle that Hage was allowed to run on that land. 

The Hage inverse cdondemnation lawsuit was what you might call a western saga that has been running for 14 years so far. We won’t attempt to go through it all in detail. For that we suggest you read Wayne Hage’s book Storm Over the Rangelands: Private Rights in Federal Lands (1989).

Suffice it to say here that so far, this controversy has produced five — count ’em, five — published opinions: 35 Fed.Cl. 147 (1996), 35 Fed.Cl. 737 (1996), 42 Fed.Cl. 249 (1998), 51 Fed.Cl. 570 (2002), and 82 Fed.Cl. 202 (2008). Now comes the most recent one, Estate of Hage v. United States, 90 Fed.Cl. 202 (2009).

In this one, the court corrected its former judgment and found that additional items of damages had to be added to the earlier award in favor of Hage (90 Fed.Cl. 388). The court awarded another  $84,532 for ditches and $67,532 for pipelines. Bottom line: $4,372,355.20, plus interest. 

Justice at last. Too bad that Wayne Hage was not able to live long enough to see it and to savor his victory.

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