Posthumous Victory for Hage

The U.S. Court of Federal Claims has ruled in favor of the estate of Wayne Hage who gained fame by his persistent, principled fight against the feds who had been harrassing him and interfering with the operaion of his Nevada ranch, notably by making it practically impossible for Hage to maintain his irrigation ditches, eventually depriving his ranch of water.  The feds ordered that the ditches be maintained with hand tools only, which rendered the maintenance of water supply for Hage’s 7000-acre ranch, plus another 700,000-acre national forest land on which Hage grazed cattle under a federal permit impossible. Later, they fenced the streams serving Hage’s ranch depriving him of the water in which he had a usufructary right under controlling Nevada law. Eventually, they cancelled Hage’s grazing permit, but that was not the source of government liability. The severe interference with Hage’s use of his ranch was.

The action was filed in 1991, and the decision by U.S. Claims Court Judge Loren Smith was handed down on June 9, 2008 — a cool 17 years later. Justice thus may have been delayed, and Hage did not live long enough to enjoy his victory, but it was not altogether denied. Judge Smith ordered the feds to pay $4.2 million, with prejudgment interest which is estimated to add another $4.4 million to the recovery. Also, under federal law, winning plaintiffs in inverse condemnation cases are entitled to recover their attorneys’ fees, but those have not yet been calculated. 

For earlier rounds of this litigation see the U.S. Court of Federal Claims opinions reported at 35 Fed.Cl. 147, 35 Fed.Cl. 237, 42 Fed.Cl. 249, and 52 Fed.Cl. 570. The latest opinion may be found at Estate of Hage v. United States  2008 U.S. Claims Lexis 156.