Court dismisses WHOA lawsuit

STATE DISTRICT COURT RULES THAT THE NEW MEXICO LIVESTOCK BOARD’S IMPOUNDMENTS OF ESTRAY PLACITAS HORSES ARE LEGAL AND MAY CONTINUE

In an opinion dismissing a lawsuit brought by the Wild Horse Observers Association (“WHOA”) against the New Mexico Livestock Board (WHOA v. NMLB), and in which a dozen Placitas residents intervened (as third party “defendants by intervention”) in support of the Livestock Board, Judge Valerie A. Huling of the Second Judicial District Court in Bernalillo County ruled, in her July 16, 2014 decision, that under the New Mexico Livestock Code, all horses are considered to be “livestock” and are subject to the “estray” impoundment procedure that continues to be used by residents in the Placitas area to remove feral horses from their properties.

After affirming that “an individual can impound estray livestock if the estray is found on property the individual owns or controls,” the Court rejected WHOA’s claim that a horse must have been used or raised on a farm or ranch in order to be considered “livestock,” and likewise rejected WHOA’s claim that a horse, to be considered an “estray” subject to impoundment, must have an owner.  The Court ruled that the Livestock Board does not have to confirm that the impounded horses are owned, and that “the estray process calls for a sale of the livestock even if ownership cannot be determined.”

The Court concluded that WHOA’s claims failed “to demonstrate that the horses at issue are not estray livestock and that the Board acted outside of its authority under the Livestock Code. Likewise, the Board is not required to treat the horses as wild horses…”

When asked about his view of the decision, Attorney Dave Reynolds of Placitas, who represented the intervening Placitas residents who had used or supported the impoundment procedure that WHOA challenged, commented that “This decision is a victory for the land, water, and wildlife of Placitas, and gives us hope that eventually the Placitas environment can recover from the devastation that these feral horses have caused over the past several years.  The decision affirms that residents here can do more than simply stand by and watch helplessly as feral horses destroy their property.”

Full disclosure:  The editors of this blog are among the 12 Placitas residents who joined the “WHOA v. NMLB” lawsuit as Defendants by Intervention in support of NMLB, private property rights and public safety.