Texas Agriculture Code

In a rare appellate opinion dealing with a Texas stock law, the Waco Court of Appeals recently found in favor of Bradley Evans, an “alleged” cow owner in the case of Evans v. Hendrix

The memorandum opinion was rendered by the Honorable Al Scoggins, a fomer district judge in my home town of Waxahachie, Texas.  According to Justice Scoggins’s website, he is a horse owner.

 

Admittedly, the case does not involve a horse. But the fact scenario is one which could have easily involved a horse, and we can safely assume that the court of appeals decision would not have differed had the case involved a horse. 

The basic facts are as follows: Trucker Charles Hendrix collided with a cow on Highway 174 in rural Bosque County, damaging his big rig and the military cargo he was hauling (but Hendrix was not injured). Hendrix sued Evans, alleging that Evans was the owner of the cow in question. Hendrix asked the trial court to award him lost wages and damages to the tractor-trailer and cargo. After a bench trial, the trial court awarded Hendrix $10,000 in damages.

Evans was an "alleged" cow owner because he never admitted that he owned the cow. However, shortly after the accident, Hendrix observed Evans dragging the cow’s carcass up a nearby street with his tractor after having cut out the cow’s back straps.

On appeal, the Waco Court of Appeals reversed Hendrix’s award and ruled that Hendrix “take nothing”. What did Hendrix do wrong? According to the court:

  • Hendrix never pleaded or alleged that the dispute involved any stock laws [though my research indicates that Bosque County has enacted several stock laws related to cattle for different parts of the county between 1901 and 1939]. Hendrix might have added some ammunition to his case by pleading liability under the stock laws, assuming that the accident occurred in one of the areas of Bosque County where a stock law restricting the free roaming of cattle had been enacted.
  • Hendrix never argued that Evans violated any statutory provision. Because the stock law wasn’t raised, the court gave Hendrix the benefit of the doubt and assumed that Hendrix was relying on Section 143.102 of the Texas Agriculture Code, which deals with livestock roaming on the right-of-way of a highway. Under Section 143.102, the plaintiff must prove that a defendant knowingly permitted the livestock to roam on the highway. Hendrix put on no evidence that Evans knowingly allowed the cow to roam at large.

I think the Waco Court of Appeals got this right, given what appears to have been in the record. Hendrix may have survived appeal had he asserted liability under the local stock law on the trial court level, but he did not. 

Want more general info on Texas stock laws? Here’s a link to a great paper written and presented this year by Alex Eyssen at the Texas State Bar Agricultural Law CLE.

See also these blog entries on the topic of stock laws on the Equine Law Blog.

Follow me on Twitter: @alisonmrowe

**List of available counties updated 11-15-10**

I have recently, with the help of my assistant (and soon-to-be law student) Christina Heddesheimer, taken on the monumental task of compiling the local stock laws for all 254 Texas counties. 

Oh, and when I say with the "help" of Christina, I mean that Christina is doing all of heavy lifting and all of the county-by-county research.  Her work has been invaluable.

We are so grateful to the many people who have taken time to assist us in this research project in over 100 Texas counties so far.  Thank you, Texas county officials!

This project takes extraordinary persistence, hours and hours of time, and lots of patience.  And money.  It’s probably for these reasons that no other lawyer or organization has ever, in the history of the State of Texas, compiled all the stock laws in one place.  Until now….

So, why is this project so monumental, you ask?  As discussed in an earlier post, the default rule in Texas is that livestock may roam freely in Texas ("open range") .  The only state-wide exception is a prohibition of open range grazing/roaming on interstate and state highway right-of-ways.  Pursuant to the Texas Agriculture Code and its predecessors, counties have the right to hold one or more elections to restrict the free roaming of livestock.  The individual elections can include one or more species (such as cattle, horses, mules, hogs, sheep and goats), and the elections can be held for the whole county or part(s) of each county.

These laws are very difficult to find as they are only located in the commissioner’s court minutes of each individual county.  The dates these laws were enacted range from the 1800s to now.

The stock laws are important because they often determine who is liable when, for example, a motorist collides with a horse on a farm-to-market road, or a horse gets loose and destroys someone else’s property.

So far, we have obtained the stock law status of 234 Texas counties, and we continue to receive more updates daily.  We will periodically post updates as we gather more information from more counties.  For each of the following counties, we currently either have a copy of the stock law, or we have a confirmation that the county is open range:

 

Continue Reading Compilation of Texas Stock Laws

 

A man from Texas called our office who recently had 4 horses wander onto his property over the course of several days. He placed them in a pasture with his other horses and waited to hear if anyone was looking for them. The man is interested in keeping the horses and wants to know how long he has to wait until the horses are considered legally abandoned and he can claim them as his own?

Finding stray livestock in Texas is not a case of “finders keepers, losers weepers”. The law of livestock estrays, found in Chapter 142 of the Texas Agriculture Code, as well as the livestock estray laws particular to each county in Texas apply here. This law requires people who find stray livestock to notify the sheriff immediately about the discovery of the livestock. Once the sheriff’s department is notified of the presence of the stray horses, they will attempt to find the owner and/or impound the horses. If the sheriff cannot find the owner, they will, at the landowner’s request, impound the horse and eventually auction them off if the owner does not claim them within 18 days after impoundment.

Someone who finds stray horses on their property should::

1) Notify the sheriff about the stray horses (with detailed descriptions) in writing, via fax, or some other way that provides proof that you sent notice. The sheriff must be notified within five days of discovery of the animals if you later wish to seek compensation for your costs of caring for the animals.

2) Ask the sheriff where you can find a copy of your county-specific livestock estray laws, if any;

3) Keep detailed records and receipts of everything you spend on the horses. If the owner returns to claim the horses, or the sheriff auctions off the horses, you are entitled to receive reimbursement for costs related to the care of the animal; and

4) If you wish to own the horses, you should keep in touch with the sheriff to find out when and where the sheriff’s sale will occur. You can bid on the horses there.

Note: If the sheriff locates the owner or if the owner returns to claim the horses and there is a disagreement over the amount owed for their care, the landowner may file a petition under the Section 142.007 of the Texas Agriculture Code in the justice of the peace court in their county and have the matter settled in justice court.
 

 

A gentleman recently told me that his stallion had gotten loose, gone onto his neighbor’s unfenced property, and "worried" the neighbor’s mares.  The neighbor shot at the stallion with a shotgun, and stated that the police told him he was justified in doing so because the stallion was "trespassing on his property."

Is the stallion owner liable for property damage or injury to persons caused by his stallion?  Generally speaking, not unless the stallion owner knowingly let the stallion roam free.

Important to this analysis is that Texas is, generally speaking, still an open range state.  That is–livestock may still roam at large in Texas with two exceptions:

  1. Public highwaysThe Texas Agriculture Code states "[a] person who owns or has responsibility for the control of a horse, mule, donkey, cow, bull, steer, hog, sheep, or goat may not knowingly permit the animal to traverse or roam at large, unattended, on the right-of-way of a highway." Tex. Agric. Code § 143.102 (Vernon 2004)(emphasis added). The statute defines a "highway" as "a U.S. highway or a state highway in this state, but does not include a numbered farm-to-market road." Id. at § 143.101. Therefore, U.S. and state highways in Texas are effectively considered closed ranged. Conversely, the 40,000-plus miles of farm-to-market roads in Texas are unaffected by this statute.
  2. Stock Law Counties or Areas.  Chapter 143 of the Agriculture Code permits local elections to adopt a law (a.k.a. "stock law"), where a person may not permit any animal of the class mentioned in the proclamation to run at large in the county or area in which the election was held. A typical stock law will prohibit horses, mules, donkeys, sheep, goats, and cattle from running at large.

    As expressly provided by the Code, some counties in Texas have enacted county wide stock laws, yet others have chosen to elect stock laws only in certain precincts or areas within said county. Unfortunately, there is no statewide index that traces the counties or areas where stock laws have been passed.

Continue Reading Is a Horseowner Liable for Damages if a Horse Gets Loose?