“A Bit of the Wild West Survives in New Mexico”

Don’t Fence Me In! Photo Credit: Public Domain from Wikimedia Commons

One aspect of New Mexico law that surprises city slickers from Back East (besides the fact that we are actually part of the United States) is that livestock owners are generally not responsible for damages caused by their animals to the unfenced property of others.  Thus, if you don’t want your neighbor’s cattle to trample on your vegetable garden, then you had better build a good fence, because it’s not your neighbor’s responsibility to keep his cows from eating the tops of your carrot plants.

Well, the good folks on the Bernalillo County Commission, perhaps thinking that this rule is not very neighborly, passed an ordinance making it illegal to allow one’s animals to run at large on streets, public property, or private property without the owner’s permission.  Later, the County filed criminal charges against Ivan Benavidez, accusing him of allowing six of his cattle to run free on a public road and other public property.

Benavidez moved to dismiss on the ground that the County’s ordinance conflicted with state statutes providing that the “fence out” rule is the law in New Mexico.  The statutes do allow counties to require livestock owners to fence in their animals within municipalities, but Benavidez’ cattle were in an unincorporated area of the county.

The lower courts agreed with Benavidez, as did Judge Michael Bustamante in his opinion for the Court of Appeals.  The County’s ordinance conflicted with the state statutes, and therefore could not stand.  As Judge Bustamante aptly said, “[A] bit of the Wild West survives in New Mexico.”


This entry was posted in New Mexico Court of Appeals, Opinions and Analysis and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to “A Bit of the Wild West Survives in New Mexico”

Comments are closed.