High court: Arizona cattleman wins cattle brand dispute

Rancher David Stambaugh holds his cattle brand certificate in Eloy, Arizona. He was the winner in an Arizona Supreme Court decision on whether the state can allow an identical cattle brand to be used by two ranchers. Stambaugh has owned the Bar 7 brand since he was 10 years old, but the state Agriculture Department allowed a California cattle company to use the same brand. (Ross D. Franklin/AP)

From The Westerner Blog

In a fight reminiscent of the old West, it’s now official: Two Arizona ranchers cannot have the same brand for their cattle. Only this battle was fought not with guns but with lawyers.

The ruling came from the Arizona Supreme Court. And the rancher on the losing end didn’t end up dead. But there is a loser in the multi-year battle: the Arizona taxpayers who are picking up the legal tab.

The fight involves a decision by Eureka Springs, a California operation, to move its cattle to Arizona. Those animals already bore the “bar seven” brand, essentially a dash and a numeral 7. So the firm applied to the state Department of Agriculture to register that brand in Arizona. Only thing is, Eloy rancher David Stambaugh already had recorded that brand. So the state agency’s clerk rejected Eureka Springs’ request. But that was overruled by supervisors because the Eureka Springs cattle are branded on their left rib; Stambaugh brands his cattle on their left hip.

Both a trial judge and the state Court of Appeals sided with the Department of Agriculture. So Stambaugh took his case to the state’s high court. In legal arguments, attorneys for the Department of Agriculture argued that the agency was free to consider that the different location of the brands allowed both to be recorded. But Justice Robert Brutinel, writing for his colleagues, said what the Department of Agriculture did violate the law which says that “no two brands of the same design or figure shall be adopted or recorded.”

What that means, the justice said, is that anything else is irrelevant. He wrote that the statute “is unambiguous and does not include location.”

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