Gillespie v. Wheatland Industrial Co

Gillespie v. Wheatland Industrial Co., 22 Wyo. 331, 140 P. 832 (1914), clarified the nature of the open range doctrine as applied in Wyoming. In Gillespie, the plaintiff's cattle strayed from public range onto the defendant's unenclosed land and were killed when they fell into a ditch. The issue presented was whether the landowner was liable to the livestock owner for creating an unsafe or dangerous condition on his unenclosed land. The court concluded the landowner was not liable in that instance, and the court's logic is relevant to the matter at hand: The gist of the argument of counsel for plaintiff is that the cattle were not unlawfully on the premises, and hence were not trespassing thereon. This argument is based upon the holding that the owner of live stock running at large upon the range is not liable for damages done by such stock straying upon the uninclosed lands of another. But the reason for such nonliability is, not because they are not trespassing, but because no duty rests upon the owner to keep his stock off uninclosed land, and he is not guilty of negligence in failing to do so, or in permitting them to run at large, and, being guilty of neither a willful trespass nor negligence in the care of his stock, he is not answerable in damages, and for the further reason that the landowner has the right to exclude such stock from his premises by fencing against them, or otherwise preventing them from coming or being thereon, and, if he neglects to do so, he takes the risk of trespass by animals lawfully running at large. Such stock were not rightfully upon such uninclosed land in the sense that the owner had the right to run and graze them there, for, if they were, then the landowner would have no lawful right to exclude or remove them therefrom. On the other hand, as a general rule, the owner of uninclosed lands is under no duty to make or keep them in safe condition for stock straying thereon. (140 P. at 833.) In Gillespie, this court clarified that the open range doctrine was not based solely on immunity from damages due to trespass but, more importantly, was founded on the absence of a duty.