Even as the opposing parties were quibbling over the witness list for a pending civil trial in the Elk Mountain, Wyoming, “corner-crossing” case, a federal judge brought the case to a close last week by issuing a judgment in favor of the hunters.
That’s not an unusual move in U.S. District Court, Wyoming media attorney Bruce Moats told Cowboy State Daily.
And don’t expect the case to end there, he said. It’s highly likely that the plaintiffs, Iron Bar Holdings LLC and owner Fred Eshelman of North Carolina, will forward the matter to the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.
A Ruling Based On Facts
U.S. District Court Judge Scott Skavdahl on Friday issued a summary judgement in favor of Missouri hunters Bradly Cape, Zachary Smith, Phillip Yoemens and John Slowensky.
That’s not the same as a dismissal, when a judge decides a case simply has no merit and essentially throws it out, Moats said.
Instead, Skavdahl likely determined that the parties were at odds over established facts and decided it was best to rule in favor of the side that had the strongest case, he said.
“There was a case here in which there was a dispute (over established facts) and he’s ruling in favor of one side,” Moats said.
In his decision, Skavdahl upheld the conclusions of a previous criminal trespass case that found the hunters hadn’t committed trespass when they “corner-hopped” from one section of public land to another. He also ruled that in doing so, they hadn’t damaged the value of Eshelman’s property.
In the civil case, Eshelman claimed the hunters damaged the ranch’s property value by several million dollars.
The ruling could have broader implications for trespassing cases moving forward.
Corner-crossing has been a cantankerous matter in Wyoming and across the West, where the corners of square sections of public and private land meet in a “checkerboard” pattern.
The civil case involving the Iron Bar ranch stemmed from criminal trespassing charges filed against the hunters
They were accused of trespassing on the ranch near Elk Mountain while attempting to cross from one corner of public land onto another section of public land in September 2021.
A Carbon County jury later found them innocent of those charges.
Skavdahl’s ruling could set a broad precedent that “corner-jumping” doesn’t amount to trespassing.
Not Unusual To Stop A Trial
Moats said it’s not particularly unusual for a judge to settle a matter by handing down a summary judgement, even when a trial is pending.
In the Iron Bar case, a civil trial was set to begin June 26 in U.S. District Court in Casper.
As recently as last week, both sides were filing briefs, arguing over whether pilot Kyle Scott of Weldona, Colorado, would be allowed to testify in favor of the hunters.
Scott and his wife used a helicopter to fly over a section of the ranch’s property so they could hunt elk on adjoining public land in November 2020.
They claimed that while they were on that public land, they were confronted and threatened by Eshelman and one of his employees, who accused them of trespassing across his land, according to court documents.
The hunters claimed that Scott’s testimony would provide important context, but Eshelman’s counsel filed briefs claiming that the pilot’s testimony wasn’t relevant to the case, and would bias the case in the hunters’ favor.
It Will Drag On
The case probably isn’t over, Moats said.
He expects Iron Bar and Eshelman to file an appeal of the judge’s ruling, and the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals would have jurisdiction in the matter.
Legal expenses are usually the greatest barrier to appealing such a case, but that’s probably not a concern for Eshelman, he said.
Mark Heinz can be reached at Mark@CowboyStateDaily.com