U.S. District Judge Scott Skavdahl on Monday refused to temporarily suspend his decision that corner crossing is not trespassing, denying a request by Elk Mountain Ranch owner Fred Eshelman.
Eshelman sought to suspend the judge’s ruling while the pharmaceutical magnate challenges it in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit. Eshelman sued four Missouri hunters for trespassing after they traveled through the airspace above his ranch in 2020 and 2021.
Skavdahl ruled that corner crossing in those instances was not trespassing.
“Corner crossing in recent years was largely treated as disallowed and was rarely attempted,” Skavdahl wrote. “Thus, the recent state of affairs has been altered by the Court’s summary-judgment order.”
But the judge warned public land users about the limits of his decision.
“[T]he Court takes this opportunity to remind readers and the public about the circumstances that were at issue in this case,” Skavdahl wrote in his seven-page decision. “Defendants peaceably crossed from public land to public land in the checkerboard area on foot without touching the surface of any privately owned land and without damaging any private property.
“A physical confrontation with a private landowner instigated by a member of the public, may prove to be the single surest way for Plaintiff to secure a stay pending appeal,” the judge wrote. “The actions of a few can ruin the opportunities for many.”
No strong showing
Corner crossing is stepping from one piece of public land to another at the common corner with two pieces of private property, all arranged in a checkerboard pattern. Across the West some 8.3 million acres of public land are inaccessible to the public without corner crossing.
Four Missouri hunters corner crossed to hunt thousands of acres of public land enmeshed in a checkerboard pattern in Eshelman’s wildlife-rich 22,045-acre Elk Mountain Ranch. A Carbon county jury found the hunters not guilty of trespassing in 2022. Eshelman filed his civil suit that year
“Plaintiff has not made a strong showing of likely success of an appeal,” Skavdahl wrote in his order. “The arguments Plaintiff now advances in favor of a stay were considered in depth and rejected by this court.”
The judge also dismissed fears that his ruling would disrupt the peace. Eshelman’s attorneys produced vulgar and abusive missives directed at the ranch owner and his employees as evidence of threats.
But those weren’t caused by his decision, Skavdahl said, addressing threats that might have been made in the case.
“There is no contention that defendants acted in a threatening or aggressive manner toward [Eshelman] or employees,” the Judge wrote. “If anything, it was Plaintiff’s employees who harassed Defendants while Defendants were on public lands.”
Eshelman’s claims of lost property value caused by the judgment are misguided, Skavdahl wrote. Such a claim “is based on a fictitious right the Plaintiff never actually held under law,” the judge wrote.
Skavdahl also said public-interest weighed in favor of rejecting Eshelman’s request for a stay and that preserving the status quo did not override it.