This is not a substitute for legal advice. See here for the site’s reposting policy.
Although Maryland has no law on branding animals, other states, many in the western part of the United States, often do. Recently, the Supreme Court of Arizona reversed the Court of Appeals of Arizona’s decision involving the state’s brand law. I wrote earlier about that decision here.
The case involves Eureka Springs, a California operation, seeking to relocate to Arizona. Eureka Springs used the bar-seven brand on the left rib. Stambaugh, an Arizona livestock owner, had already registered the bar-seven brand and used the brand on the left hip. The Arizona state department of agriculture allowed Eureka Springs to register the brand in the state, but Stambaugh filed a protest. The state supreme court held that the state’s branding law does not allow two of the same brands to be filed in Arizona, regardless of location on an animal.
Arizona Branding Law
Arizona’s branding law states, “No two brands of the same design or figure shall be adopted or recorded, but the associate director may, in his discretion, reject and refuse to record a brand or mark similar to or conflicting with a previously adopted and recorded brand or mark” (§ 3-1261(B)). The court of appeals found this language ambiguous and held it was within the department’s discretion to approve a similar brand when used in a different location on the animal.
Arizona Supreme Court’s Decision
In the recent decision, the state’s supreme court finds that the language of (B) is unambiguous and does not include a reference to location of the brand. The court first looks at the language in § 3-1261(B) and determines that “design or figure” is not defined. Looking at dictionaries, the common definitions of both words (design and figures) did not include location as a part of the definition.
The court next turns to the branding law as a whole to determine if subsection (B) is subject to more than one reasonable interpretation. Only one reasonable interpretation of (B) is acceptable based on a reading of the entire branding law as a whole. Subsection (G) requires that all registered brands regardless of location must be applied to the animal as specified in the brand registration certificate. The court rejects arguments that subsection (G) allows the department to include a proposed location with the brand’s design or figure. The fact the legislature could use “location” in subsection (G), the legislature intentionally left the word out of subsection (B), in other words, because the legislature knew how to use a word in one subsection means that if they wanted it included in another subsection they would have included it. To the court, (B) applies to the department but (G) applies to the livestock owner.
Section 1262(A) did not help the department’s argument either. Subsection A required the registering with the department to include not only the design or figure but the brand’s placement on the animal. To the court, if “design or figure” included “location,” then why would the legislature require the department to state that plament in the application?
The department next argues that the law gives the discretion to refuse to approve a brand similar to a prior recorded brand (§ 3-1261(B) as well as the discretion to approve a similar brand used in a different location. The court rejects this argument as well because approving a similar brand in a different location would still violate the requirement not to approve similar brands.
The court agrees with Stambaugh that an exclusive brand design serves to identify an owner. The location assists the department in identifying problematic brand designs which can lead to misidentification, as well as protecting against theft. To the court, requiring the owner to specify location helps the department and other livestock owners know where to glance to identify an owner.
The court did not need to defer to the department's interpretation. The department could only point to a handful (32 out of 10,000) of duplicate registered brands. The department’s manuals over the years forbid the approval of duplicate brands on the same side of the animal.
This decision should settle the question in Arizona that identical brands cannot be registered regardless of location. Moving forward, Arizona ranchers will have to register brand designs never registered before. Although Maryland does not have a branding law, seeing how other states handle these issues can provide insights here on how to handle identifying animals.
Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 3-1261 to 3-1269 (West 2017).
Stambaugh v. Killian, 398 P.3d 574 (Ariz. 2017).