In a rare appellate opinion dealing with a Texas stock law, the Waco Court of Appeals recently found in favor of Bradley Evans, an “alleged” cow owner in the case of Evans v. Hendrix.
The memorandum opinion was rendered by the Honorable Al Scoggins, a fomer district judge in my home town of Waxahachie, Texas. According to Justice Scoggins’s website, he is a horse owner.
Admittedly, the case does not involve a horse. But the fact scenario is one which could have easily involved a horse, and we can safely assume that the court of appeals decision would not have differed had the case involved a horse.
The basic facts are as follows: Trucker Charles Hendrix collided with a cow on Highway 174 in rural Bosque County, damaging his big rig and the military cargo he was hauling (but Hendrix was not injured). Hendrix sued Evans, alleging that Evans was the owner of the cow in question. Hendrix asked the trial court to award him lost wages and damages to the tractor-trailer and cargo. After a bench trial, the trial court awarded Hendrix $10,000 in damages.
Evans was an "alleged" cow owner because he never admitted that he owned the cow. However, shortly after the accident, Hendrix observed Evans dragging the cow’s carcass up a nearby street with his tractor after having cut out the cow’s back straps.
On appeal, the Waco Court of Appeals reversed Hendrix’s award and ruled that Hendrix “take nothing”. What did Hendrix do wrong? According to the court:
- Hendrix never pleaded or alleged that the dispute involved any stock laws [though my research indicates that Bosque County has enacted several stock laws related to cattle for different parts of the county between 1901 and 1939]. Hendrix might have added some ammunition to his case by pleading liability under the stock laws, assuming that the accident occurred in one of the areas of Bosque County where a stock law restricting the free roaming of cattle had been enacted.
- Hendrix never argued that Evans violated any statutory provision. Because the stock law wasn’t raised, the court gave Hendrix the benefit of the doubt and assumed that Hendrix was relying on Section 143.102 of the Texas Agriculture Code, which deals with livestock roaming on the right-of-way of a highway. Under Section 143.102, the plaintiff must prove that a defendant knowingly permitted the livestock to roam on the highway. Hendrix put on no evidence that Evans knowingly allowed the cow to roam at large.
I think the Waco Court of Appeals got this right, given what appears to have been in the record. Hendrix may have survived appeal had he asserted liability under the local stock law on the trial court level, but he did not.
Want more general info on Texas stock laws? Here’s a link to a great paper written and presented this year by Alex Eyssen at the Texas State Bar Agricultural Law CLE.
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