Stambaugh v. Killian – 8/3/2017

September 25, 2017

Arizona Supreme Court holds that Arizona law prohibits the Department of Agriculture from recording two brands of the same design, regardless of their location.

A California Rancher, before moving his cattle to Arizona, applied to the Department of Agriculture to continue to use the same brand he had used in California.  An Arizona Rancher already used the same design, but in a different location on the cattle.  The Department of Agriculture approved and recorded the California Rancher’s brand.  The Arizona Rancher sued the Department, on the ground that A.R.S. § 3-1261(B) prohibited the Department from recording “two brands of the same design or figure.”  The trial court granted the Department’s partial motion for summary judgment, holding that the statute gave the Department the discretion to consider the location of the brand as part of its “design or figure.”  A divided panel of the Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the statute is ambiguous, over a dissent arguing that the statute only permitted the Department to consider the pattern or shape as part of the “design or figure,” and not the location. 

The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the statute is unambiguous on its face, and that it prohibits the Department from recording two brands of the same design or figure, regardless of where the brands are placed on the cattle.  Because it held that the statute is unambiguous, it also rejected the Department’s argument that courts should grant Chevron deference to the Department’s interpretation of the law.

Specially concurring, Justice Bolick joined in the entire opinion, and wrote separately only to note that Arizona courts had not previously granted a form of Chevron deference to Arizona administrative agencies.

Justice Brutinel delivered the unanimous opinion.  Justice Bolick also wrote a separate concurrence.