NM Supreme Court hears venue arguments in case regarding overlapping leases of state lands for cattle, wind energy

The court battle over where to determine whether wind leases overlapping with a ranch owner’s grazing leases could impact his ability to raise cattle on state trust land reached the state Supreme Court.  The Blanchard Corona Ranch first sued Commissioner of Public Lands Stephanie Garcia Richard in district court in Lincoln County, but Garcia Richard […]

NM Supreme Court hears venue arguments in case regarding overlapping leases of state lands for cattle, wind energy

The court battle over where to determine whether wind leases overlapping with a ranch owner’s grazing leases could impact his ability to raise cattle on state trust land reached the state Supreme Court. 

The Blanchard Corona Ranch first sued Commissioner of Public Lands Stephanie Garcia Richard in district court in Lincoln County, but Garcia Richard and her legal counsel say that Lincoln County is not the proper venue. The State Land Office then asked the New Mexico Supreme Court to find that the Lincoln County district court venue was improper. 

The New Mexico Supreme Court heard the arguments in the case on Wednesday, though no decision was made and there is no deadline for when the court must make a ruling.

If the state Supreme Court sides with the defendant’s arguments, a district court ruling that the Lincoln County venue was proper would be reversed.

“It’s basically a landlord telling a tenant ‘we’re going to issue a lease right on top of you and we don’t care what you say and we don’t have to follow our rules,’” Pete Domenici Jr., an attorney for Blanchard Corona Ranch, said. 

The Supreme Court justices were skeptical about the arguments in the case. Justice David Thomson said that state law and the lease contract may allow for wind energy to be developed on the land that the ranch owners are leasing. 

Thomson said the question is where the plaintiff gets to make their argument.

John Sullivan, an attorney with the State Land Office, said that suits against state officials must be filed either in Santa Fe or where the plaintiff resides. Because neither the ranch owners nor Garcia Richard live in Lincoln County, Sullivan said that filing the case in Lincoln County district court was improper.

Further complicating the plaintiff’s claims is the fact that the ranch has been sold. This was new information that the Supreme Court heard for the first time on Wednesday.

Domenici told the court that the plaintiffs have sold the property, which made justices question if the case is moot.

Justice Shannon Bacon pointed out that the plaintiff did not ask for money damages.

“You’re asking for declaratory relief that doesn’t affect your client at all?” Bacon said, adding that she thinks it is moot.

Domenici said his client feels as if they were “forced out of the game.”

He further argued that the state Supreme Court should rule on the proper venue to provide clarity.

Meanwhile, Sullivan said that the lease has not been reassigned so the plaintiff remains the lessee.

Sullivan said that the plaintiff has not moved to dismiss the case when they sold their ranch.

Blanchard Corona Ranch entered into a lease agreement with the State Land Office in 2019 for acreage in Lincoln County to graze cattle. The lease agreement allowed for the ranchers to graze their cattle on more than 3,000 acres of state trust land with an annual rental payment of less than $5,000, or $1.25 per acre. The lease expires in 2024.

The wind leases went into effect in 2020 and have a 55 year term. The rental payments begin at $2 per acre but increase to $12 per acre over the course of the term. The first five years of the lease term is to create a development plan and no wind turbines or infrastructure has been constructed.

The State Land Office argued that the ranch owners agreed in their contract that the same acreage could be leased for renewable energy development.

Garcia Richard issued two wind energy leases for lands overlapping with the acreage where the Blanchard Corona Ranch had a grazing lease. The ranch owners promptly filed suit.

The case reached the New Mexico Supreme Court in 2021.

The State Land Office argued that agricultural leases sometimes coincide with other leases, such as oil and gas leases. 

Most of the 6,200 oil and gas leases are on land included in an agricultural lease, Sullivan said. He further highlighted the roughly 20,000 easements related to energy development as well as the nearly 30 wind leases and 12 solar leases.

“When it comes to getting sued in state court in connection with all of this activity, the commissioner and the State Land Office want and need to know what the rules of the road are, including proper venue,” he said.

We're ad free

That means that we rely on support from readers like you. Help us keep reporting on the most important New Mexico Stories by donating today.

Related

Supporters of Paid Family and Medical Leave say it will return

Supporters of Paid Family and Medical Leave say it will return

House Speaker Javier Martinez said that the Paid Family and Medical Leave will return to next year’s legislative session. SB 3, sponsored by state…
State’s sexual assault services receive state funding but still a gap in federal dollars 

State’s sexual assault services receive state funding but still a gap in federal dollars 

New Mexico sexual assault services will come up short in Fiscal Year 2025. New Mexico Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs advocated for $4 million…
Advocates for family and children say budget provides benefits for children

Advocates for family and children say budget provides benefits for children

The legislature passed a budget of $10.2 billion this year. The budget now awaits the governor’s signature.  Some highlights from the budget that will…
Legislation focused on reforms of oil and gas extraction fails to pass

Legislation focused on reforms of oil and gas extraction fails to pass

This legislative session brought few changes to the oil and gas industry that provides a substantial part of the state’s budget. Going into the…
Senate approves bill to allow wastewater project funding through the Water Trust Board

Senate approves bill to allow wastewater project funding through the Water Trust Board

The Senate passed legislation that changes which projects can receive funding through the Water Trust Board on a 34-5 vote on Wednesday. HB 211…
Geothermal bill makes it to governor’s desk for second consecutive year

Geothermal bill makes it to governor’s desk for second consecutive year

The Senate unanimously passed legislation intended to spur development of geothermal energy on Wednesday. HB 91 now heads to the governor’s desk.  The legislation…
Amid new graduation requirements, what do high schoolers want to learn?

Amid new graduation requirements, what do high schoolers want to learn?

By Margaret O’Hara, The Santa Fe New Mexican The main things that bring Brayan Chavez to school every day: Seeing, talking to and engaging with…
Special ed teachers hope lawmakers OK pay raises, admin changes

Special ed teachers hope lawmakers OK pay raises, admin changes

By Margaret O’Hara, The Santa Fe New Mexican Brittany Behenna Griffith has a laundry list of adjectives to describe the ideal special education teacher:…
Lawmakers must find consensus on competing education spending plans

Lawmakers must find consensus on competing education spending plans

By Margaret O’Hara, The Santa Fe New Mexican A challenging task awaits New Mexico lawmakers in the next 30 days: Reconciling three very different…
Proposal to curb executive powers moves to House Judiciary

Proposal to curb executive powers moves to House Judiciary

The House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee discussed a potential constitutional amendment that seeks to limit the governor’s executive powers. The committee approved…
Supreme Court censures attorney over conduct in anti-COVID policy suits

Supreme Court censures attorney over conduct in anti-COVID policy suits

The New Mexico State Supreme Court censured a New Mexico attorney because of her “misconduct” in two unsuccessful cases pushing back on COVID-19 regulations…
Guv outlines some health priorities on state spending

Guv outlines some health priorities on state spending

During her state of the state address on Tuesday, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham told legislators that one of her legislative priorities is a request…
Referendum on Edgewood’s anti-abortion ordinance moves forward

Referendum on Edgewood’s anti-abortion ordinance moves forward

The town of Edgewood is moving forward with its ballot referendum on its anti-abortion ordinance at a cost of more than $35,000. The town…
2023 Top Stories #1: Anti-abortion efforts go local

2023 Top Stories #1: Anti-abortion efforts go local

Note: Every year, we count down the top ten stories of the year, as voted on by NM Political Report staffers. Earlier this month, the New Mexico Supreme Court heard oral…
NM Supreme Court to decide if local anti-abortion ordinances are legal

NM Supreme Court to decide if local anti-abortion ordinances are legal

The New Mexico Supreme Court will decide whether anti-abortion ordinances passed by local governments in eastern New Mexico over the last 13 months can…
Supporters of Paid Family and Medical Leave say it will return

Supporters of Paid Family and Medical Leave say it will return

House Speaker Javier Martinez said that the Paid Family and Medical Leave will return to next year’s legislative session. SB 3, sponsored by state…
Paid Family Medical Leave bill dies in the final days of the session for a second year in a row

Paid Family Medical Leave bill dies in the final days of the session for a second year in a row

A bill that would have provided paid leave for several weeks died on the House floor when 11 Democrats sided with Republicans to vote…
Paid Family and Medical Leave bill passes Senate

Paid Family and Medical Leave bill passes Senate

A bill that seeks to provide several weeks of paid family and medical leave for workers in the state passed the state senate by…

Bill to require disclosure of use of AI in campaign materials goes to governor

The Senate approved a bill aiming to require the disclosure of the use of artificial intelligence or other changes made by computers to campaign…
House amends, passes bill banning firearms near polling places

House amends, passes bill banning firearms near polling places

The House narrowly approved a bill that would ban firearms near polling places. The House voted 35-34 to pass the bill following an extensive…
Manny Gonzales doesn’t qualify for Senate GOP primary ballot

Manny Gonzales doesn’t qualify for Senate GOP primary ballot

Nella Domenici is the lone Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, after Manny Gonzales III failed to qualify for the ballot. Gonzales did not file…
Supporters of Paid Family and Medical Leave say it will return

Supporters of Paid Family and Medical Leave say it will return

House Speaker Javier Martinez said that the Paid Family and Medical Leave will return to next year’s legislative session. SB 3, sponsored by state…
Advocates for family and children say budget provides benefits for children

Advocates for family and children say budget provides benefits for children

The legislature passed a budget of $10.2 billion this year. The budget now awaits the governor’s signature.  Some highlights from the budget that will…
Supporters say affirmative consent bill would make college campuses safer

Supporters say affirmative consent bill would make college campuses safer

The bill to mandate affirmative consent policies and procedures in institutions of higher education awaits the governor’s signature. If signed, advocates hope it will…

GET INVOLVED

© 2023 New Mexico Political Report