Hardscrabble Ranch v. United States, No. 15-1438 (10th Cir. 2016)Annotate this Case
Plaintiff-Appellant Hardscrabble Ranch, L.L.C. appeals from the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the government. Hardscrabble sued the government under the Federal Tort Claims Act in connection with the Forest Service’s response to the Sand Gulch Fire, which damaged Hardscrabble’s land. On April 26, 2011, lightning ignited a wildfire in the Wet Mountains of Colorado, in a remote area of the San Carlos Ranger District in the Pike and San Isabel National Forests, and the Cimarron and Comanche National Grasslands. When the United States Forest Service (USFS) responded, the fire was still small and could have been extinguished then and there. The USFS instead instituted a partial suppression strategy, with the twin goals of allowing the fire to continue burning on Forest Service land while at the same time containing the fire from spreading onto private property, which bordered about half a mile to the east. High winds in advance of a snow storm caused the fire to jump the containment lines the USFS had created, and the fire grew from covering 25–30 acres to a size of more than 200 acres. The USFS changed to a full suppression strategy. That evening the predicted snow came and partially smothered the fire. By the time the fire was declared fully contained several days later, it had burned 496 acres, 154 of which were owned by Hardscrabble Ranch. Hardscrabble contends that the USFS failed to follow numerous policies, regulations, and protocols in its handling of the fire, and that as a result the government was responsible for the harm caused to the Ranch. The district court held that the discretionary function exception to the FTCA barred jurisdiction. Finding no error with that judgment, the Tenth Circuit affirmed.