Rio Arriba, NM; June 26, 2024: Yesterday, five property owners in New Mexico filed a federal lawsuit challenging New Mexico’s violation of their right to keep trespassers out of their private streambeds. 

“Lucía’s property is incredibly special to her and her family, but she’s now unable to stop trespassers from overfishing her creek and littering on its banks,” said Christopher Kieser, an attorney at Pacific Legal Foundation. “The right to control who can and who cannot use your private property is fundamental. The government cannot force private property owners to let the public trespass on their property.” 

Lucía Sanchez and her brother Miguel raise a few dozen cattle on 80 acres in Rio Arriba County. The knee-deep Rio Tusas Creek runs through their property and for decades has been a beloved part of Lucía’s family and their property. It provides water for cattle and irrigation, and  Lucía grew up fishing the creek with her late father. 

For decades, all branches of New Mexico’s government supported landowners’ rights to prohibit public intrusion on private propertyincluding non-navigable streams like Rio Tusas—enabling  Lucía to continue her family’s longtime stewardship of their land and protection of its resources.  

But in 2022, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled that the state’s public trust doctrine guarantees the public’s right to walk or wade in privately owned, non-navigable creeks simply by virtue of the existing public right to fish or recreate in public waters. 

Now,  Lucía can only watch as trespassers take fish from her stream by the dozens. They also often leave their trash behind, and, despite her best cleanup efforts, her cattle have eaten the trash and become sick. 

In 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2021 decision in Cedar Point Nursery v. Hassid made it clear that the government cannot force property owners to allow public trespassers on their private land without just compensation.  

Represented at no charge by Pacific Legal Foundation, Lucía and Miguel have joined Erik Briones, Richard Jenkins, and Roland Rivera in fighting back to secure their property rights.  

The case is Sanchez v. Torrez. 


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About Pacific Legal Foundation

Pacific Legal Foundation is a national nonprofit law firm that defends Americans threatened by government overreach and abuse. Since our founding in 1973, we challenge the government when it violates individual liberty and constitutional rights. With active cases in 34 states plus Washington, D.C., PLF represents clients in state and federal courts, with 18 wins of 20 cases litigated at the U.S. Supreme Court.

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