Wyoming Supreme Court upholds state injunction against unlicensed Clark-area youth ranch

The state Supreme Court has upheld a court order barring a Wyoming ranch from operating as a youth facility after it took in delinquent boys without a state license.

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Under Wyoming law, farms and ranches may board children without a license so long as they offer no special services to youth who are homeless, delinquent or have an intellectual disability.

The key issue before the justices was whether the Triangle Cross Boys Ranch near Clark offered therapeutic services and therefore needed to be licensed regardless of a moratorium on such licenses. The ranch argued the only services it offered was the opportunity to do "inherently therapeutic" everyday ranch chores.

If the opportunity to stack hay, brand calves and move cattle was a service that required licensing, the law allowing farms and ranches to take in youths without licensure would be rendered meaningless, the ranch argued.

Furthermore, allowing ranch work opportunities to a healthy child but not a homeless, delinquent or intellectually disabled one would be discriminatory, argued Triangle Cross.

The justices didn't buy it.

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"The reality is that healthy people do not pay for the privilege of stacking hay," they wrote in their March 26 ruling. "The critical distinction is that Triangle Cross receives payment for allowing children to do their ranch work because they pledge that the end result will be a boy who has overcome his negative behavior."

Jerry Schneider, who owns the youth ranch near the Wyoming-Montana border, did not return a message seeking comment.

Triangle Cross charged a $2,500 admission fee and $6,000 monthly tuition, according to its website.

The justices noted the website advertised several services including family, substance abuse and behavioral/emotional therapy. The therapies continued to be listed Thursday.

Based on the services offered, Department of Family Services officials determined in 2013 the ranch needed to be licensed. They denied Schneider a license, however, because the Legislature enacted a state moratorium on new licenses for such facilities.

Department staff who visited in 2013 and 2014 saw children remained at the ranch. A district court prohibited Triangle Cross from operating an uncertified child care facility.

Another issue before the justices was whether any youth at Triangle Cross were delinquent or intellectually disabled. The high court agreed with the district court that the ranch boarded delinquent youth, but it disagreed there was sufficient evidence it had any intellectually disabled ones.

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