Justia Animal / Dog Law Opinion Summaries

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Defendant Clyde Bovat was convicted of shooting a deer in violation of Vermont big-game-hunting laws and failing to immediately tag the deer. On appeal he claimed the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress evidence allegedly obtained in violation of his constitutional right to be free from warrantless government intrusions. In the early morning hours of Thanksgiving 2017, a resident of Huntington, Vermont was awoken by a gunshot close to his home. The concerned resident called the state game warden to report a possible deer jackIng. In the course of the ensuing investigation, wardens were lead to defendant’s house. Based in part on their observations through the garage window, wardens obtained a search warrant to seize defendant’s truck and collected samples of the blood they had observed, which matched a sample from the deer at issue. They did not photograph the truck until approximately five days after the seizure, during which time the truck had been left outside in inclement weather. Due to exposure to the elements, a smaller amount of blood than originally observed was visible, and deer hair was no longer visible. Defendant unsuccessfully moved to suppress the evidence obtained through the search warrant. While the Vermont Supreme Court agreed with defendant that his garage is within the curtilage of his home, it was unpersuaded by his remaining arguments. The Supreme Court found the wardens were conducting a legitimate police investigation, during which they observed defendant’s truck in plain view from a semiprivate area. The Court declined to address the merits of defendant’s remaining challenges and affirmed the trial court’s judgment. View "Vermont v. Bovat" on Justia Law

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The Swartzes acquired horses, goats, and a donkey on their Washington County, Indiana hobby farm. In 2013, the county’s animal control officer, Lee, contacted Dr. Lovejoy, an Indiana State Board of Animal Health veterinarian, for help evaluating a thin horse he observed on the Swartzes’ property. Lee and Lovejoy visited the Swartzes’ farm to evaluate the animals four times. Lovejoy reported a significant decline in the animals’ welfare and expressed concerns about the conditions in which they were kept. Lee sought, in a standard, ex parte proceeding, a finding of probable cause to seize the animals. The Superior Court of Washington County determined that there was probable cause to believe animal neglect or abandonment was occurring and entered an order to seize the animals (IC 35-46-3-6). The animals were seized and the state filed animal cruelty charges against the Swartzes. The court eventually ordered permanent placement of the animals for adoption. The state deferred prosecuting the Swartzes with a pretrial diversion agreement. The Swartzes filed a federal suit, alleging a conspiracy to deprive them of their property. The Seventh Circuit vacated the district court’s rulings (in favor of the defendants) and remanded for dismissal due to a lack of federal subject matter jurisdiction. The Swartzes’ claims are inextricably intertwined with state court judgments, requiring dismissal under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. View "Swartz v. Heartland Equine Rescue" on Justia Law

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Penn boarded Fantasy’s horses. After some of its horses became sick or injured and even died, Fantasy refused to pay boarding invoices totaling $65,707. Fantasy told Penn’s veterinarian, Edelson, that it was considering suing him; they entered into an agreement releasing “any and all persons, firms, or corporations liable or who might be liable . . . [from liability] arising out of or in any way relating to any injuries and damages of any and every kind . . . [in] the care and/or treatment of any [Fantasy] horses stabled at Penn.” Penn sued for breach of contract and defamation, based on emails sent to individuals in the industry blaming Penn for the deaths of Fantasy’s horses, calling the staff “inexperienced,” and accusing Penn of trying to conceal the problems. Fantasy counterclaimed, alleging negligence, breach of contract, and breach of fiduciary duty. The district court rejected the negligence counterclaims, based on the Edelson release. A jury awarded Penn $110,000 for breach of contract, $1 in nominal damages for defamation, and $89,999 in punitive damages. The court reduced the punitive damages to $5,500. The Third Circuit affirmed, except as to punitive damages. If the court finds, on remand, that the $89,999 award is unconstitutionally excessive, it should explain why it is not within the range of reasonable punitive damages for this claim and why a lower award reflects the reprehensibility of the conduct. View "Jester v. Hutt" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs own cats with health problems. Their veterinarians prescribed Hill’s cat food. They purchased this higher-priced cat food from PetSmart stores using their veterinarian’s prescriptions before learning that the Prescription Diet cat food is not materially different from non-prescription cat food and no prescription is necessary. Plaintiffs filed a class-action lawsuit under the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act. The district judge dismissed the claim as lacking the specificity required for a fraud claim and barred by a statutory safe harbor for conduct specifically authorized by a regulatory body (the FDA). The Seventh Circuit reversed. The safe-harbor provision does not apply. Under the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, 21 U.S.C. 301, pet food intended to treat or prevent disease and marketed as such is considered a drug and requires FDA approval. Without FDA approval, the manufacturer may not sell it in interstate commerce and the product is deemed adulterated and misbranded. FDA guidance recognizes that most pet-food products in this category do not have the required approval and states that it is less likely to initiate an enforcement action if consumers purchase the food through or under the direction of a veterinarian (among other factors). The guidance does not specifically authorize the conduct alleged here, so the safe harbor does not apply. Plaintiffs pleaded the fraud claim with the particularity required by FRCP 9(b). View "Vanzant v. Hill's Pet Nutrition, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court granting summary judgment for Sioux Empire Pit Bull Rescue, Inc. (SEPR), Susan Tribble-Zacher and Harry Podhradsky on Darlette Ridley's personal injury complaint, holding that SEPR, Zacher and Podhradksy did not breach their duty of reasonable care toward Ridley. Ridley was attacked and injured by a pit bull type dog while walking in a state campground. The dog belonged to SEPR and was in the care of Zacher and Podhradsky at their campsite. Ridley sued SEPR, Zacher and Podhradsky for her injuries. The circuit court granted summary judgment for the defendants, concluding that there was no evidence showing a lack of reasonable care on the defendants' part. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that there was no indication that it was foreseeable that the dog would have attacked Ridley, and therefore, there was insufficient evidence for a jury to find that the defendants breached their standard duty of care toward Ridley. View "Ridley v. Sioux Empire Pit Bull Rescue, Inc." on Justia Law

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Betty Hill sued Emma Armstrong and another defendant after Hill was bitten by three dogs. When Armstrong and her trial counsel failed to appear at trial at the appointed time, the trial court declared from the bench that a default would be entered against Armstrong for liability and that Hill would have an opportunity to put on evidence of damages. Approximately 13 minutes after the trial began, however, Armstrong appeared in the courtroom (her trial counsel never arrived). When the trial court noted Armstrong's appearance, it proceeded to hold a nonjury trial on the merits -- though the conditions under which evidence would be taken were never made clear. The trial court entered a judgment in favor of Hill and against Armstrong in the amount of $75,000. On appeal to the Alabama Supreme Court, Armstrong challenged the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the judgment against her. Based on its review of the applicable law and the evidence taken at trial, the Supreme Court found it clear, even under a standard of review deferential to the trial court, that the evidence presented was insufficient to support the judgment. Accordingly, it reversed the judgment of the trial court and remand the cause with instructions for the trial court to enter a judgment in favor of Armstrong. View "Armstrong v. Hill" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the declaratory and injunction entered by the district court enjoining the City of Arapahoe, Nebraska from enforcing an ordinance against Brooke Wilkison to prohibit his retention of a pit bull at his home within the city limits, holding that Brooke failed to show that allowing him to retain the dog in his home was necessary. The district court's order determined that the city ordinance, if enforced against Brooke, would violate the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA), 42 U.S.C. 3601 to 3619, by permitting a discriminatory housing practice and precluding Brooke from mitigating the ill effects of his handicap by living with his emotional assistance animal. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the district court did not err in holding that the FHA applies to the ordinance enacted by the city; but (2) Brooke failed to prove that an accommodation from the city's ban on certain breeds of dogs was essential to his equal enjoyment of his property. View "Wilkison v. City of Arapahoe" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's claims challenging the city's ordinance based on lack of standing. The challenged ordinance made it unlawful for any person to own, possess, keep, exercise control over, maintain, harbor, transport or sell within the City of Sioux City, Iowa, any pit bull. In this case, plaintiff admitted that she does not currently own a dog because she and her fiance work full time and do not have the time to own a dog, but she intended to adopt a dog in the near future. The court held that, to the extent plaintiff sought prospective relief against future conduct, she failed to show that she owns a dog and does not live in the city. Furthermore, her intention to adopt a dog in the near future was uncertain and insufficient to confer standing. The court also held that plaintiff's past injuries did not grant her standing because she failed to demonstrate how her proposed relief redressed them. Finally, the district court did not abuse its discretion by declining to hold an evidentiary hearing prior to its sua sponte dismissal of plaintiff's claim. View "Myers v. Sioux City" on Justia Law

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In 2014, Maria Matta-Troncoso and her husband, Mario Matta (“the Mattas”), sued Michael and Lakeisha Thornton, alleging that the Thorntons were liable under OCGA 51-2-71 for injuries that Matta-Troncoso sustained when the Thorntons’ dogs attacked her as she was walking her own dogs approximately two blocks away from the Thorntons’ rental house. The Mattas later amended their complaint by adding Gregory Tyner, the Thorntons’ landlord, alleging that he was liable under OCGA 44-7-142 for failing to keep the rental property in repair. Specifically, they alleged that Tyner failed to repair a broken gate latch that allowed the Thorntons’ dogs to escape the property and attack Matta-Troncoso. Tyner moved for summary judgment, and the trial court determined that although Tyner breached his duty to keep the premises in repair by failing to repair the broken gate latch, summary judgment was nevertheless warranted in his favor because the Mattas made no showing that the Thorntons’ dogs had ever displayed vicious propensities or that Tyner had knowledge of such tendencies. On appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s ruling, concluding the trial court erred in its analysis of whether Tyner had knowledge of the dogs’ vicious propensities. Citing OCGA 51-2-7, the Court of Appeals reasoned that because there was evidence that the dogs were unleashed in violation of a local ordinance, the Mattas were not required to produce evidence that “Tyner [was] aware of the dogs’ vicious propensities.” Furthermore, the appellate court concluded Tyner could be liable under OCGA 44-7-14 because that statute did not limit a landlord’s liability to injuries occurring on a leased premises, and that there existed a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Matta-Troncoso’s injuries “arose from” Tyner’s failure to repair the gate latch. The Georgia Supreme Court granted Tyner’s petition for certiorari to address a single question: Did the Court of Appeals err by reversing the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Tyner? The Court answered that question in the affirmative, and therefore reversed the Court of Appeals. The Court determined there was no genuine issue of material fact as to whether Tyner’s failure to repair the gate latch caused Matta-Troncoso’s injuries; summary judgment in Tyner’s favor was appropriate. View "Tyner v. Matta-Tronscoso" on Justia Law

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Jason Wyno challenged the constitutionality of former OCGA 4-8-30, a portion of the Responsible Dog Ownership Law which purported to exempt local governments and their employees from liability arising from their enforcement of, or failure to enforce, that law and local dog-control ordinances. In 2011, Misty Wyno was attacked and killed by a dog owned by one of her neighbors. In the years leading up to the attack, numerous complaints about dogs at the neighbor’s address had been filed with the Lowndes County Animal Control office. Following Misty Wyno’s death, Jason Wyno brought a wrongful death action against the dog’s owners, Lowndes County, and four individual Lowndes County Animal Control employees, alleging the County and its employees negligently failed to perform ministerial duties negligently failed to provide police protection, negligently created and failed to abate a nuisance, were negligent in their control of allegedly dangerous dogs, and were negligent per se by violating several provisions of the Lowndes County Animal Control Ordinance. The complaint also made a demand for punitive damages and alleged that Lowndes County and the County Employees “acted with actual malice and/or an intent to injure in repeatedly refusing to investigate or take any action with regards to the dangerous dogs[.]” The case was dismissed on sovereign immunity grounds. Wyno argued the statute impermissibly extended the official immunity of local government employees provided in Article I, Section II, Paragraph IX (d) of the Georgia Constitution of 1983 because former OCGA 4-8-30 was not “a State Tort Claims Act.” The Georgia Supreme Court did not reach the constitutional question in this case because the Court found the trial court erred in its preliminary determination that the relevant duties imposed by the Responsible Dog Ownership Law and the Lowndes County Animal Control Ordinance in effect at the time of the incident giving rise to this suit were ministerial in nature. Instead, the Court found the relevant acts of the County Employees were discretionary. Moreover, because the record did not contain evidence the individual defendants acted with malice or intent to injure, they were protected from Wyno’s lawsuit by the official immunity provided by Paragraph IX (d). The Court therefore affirmed the grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendants, although for reasons different than relied upon by the trial court. View "Wyno v. Lowndes County" on Justia Law