Bruce Wagman, Animal Shelter Litigation


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Presentation by Bruce A. Wagman, Esq. of Schiff Hardin LLP at the event "Animal Shelter Litigation" hosted by the UCLA Animal Law Program on October 25, 2011.

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Bruce Wagman, Animal Shelter Litigation

  1. 4. Shelter Basics <ul><li>Who gets in? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Strays </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Owner-surrenders </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Abandoned </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Cruelty impounds </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Who gets out? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>The challenge for all who care </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Euthanasia – speciesist solution </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Millions of animals die in shelters annually – how did killing become humane? </li></ul></ul></ul>
  2. 5. What are they doing in there? <ul><li>Daily care during holding period </li></ul><ul><li>Necessary veterinary attention </li></ul><ul><li>Spay/neuter </li></ul><ul><li>Adoption and reunification services </li></ul><ul><li>Mandatory recordkeeping </li></ul><ul><li>Euthanasia </li></ul><ul><li>Rescue </li></ul>
  3. 6. What goes wrong? <ul><li>Overcrowding </li></ul><ul><li>Lack of veterinary care </li></ul><ul><li>Mismanagement </li></ul><ul><li>Neglect </li></ul><ul><li>Poor hygiene  disease transmission </li></ul><ul><li>Rescue/shelter relations </li></ul><ul><li>Violation of mandatory duties </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Dependent on state/local laws </li></ul></ul>
  4. 7. The Real Problem <ul><li>“It’s just a dog, right? Can’t you just get another one over there at the shelter?” </li></ul><ul><li>“Well, Your Honor, my client rescued/didn't pay a dime for her, but she is worth the world to him.” </li></ul><ul><li>“Okay, Mr. Wagman. I’ll award your client a dime, the world is his for the taking, and he is getting more than he deserves.” </li></ul>
  5. 9. Shelter-related litigation (for today...) <ul><li>Hayden Act cases </li></ul><ul><li>Other state shelter laws (Kentucky cases) </li></ul><ul><li>Working with shelters in hoarding cases </li></ul><ul><li>Euthanasia issues (Georgia case) </li></ul><ul><li>Post-disaster cases </li></ul>
  6. 10. A Dog’s Life Rescue, Inc. v. County of Los Angeles (2007) <ul><li>Alleged Hayden Act violations </li></ul><ul><li>Focused specifically on owner-surrendered animals </li></ul><ul><li>Legal mechanism – sought injunctive relief and mandamus </li></ul><ul><li>Practical application – sought change of practices for owner-surrenders </li></ul>
  7. 11. Hayden at a glance Goals – Reduce killing and suffering <ul><li>Declared state policy regarding homeless animals: </li></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Promotes adoption and reunification </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Requires pre-adoption sterilization </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Prohibits CO euthanasia </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Requires release to rescues before euthanasia in most cases </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Similar/identical provisions in various codes </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>No “adoptable” or “treatable” animal should be euthanized </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Civil, Penal, Food and Agriculture Codes </li></ul></ul></ul>
  8. 12. Claims <ul><li>Violation of Hayden by virtue of illegal, disparate treatment of owner-surrendered animals </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Not holding for required period </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Not offering owner-surrenders for adoption with general population </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Not providing veterinary care </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Not confirming ownership status </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>(Euthanasia for fee) </li></ul></ul>
  9. 13. The Result <ul><li>Successful mediation  settlement </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Practices changed </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Improvements made in line with Hayden policies </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Monitoring – crucial </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Determine and negotiate appropriate time, criteria, type of information, delivery of data </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Supplemented by public records requests where necessary </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Need to continue active review </li></ul></ul></ul>
  10. 14. Shelter Practices Litigation: Civil Procedure 101 <ul><li>Extensive written discovery </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Open record act requests </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Interrogatories, requests for admissions </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Massive document/record reviews </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Depositions </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Recordkeeping </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Practices </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Site visits </li></ul><ul><li>Evidence – not what someone told you they heard happened last year... </li></ul><ul><li>Motion practice </li></ul><ul><li>Mediation and settlement </li></ul>
  11. 15. Working Together Makes Tails Wag in the End <ul><li>Polarizing litigation </li></ul><ul><li>Compromise is the key to success </li></ul><ul><li>Meaningful mediation and resolution requires cooperation </li></ul><ul><li>The law always has limits </li></ul>
  12. 17. Concerned Taxpayers v. Individual Kentucky Counties (Kentucky Humane Shelter Law K.R.S. sections 258 et seq .)
  13. 18. Kentucky Humane Shelter Law violations <ul><li>No separation of sick and injured animals </li></ul><ul><li>No veterinary care for sick and injured </li></ul><ul><li>Holding period violations </li></ul><ul><li>Inadequate shelter from heat, cold </li></ul><ul><li>Unsanitary, unsafe, unhealthy </li></ul><ul><li>Contaminated (or no) food and water </li></ul><ul><li>No/woefully incomplete records </li></ul><ul><li>Seeking injunction to force compliance </li></ul>
  14. 19. The Results <ul><li>County-by-county settlements that provide for </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Monitoring </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Practices to increase adoptions, decrease killing </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Employee education and training </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Improved techniques </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Hygiene </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Euthanasia </li></ul></ul></ul>
  15. 21. Hoarding and mass cruelty cases – helping the shelters manage <ul><ul><li>Overwhelming cases for all </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Tens, hundreds of unvaccinated animals </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Often unsalvageable medical issues (eyes, teeth) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Possible euthanasia candidates </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Extremely expensive (housing, feeding, cleaning, veterinary care) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Legal issue complications </li></ul></ul>
  16. 24. <ul><ul><li>Costs of care petitions could be most important part of case </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Rural shelters may be unable to help/local governments unable to finance </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Overwhelming veterinary care, costs, animal control personnel demands </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>May need to negotiate with shelters/outside groups to provide necessary services </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Need to defend against attacks by defendants ( e.g., Speegle ) </li></ul></ul>
  17. 25. West's North Carolina General Statutes Annotated, Chapter 19A. Protection of Animals Article 6. Animal Subject to Illegal Treatment § 19A-70. Care of animal subjected to illegal treatment (a) [I]f an animal shelter takes custody of an animal, the operator of the shelter may file a petition with the court requesting that the defendant be ordered to deposit funds in an amount sufficient to secure payment of all the reasonable expenses expected to be incurred by the animal shelter in caring for and providing for the animal pending the disposition of the litigation. For purposes of this section, &quot;reasonable expenses&quot; includes the cost of providing food, water, shelter, and care, including medical care, for at least 30 days. * * *
  18. 27. Chesley Morton v. Georgia Dept. of Agriculture (filed March 2007) <ul><li>Brought under Humane Euthanasia Act , O.C.G.A. section 4-11-5.1 (1990) </li></ul><ul><li>Injunctive relief for ultra vires (in violation of authority) acts by agency responsible for policing shelters </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Challenged state’s action as opposed to individual counties (159 in GA) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Injunctive vs. mandamus relief </li></ul></ul>
  19. 30. Life and Death in the Chamber <ul><li>After the gas comes on, dogs often howl, as if they are experiencing agony and fear, for as long as two minutes. </li></ul><ul><li>Kittens and puppies are sometimes gassed multiple times, because they do not absorb sufficient amounts of gas to die the first time. </li></ul><ul><li>A dog came out of the gas chamber, alive, after a full cycle. She was covered in the blood and body secretions of the dogs who had died in the cage with her, and she was violently shaking. </li></ul><ul><li>Many animals are not given any food or water for at least a day before they are gassed. Food and water are withheld as a matter of convenience, since that reduces the amount of feces and urine inside the chamber. </li></ul>
  20. 31. Result ! <ul><li>Legal – Compelled enforcement of Humane Euthanasia Act </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Won subsequent contempt motion as well </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Practical – Shut down illegal gas chambers in shelters statewide </li></ul><ul><li>Stimulated subsequent 2010 amendment eliminating all significant exceptions to gassing of dogs and cats </li></ul>
  21. 33. Post-disaster cases – Whose dog is he? <ul><li>Legally challenging </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Choice of law </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Conflicting doctrines of abandonment, cruelty, ownership </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Ethically frustrating </li></ul><ul><li>Evidentiary nightmares </li></ul><ul><li>What about the dog? </li></ul>
  22. 34. STAFFING