Justia U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Animal / Dog Law

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Neita formerly owned and operated a dog-grooming business and rescue shelter. In 2012, he went to Chicago’s Department of Animal Care and Control to surrender a dog that had killed another dog and a dog that had become ill after whelping puppies. Travis, an Animal Control employee, called the police. Officers arrested and searched Neita, then searched his vehicle, and his business premises. Neita was charged with animal cruelty and 13 counts of violating an animal owner’s duties under Illinois law. He was found not guilty on all counts. After his acquittal, Neita suedTravis, the officers, and the city. The judge dismissed the federal claims, holding that Neita not adequately pled any constitutional violation and relinquished supplemental jurisdiction over the state-law claims. The Seventh Circuit reversed, finding the complaint’s allegations sufficient to state 42 U.S.C. 1983 claims for false arrest and illegal searches in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Neita alleged that he surrendered two dogs, neither of which showed signs of abuse or neglect, and was arrested without any evidence that he had mistreated either dog. If these allegations are true, no reasonable person would have cause to believe that Neita had abused or neglected an animal. View "Neita v. City of Chicago" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, walking her brown labrador retriever, “Dog,” encountered a gray and white pit bull running loose, which lunged at Dog’s neck. The dogs began to fight. Neighbors unsuccessfully tried to separate them. Plaintiff dropped Dog’s leash so that Dog could defend himself. Officer Davis, driving to a burglary call, received a report that a pit bull was attacking another dog at a corner along his route. Davis pulled over and trained his spotlight on the dogs. Plaintiff, who was crying, identified herself and described Dog. Davis has a form of colorblindness that makes it difficult for him to distinguish certain colors, but had not informed his employer of his condition. Davis shot at what he thought was the aggressor. The dogs separated. Dog limped toward plaintiff, who cried that Davis had shot her dog. Davis then aimed at the pit bull and fired several times. The pit bull left the scene. Dog died as a result of the gunshot wound. From the time Davis had arrived until the time he fired his seventh shot, about two minutes elapsed. The Seventh Circuit affirmed a verdict in favor of Davis in a suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging unconstitutional seizure of Dog. The court upheld a conclusion that Davis had not committed discovery violations and the court’s rejection of plaintiffs’ proffered Fourth Amendment reasonableness analysis jury instruction. View "Saathoff v. Davis" on Justia Law

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In 2014 the Tax Court held that Roberts had deducted expenses from his horse‐racing enterprise on his federal income tax returns for 2005 and 2006 erroneously because the enterprise was a hobby rather than a business, 26 U.S.C. 183(a), (b)(2)..The court assessed tax deficiencies of $89,710 for 2005 and $116,475 for 2006, but ruled that his business had ceased to be a hobby, and had become a bona fide business, in 2007. The IRS has not challenged Roberts’ deductions since then and Roberts continues to operate his horse‐racing business. The Seventh Circuit reversed the Tax Court’s judgment upholding the deficiencies assessed for 2005 and 2006. A business is not transformed into a hobby “merely because the owner finds it pleasurable; suffering has never been made a prerequisite to deductibility.” The court noted instances demonstrating Roberts’ intent to make a profit. View "Roberts v. Comm'r of Internal Revenue" on Justia Law

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Wilma Stuller and her late husband bred Tennessee Walking Horses. They incorporated the operation and claimed its substantial losses as deductions on their tax returns. The IRS determined that the horse-breeding was not an activity engaged in for profit, assessed taxes and penalties, and penalized them for failing to timely file their 2003 return. After paying, the Stullers and LSA, sued the government for a refund. The district court excluded the Stullers’ proposed expert. It determined that his expertise did not extend to the financial or business aspects of horse-breeding and he lacked a reliable methodology to opine on the Stullers’ intent. The court found that the corporation was not run as a for-profit business under 26 U.S.C. 183, and determined that the Stullers lacked reasonable cause for failing to timely file their 2003 tax return. The court also denied a request to amend the judgment and effectively refund taxes paid by the Stullers on rental income received from the corporation. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The district court followed Daubert in excluding the expert and applied each factor of the regulations to the facts. Only the expectation of asset appreciation weighed in the Stullers’ favor; almost every other consideration pointed to horse-breeding as a hobby or personal pleasure. View "Estate of Stuller v. United States" on Justia Law

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Petkus owns a property that she operated as an animal sanctuary until 2009, when an investigation by the ASPCA resulted in a search of her property, termination of her employment as Richland County dogcatcher, her arrest and prosecution for animal neglect, and a sentence to three years of probation. As authorized by Wis. Stat. 173.10, the ASPCA investigator procured a warrant to search Petkus’s property. The warrant directed law enforcement officers to enlist in the search veterinarians or any “other persons or agencies authorized by the Richland County District Attorney.” The veterinary and 40-50 animal-rights volunteers who accompanied deputy sheriffs conducted the search. They had not been deputized. The deputy sheriffs’ role was not to participate in the search but simply to “keep the peace.” Petkus sued, alleging negligence in failing to train or supervise the amateur searchers and that the search was unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment. Petkus won an award of damages. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, noting needless damage to Petkus’s property and that the “incompetence of the amateur searchers is apparent from the reports of the deputy sheriffs.” View "Petkus v. Richland Cnty" on Justia Law

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Defendant’s llama escaped its pen and wandered off and he was charged with misdemeanor abandonment under the Illinois animal cruelty statute. Rather than hire a lawyer, defendant pled guilty and paid a $525 fine. Three years later, he pled guilty to a federal charge for possession of several hundred marijuana plants. The marijuana conviction called for a mandatory minimum 10 years in prison. But for the misdemeanor llama conviction, defendant could have avoided the mandatory minimum by qualifying for the statutory safety valve, 18 U.S.C. 3553(f), and his guideline sentencing range would have been 18 to 24 months in prison. Counting the llama conviction as one criminal history point, his second point, prevented use of the safety valve, which is limited to defendants with no more than one point. The Seventh Circuit vacated the sentence of 10 years, finding that the llama conviction is similar to misdemeanors listed in U.S.S.G. 4A1.2(c) as offenses that should not count for any criminal history points. Application of that provision would have allowed the district court to reach the result that it felt was just here. .

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After convicting seven defendants charged with operating a St. Louis area dog-fighting ring, the court sentenced all to a three-year term of supervised release and to payment of $100. Two defendants additionally received sentences of 16 and 18 months of incarceration. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, first holding that the judge did not take on the role of a prosecutor and violate separation of powers by conducting independent research on dog fighting. The judge informed the parties of his research and carefully distinguished information in the memo from evidence related to the defendants. The court adequately justified the sentencing, finding the guidelines inadequate considering the number of dogs, dogs that had to be euthanized, the number of fights, extraordinary cruelty, and the leadership roles of the defendants.