Justia U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Animal / Dog Law
Greenbank v. Great American Assurance Co.
Greenbank purchased “Thomas” for $500,000, for use as a competitive showhorse. Greenbank obtained insurance from GA that included coverage for Thomas’s “death” or “authorized humane destruction.” In February 2018, Thomas became sick. Over the next few months, Thomas lost 50 pounds and developed cellulitis in all four legs and uveitis in his eye. In April 2018, Greenbank reported Thomas’s pneumonia to GA. Greenbank's veterinarian informed GA that Thomas “probably” needed to be euthanized. GA retained its own veterinarians. Thomas was transported to its facility, where Dr. MacGillivray advised that it would not be unreasonable to make a euthanasia recommendation but she wanted to try treatment. Greenbank objected, arguing that treatment would destroy Thomas’s future athleticism. After his surgery, Thomas made a "remarkable" recovery. Thomas is still doing well.GA denied coverage for certain treatments and rejected Greenbank’s renewal payment of $14,725.000, citing her failure to provide immediate notice of Thomas’s illness in February 2018. Greenbank argued that GA acted in bad faith by unreasonably withholding consent for authorized humane destruction and that GA’s continued care and control over Thomas after the policy terminated constituted conversion and theft.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of her claims. Thomas saw three veterinarians in five months; no veterinarian certified that Thomas needed to be euthanized. Nothing in the contract requires GA to protect Thomas’s use as a show horse. Greenbank never made an unqualified demand for Thomas’s return nor did she establish that any demand would have been futile. View "Greenbank v. Great American Assurance Co." on Justia Law
Animal Legal Defense Fund v. Special Memories Zoo LLC
The Seventh District remanded this case brought under the Endangered Species Act's citizen-suit provision, 16 U.S.C. 1540(g)(1), for mistreatment of endangered and threatened animals at a Wisconsin private zoo for an award of reasonable attorney fees and costs, holding that the district court's stated reasons were insufficient to deny statutorily-recoverable expenses.The Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) sued Special Memories Zoo and its owners and manager (collectively, Defendants) alleging that the conditions of the endangered and threatened animals' confinement constituted an unlawful "take" under the Act. Defendants first defended the action then intentionally defaulted. After the trial court entered default judgment for ALDF ALDF moved for an award of attorney's fees and costs under 16 U.S.C. 1540(g)(4). The trial court denied the motion. The Seventh District vacated the decision below, holding that the court's reasons were insufficient to justify denying fees when weighed against the purpose and structure of the Act. View "Animal Legal Defense Fund v. Special Memories Zoo LLC" on Justia Law
Posted in: Animal / Dog Law
Weaver v. Champion Petfoods USA Inc.
Weaver purchased Champion dog food. Champion’s packaging describes the food as biologically appropriate, made with fresh regional ingredients, and never outsourced. Weaver alleged that: Champion’s food is not made solely from fresh ingredients but contains ingredients that were previously frozen; Champion uses previously manufactured food that failed to conform to specifications, as dry filler; Champion uses ingredients that are past the manufacturer’s freshness window; Champion does not source all its ingredients from areas close to its plants and sources some ingredients internationally; and there is a risk that its food contains BPA and pentobarbital.Weaver filed a purported class action, alleging violations of the Wisconsin Deceptive Trade Practices Act, fraud by omission, and negligence. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the rejection of his suit on summary judgment. Weaver had failed to produce sufficient evidence from which a reasonable jury could determine that any of the representations were false or misleading. Weaver only offered his own testimony to prove how a reasonable consumer would interpret “biologically appropriate” and offered no evidence that he purchased dog food containing pentobarbital. He failed to show that Champion had a duty to disclose the risk that its food may contain BPA or pentobarbital. Humans and animals are commonly exposed to BPA in their everyday environments, Champion does not add BPA to its food, and submitted unrebutted testimony that the levels allegedly present would not be harmful to dogs. View "Weaver v. Champion Petfoods USA Inc." on Justia Law
Swartz v. Heartland Equine Rescue
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
Vanzant v. Hill’s Pet Nutrition, Inc.
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
Dilley v. Holiday Acres Properties, Inc.
Krier operates a Wisconsin trail-riding facility. Dilley reserved a ride, informing Krier that she had no horseback-riding experience. Dilley was matched with Blue, Krier’s most docile horse. Dilley received no instruction from Krier or his employee, Kremsreiter; neither adjusted the stirrups nor provided a helmet. Kremsreiter rode in front of Dilley. During the ride, Dilley stated that she did not have the reins. Kremsreiter responded, “Don’t worry; this horse knows where it wants [to] go,” and never looked back. Blue attempted to pass Kremsreiter’s horse, which kicked, prompting Blue to rear up. Dilley fell, sustaining a head injury, fractured ribs and vertebra, and a punctured lung. The judge granted the defendants summary judgment. Wisconsin law confers immunity on the sponsors and participants in equine activities for injuries that result from “an inherent risk of equine activities,” including any participant’s negligence. Brown took a riding lesson at a Wisconsin indoor facility, using her own horse. The instructor allowed a second horse and rider to enter the arena, knowing that the second horse was “high spirited” and required a very experienced rider. The instructor directed the rider of the second horse to jump a fence. The horse sped off, leaping out of control, and collided with Brown’s horse. Brown was thrown and sustained leg fractures. Her case was dismissed. The Seventh Circuit affirmed both defense judgments. Dilley’s claims fail because a trail operator’s negligence is an “inherent risk of equine activities” under the statute; no exception applies. The operators reasonably assessed Dilley’s abilities; they did not act in willful or wanton disregard for her safety; the tack they provided was not faulty. Because Brown rode her own horse, an exception that applies when the defendant provides a horse is unavailable. View "Dilley v. Holiday Acres Properties, Inc." on Justia Law
United States v. Lang
Johnson and Lang traveled from California to an Illinois mink farm where they released approximately 2000 minks from their cages and destroyed or damaged other property on the farm. While on their way to damage a fox farm, Johnson and Lang were arrested on state charges of possession of burglary tools. Johnson and Lang were charged in federal court with violating the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA), 18 U.S.C. 43(a)(2)(A) and (a)(2)(C). The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of their motions to dismiss, holding that AETA is not overbroad and does not violate the First Amendment because it does not prohibit lawful advocacy that causes only loss of profits or goodwill. AETA’s definite terms do not invite discriminatory prosecutions. Having the word “terrorism” in the title of the statute does not violate the defendants’ substantive due process rights because Congress had a rational basis for using the word. View "United States v. Lang" on Justia Law
Park Pet Shop, Inc. v. City of Chicago
Under Chicago’s 2014 “puppy mill” ordinance, pet retailers in the city “may offer for sale only those dogs, cats, or rabbits” obtained from an animal control or care center, pound, or kennel operated by local, state, or federal government or “a humane society or rescue organization.” Plaintiffs challenged the ordinance as exceeding the city’s home-rule powers and the implied limits on state power imposed by the Commerce Clause. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the case. The Illinois Constitution permits home-rule units like Chicago to regulate animal control and welfare concurrently with the state. The ordinance does not discriminate against interstate commerce, even in mild practical effect, so it requires no special cost-benefit justification under the Commerce Clause. The court found that the ordinance survives rational-basis review, noting the city’s concerns that large mill-style breeders are notorious for deplorable conditions and abusive breeding practices, including overbreeding, inbreeding, crowded and filthy living conditions, lack of appropriate socialization, and inadequate food, water, and veterinary care, causing pets to develop health and behavioral problems, creating economic and emotional burdens for pet owners and imposing financial costs on the city as owners abandon their pets. View "Park Pet Shop, Inc. v. City of Chicago" on Justia Law
Neita v. City of Chicago
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
Saathoff v. Davis
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