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

Articles Posted in Animal / Dog 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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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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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

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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

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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

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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