Justia Civil Procedure Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Animal / Dog Law
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Animal rights organization Friends of Animals served a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) seeking disclosure of form 3-177s submitted by wildlife hunters and traders seeking to import elephant and giraffe parts. FWS disclosed the forms with redactions. Most relevant here, it withheld the names of the individual submitters under FOIA Exemptions 6 and 7(C), which prevent disclosure of information when a privacy interest in withholding outweighs the public interest in disclosure, as well as information on one Form 3-177 under Exemption 4, which prevents the disclosure of material that is commercial and confidential. Friends of Animals challenged these redactions in the district court, which granted summary judgment in favor of FWS, upholding the redactions. The Tenth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part, finding the district court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of FWS as to the withholdings in the Elephant Request under Exemptions 6 and 7(C) and as to the withholdings under Exemption 4. The Court affirmed summary judgment as to the withholdings in the Giraffe Request. View "Friends of Animals v. Bernhardt, et al." on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Vermont Supreme Court's review was whether a landlord who had no knowledge that a tenant’s dog had dangerous propensities could be held liable for injuries the dog causes to individuals who enter the property with tenant’s permission. Plaintiff Katherine Higgins, who was badly injured by a tenant’s dog while on the leased property, challenged the trial court’s grant of summary judgment to defendant landlords. When he was showing the house on landlords’ behalf after tenant moved in, a realtor who was representing landlords in marketing the property observed obvious signs around the house that a dog lived there, including door casings that were badly scratched by the dog. The realtor did not see the dog and did not know its size or breed or whether it had ever acted aggressively towards any person or other animal; based on the sound of the dog, he opined that it was “tough and loud.” Plaintiff, a neighbor, was attacked and seriously injured by tenant’s dog, an American Pitbull Terrier, while visiting tenant on the rental property. On appeal, plaintiff renews her argument that landlords have a general duty of care to the public, and that this duty includes a duty of reasonable inquiry concerning tenants’ domestic animals. In addition, she argues that landlords were on notice of the dog’s dangerous propensities on the basis of the observations made by realtor, acting as landlords’ agent. Finally, she contends that landlords are liable to plaintiff on the basis of a municipal ordinance. Finding no reversible error in granting summary judgment to the landlords, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court. View "Higgins v. Bailey" on Justia Law

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This case involved a premises liability claim brought by a visitor against landlords for an injury caused by the tenants’ dog. The question was whether the landlords, Ernesto and Teri Hernandez, owed a duty to petitioner Maria Saralegui Blanco. The tenants, David Gonzalez Sandoval, Alexandra Barajas Gonzalez, and Elvia Sandoval, rented single family home owned by the landlords. While visiting the home, Saralegui Blanco was attacked and bitten by the tenants’ dog. Saralegui Blanco sued, alleging the tenants and landlords were negligent and liable for her injuries. The trial court dismissed the claims against the landlords on summary judgment. The Washington Supreme Court granted direct review and affirmed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment, dismissing Saralegui Blanco’s premises liability claim against the landlords: petitioner failed to establish a genuine issue of material fact that the landlords possessed the land, retained control over the premises or the dog, or created a dangerous condition. View "Saralegui Blanco v. Gonzalez Sandoval" on Justia Law

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Kirby Vickers filed a grievance letter with Idaho Board of Veterinary Medicine (the Board”) against a veterinarian requesting that they take various disciplinary actions. After an investigation, the Board declined to take any action against the veterinarian. Vickers then filed suit in district court, seeking to compel the Board to hold a hearing. The district court dismissed his suit for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. On appeal, Vickers argued his letter to the Board initiated a contested action for which he was entitled to judicial review. To this, the Idaho Supreme Court disagreed, finding that a private citizen could not initiate a "contested case" with a grievance letter. Vickers points to the language in caselaw: “[t]he filing of a complaint initiates a contested case,”to argue that any public citizen could file a complaint pursuant to Idaho Rule of Administrative Procedure of the Attorney General (“IDAPA”) 04.11.01.240.02 and begin a contested case. However, the Supreme Court found both the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) and the corresponding IDAPA rules, addressed only agency actions. "Vickers cannot apply these rules to his grievance letter, even if it was referred to as a “complaint” in correspondence from the Board, because it is not an agency action under the APA or IDAPA." The Court affirmed the district court's order dismissed this case for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. View "Vickers v. Idaho Bd of Veterinary Medicine" on Justia Law

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Susan Franciere appealed a district court judgment granting the City of Mandan’s motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction due to insufficient service. In 2017, Franciere and her dog were attacked by a dog in Mandan. Days later, she went to the Mandan Police Department, asserted her rights under Article I, section 25 of the North Dakota Constitution, and requested a copy of the police report on the incident under the open records law. Franciere called the police department and was informed the dog was undergoing a 10-day rabies quarantine. Thereafter, Franciere sent a letter to the chief of police requesting the police report. On August 22, 2017, she received a phone call from a police lieutenant who told her she would not receive the report because the case was still active and no information would be released until the case was closed. In September 2017, she contacted the city attorney about the incident. Then in October, Franciere filed this action against the City, alleging violations of the North Dakota Constitution and the open records law. Franciere received a redacted report of the incident from the police department on November 1, 2017. On January 13, 2018, she received an unredacted report from the police department. On November 14, 2018, Franciere filed a motion for summary judgment. The district court declared Franciere’s action moot and dismissed it with prejudice. It declined to rule on Mandan’s motion to dismiss for insufficient service of process and lack of personal jurisdiction. The North Dakota Supreme Court vacated the district court’s judgment and remanded for determination of Mandan’s motion to dismiss for insufficiency of service of process and lack of personal jurisdiction. Upon reconsideration, the district court granted the City's motion to dismiss with prejudice. Franciere argued Mandan waived its personal jurisdiction claims, the district court improperly dismissed the case with prejudice, the district court erred when it denied her motion to compel discovery, and the district court judge was biased against her. The Supreme Court modified the judgment for dismissal without prejudice, and affirmed as modified. View "Franciere v. City of Mandan" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Andrew Pankey (Andrew) filed a products liability claim against Petco Animal Supplies, Inc., after his son Aidan contracted a rare bacterial infection from a rat purchased at Petco. Aidan later died as a result of complications related to his infection. Andrew alleged, among other things, that Petco was strictly liable for injuries resulting from the sale of the pet rat, which he argued was a product for purposes of strict products liability. The trial court instructed the jury on negligence under ordinary negligence and negligent failure-to-warn theories, as well as three theories of strict products liability: (1) failure to warn, (2) manufacturing defect, and (3) design defect under a risk-benefit test. The jury returned verdicts in favor of Petco. On appeal, Andrew contended the trial court erred by refusing to instruct the jury on an alternative strict liability design defect theory, the "consumer expectations test." He argued there was sufficient evidence from which the jury could have concluded the pet rat purchased from Petco failed to perform as safely as an ordinary consumer would expect when used in an intended or reasonably foreseeable manner. The Court of Appeal affirmed, finding a live pet animal sold in its unaltered state was not a product subject to the design defect consumer expectations theory of strict products liability. The Court therefore did not reach a conclusion regarding applicability of the consumer expectations test or the prejudicial effect of its exclusion. View "Pankey v. Petco Animal Supplies, Inc." 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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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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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

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The humans in the events giving rise to this lawsuit were related by blood or marriage: Stephen Boswell was married to Karena Boswell; Karena is Mary Steele’s daughter; Amber was Mary Steele’s granddaughter and owned a Scottish terrier named Zoey. Amber and Zoey lived in Mary’s home. Stephen and Karena Boswell appealed a judgment entered in favor of Amber Steele and the Estate of Mary Steele. The Boswells sought to recover damages for injuries suffered by Stephen after he was bitten by Zoey. Before the case was submitted to the jury, the district court ruled that all of the Boswells’ claims sounded in negligence and so instructed the jury, rejecting the Boswells’ proposed jury instructions on common law and statutory strict liability. The jury found that the Steeles were not negligent and the district court entered judgment consistent with that verdict. The Idaho Supreme Court found that the Boswells were entitled to have the jury instructed on theories other than negligence. The instructions given by the trial court did not accurately convey the elements of a common law dog bite case in Idaho, nor did they contemplate a cause of action arising from the Pocatello Municipal Code. As such, the Supreme Court vacated the judgment and remanded for a new trial. View "Boswell v. Steele" on Justia Law