Appeals Court Upholds Landmark Animal Cruelty DecisionFebruary 8th, 2007
Case against animal hoarder involved hundreds of dogs, record penalties
San Francisco, Calif. – In the largest civil action for animal
cruelty in American history, the Animal Legal Defense Fund with
representation from Schiff Hardin LLP won a landmark decision Tuesday
in the case against the owners of more than 350 dogs kept in squalid
conditions in North Carolina.
The North Carolina Court of Appeals affirmed a civil judgment after trial that removed the abused and neglected dogs from the home of Robert and Barbara Woodley in Sanford, N.C. A team from the Animal Legal Defense Fund saved the dogs from deplorable conditions at the Woodley home. The dogs – including Boston Terriers, Boxers and other breeds – were suffering from a multitude of painful and preventable diseases. Many were blind, or nearly so, from chronic neglect and exposure to toxic levels of ammonia due to years of unremoved waste. Others had painful eye ailments. A majority of the dogs had dental problems which required the extraction of some or all of their teeth, and many had bone decay and loss caused by the filthy conditions. A significant number of the dogs had broken bones that had never been treated but had healed over time, while the dogs suffered through the process. The dogs had never received veterinary care while being forced to live amid (and often covered in) their own feces and urine.
“This was an appalling case of animal cruelty. The levels of ammonia from the urine-soaked home were so high it burned my eyes and nose as I helped carry the dogs out of that house,” said Bruce Wagman, an animal protection attorney with Schiff Hardin LLP in San Francisco. Wagman led the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s legal team throughout the litigation, trial and appeal and, along with ALDF volunteers, was involved in the final rescue of the last 220 animals.
The North Carolina law utilized by ALDF is unique, in that it allows private litigants to take the burden off of municipalities and assist in the prosecution of cases of animal cruelty. While all states have criminal statutes governing animal cruelty, prosecutors and animal control agencies in most jurisdictions can be overwhelmed by the demands of prosecuting such a case. The court ruled that North Carolina's Civil Remedy for Protection of Animals statute (Chapter 19A) allows organizations like the Animal Legal Defense Fund to utilize the law on behalf of abused animals. In the Woodley case, the couple was also convicted of 10 counts of animal cruelty in a parallel criminal trial.
“If they really care about animal welfare, more states should look at enacting similar civil provisions for animal cruelty cases so organizations like the Animal Legal Defense Fund can help rescue animals from horrible circumstances like this,” Wagman said.
Cases of animal hoarding – the keeping of abnormally large numbers of cats, dogs, or other animals in substandard and abusive conditions – have more than doubled since 2000 and affect more than 250,000 animals nationwide, according to statistics kept by the Animal Legal Defense Fund.
Schiff Hardin attorneys based in San Francisco oversaw the investigation, factual development and filing of the initial lawsuit against the Woodleys in North Carolina. Schiff Hardin attorneys guided trial counsel and played an integral role in the drafting of both the appellee's and amicus briefs presented to the North Carolina Court of Appeals.
All of the dogs that survived rescue from the Woodleys’ home have been rehabilitated and placed in loving foster homes. Assuming the Court of Appeals decision becomes the final result, the dogs will be immediately sterilized and permanently adopted to live out their lives in peace and comfort.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) is the only national non-profit organization dedicated to protecting the lives of animals through the legal system. Schiff Hardin’s San Francisco office – previously Morgenstein & Jubelirer LLP before the firm combined with Schiff Hardin in January 2007 – has represented the ALDF for more than a decade. Wagman runs the non-profit organization’s national civil litigation program as its Chief Outside Litigation Counsel.
A frequent lecturer on the subject of animal law, Wagman is an adjunct professor of animal law at the law schools at University of California, Hastings, University of California at Berkeley, Stanford University and the University of San Francisco. He is a coauthor of Animal Law, the first casebook for animal law courses in law school.
Wagman coordinates and works with pro bono counsel nationwide as part of his administration of ALDF’s nationwide program, including in this case Adam Charnes and Jim Hefferan of Kilpatrick Stockton of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, who presented the case to the North Carolina Court of Appeals.