Appeals Court Upholds Landmark Animal Cruelty Decision

Posted on February 8, 2007

Case against animal hoarder involved hundreds of dogs, record penalties

Edgar, a dog rescued from the WoodleysSan 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.