Press Release

Animal Legal Defense Fund Appeals Dismissal of Groundbreaking Lawsuit for Abused Horse

Lawsuit Argues Animals Have the Right to Sue Their Abusers in Court


Salem, OR – Today the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the nation’s preeminent legal advocacy organization for animals, appealed an Oregon state court’s dismissal of a lawsuit filed by a horse named Justice against his abuser. Justice’s lawsuit seeks to recover the costs of his ongoing medical care and his pain and suffering caused by the abuse.

Justice on March 3, 2016.

Washington County Circuit Court Judge John Knowles dismissed the lawsuit in September 2018, holding that a non-human animal lacks legal standing to sue on his or her own behalf. The Animal Legal Defense Fund will argue on appeal that as the victim of a crime whose legal rights were violated, Justice does have standing to sue under Oregon law.

If ultimately successful, this groundbreaking lawsuit would be the first to establish that animals have a legal right to sue their abusers in court.

“Justice is an intelligent, emotionally complex animal who suffers grievously because of the actions of the person who was supposed to protect him. Now, the Animal Legal Defense Fund seeks to establish that under Oregon law, Justice has legal recourse for that abuse,” says Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Stephen Wells. “We are hopeful that the appeals court will agree.”

Justice was cruelly neglected for months and endured tremendous pain and suffering. At the time of his rescue, he was emaciated and suffered from frostbite, lice, and rain rot.

As a result of his neglect, Justice endured permanent physical and psychological injuries that will require specialized medical care for the rest of his life. Justice’s abuser pled guilty to criminal animal neglect in 2017.

In the criminal plea agreement, Justice’s abuser agreed to pay restitution only for the cost of Justice’s care prior to the plea agreement. The lawsuit seeks damages for Justice’s care going forward. Any funds awarded to Justice through the lawsuit would be placed in a legal trust established exclusively to provide for his well-being.

Justice was relinquished to Sound Equine Options, an Oregon nonprofit horse rescue and rehabilitation organization. His complicated medical needs are a barrier to finding a permanent home for him, a problem exacerbated by the significant costs of his care.

Justice at his new home.

The Oregon legislature and courts have been leaders in recognizing that animals are sentient beings who occupy a unique position in the law. The Oregon Supreme Court, for example, has already recognized that animals should be considered individual “victims” in criminal animal cruelty cases. As a “sentient being,” and a “victim” who suffered horrific pain, stress, and fear, Justice now deserves his day in court.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund thanks the law firm Jensen & Leiberan for its pro bono assistance on this case, and also thanks the Law Office of Matthew Hamity for its assistance.