Press Release

Animal Legal Defense Fund Will Seek Justice for Abused Horse in Oregon’s Highest Court

Following the dismissal of Justice’s case upheld on appeal, the Animal Legal Defense Fund continues to seek accountability under the law.


SALEM, Ore. — After the Oregon Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal of Justice the horse’s lawsuit, the Animal Legal Defense Fund will petition the Oregon Supreme Court on the horse’s behalf. The original lawsuit was filed against Justice’s abuser, seeking to recover the costs of his ongoing medical care which is a direct result of criminal neglect.

Justice’s abuser, Gwendelyn Vercher, pled guilty to criminal animal neglect in 2017. 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.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund will petition the Oregon Supreme Court to review the case, arguing that animal cruelty victims have a right under Oregon law to sue their abuser for damages caused by the abuse.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund filed the appeal in January 2019 after Washington County Circuit Court Judge John Knowles dismissed the lawsuit, holding that non-human animals lack legal standing to sue on their own behalf. The Animal Legal Defense Fund contends that as the victim of a crime whose legal rights were violated, Justice does have standing to sue under Oregon law.

“As a result of neglect, Justice will require ongoing medical care and special costs for the rest of his life,” says Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Stephen Wells. “Oregon law recognizes that animals themselves can be victims of animal cruelty. Justice is a victim — why should anyone but his abuser be responsible for paying medical bills and other costs caused by her cruelty?”

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

Justice was 300 pounds underweight when he was rescued.
Justice was 300 pounds underweight when he was rescued.

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.

The Oregon legislature and courts have been leaders in recognizing that animals are sentient beings who occupy a unique position in the law. Oregon courts, for example, have already recognized that animals should be considered individual “victims” for sentencing purposes 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 Matthew Liebman of the University of San Francisco’s Justice for Animals Program, Margaret Leiberan of Jensen & Leiberan, the Law Office of Matthew Hamity, and Sarah Hanneken for their representation of Justice in this case.

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