Oregon Supreme Court Denies Petition to Review Case Involving Lawsuit on Behalf of Abused Horse
Lawsuit sheds light on the need to recognize legal rights for animal cruelty victims
SALEM, Ore. — Today the Animal Legal Defense Fund announced that the Oregon Supreme Court has denied a petition to review a novel animal rights lawsuit filed on behalf of a neglected horse named Justice. The lawsuit, filed in 2017, sought to establish that Justice is a legal person with legally enforceable rights, including the power to sue his abuser for damages. The Oregon Court of Appeals ruled against Justice in 2022. The Oregon Supreme Court’s denial of review leaves that decision in place.
“The Oregon Supreme Court’s decision not to take up Justice’s case is disappointing as it lets stand an erroneous opinion that deprives animal cruelty victims of the ability to be compensated for their abuse,” says Animal Legal Defense Fund Managing Attorney Christopher Berry. “Justice’s case exposed a critical problem in the legal system: that animal cruelty victims do not have the legal authority to protect their right to be free from cruelty. It’s only reasonable that animals, like any victim of abuse, have a path to obtain justice against their abuser under the law.”
Justice was a victim of severe animal neglect when his former owner left him in a barren field in the cold Oregon winter without adequate food or shelter. When Justice was rescued by Sound Equine Options, an Oregon horse rescue, he was emaciated, 300 pounds underweight, and suffering from frostbite. Although his owner was criminally charged, her restitution order was insufficient to cover Justice’s veterinary expenses.
To ensure that Justice’s rights were vindicated and that the costs were allocated to the responsible party, the Animal Legal Defense Fund filed a lawsuit on Justice’s behalf in May 2018, seeking to establish his right to serve as a plaintiff through his guardian, Kim Mosiman. A trial court dismissed the case, which the Oregon Court of Appeals affirmed in a decision that held that animals are not legal persons and do not have any legal rights.
Two amicus briefs were filed in support of the Oregon Supreme Court reviewing the case. An amicus authored by an assortment of legal scholars including Laurence H. Tribe, professor at Harvard law; Visa Kurki, associate professor of jurisprudence at the University of Helsinki; Saskia Stucki, senior research fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law; and Joe Wills, lecturer at University of Leicester, described that “non-human animals have numerous legal rights under Oregon and federal law” and “there is a broad consensus among jurists that entities with legal rights are legal persons.”
A second amicus brief submitted by international animal law scholars led by Rajesh K. Reddy, director of the Animal Law Program at Lewis & Clark Law School, asked the Oregon Supreme Court to hear Justice’s case “to ensure that jurisprudence in the U.S. develops in concert with the fundamental principles of liberty and fairness” that have led to animals being recognized as legal persons abroad in Argentina, Ecuador and Colombia. Notably, the international brief is signed by Luis Domingo Gomez Maldonado, the Colombian attorney responsible for the lawsuit on behalf of the hippos of the Magdalena River to prevent the Colombian government from imposing or allowing their deaths. The hippos are descendants of the original four hippos imported illegally by Pablo Escobar for his personal menagerie. During the Colombian proceedings, the Animal Legal Defense Fund served as U.S. counsel for the hippos collecting affidavits from wildlife experts who live in Ohio.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund thanks Matthew Liebman of the University of San Francisco’s Justice for Animals Program, Sarah Hanneken, Matthew Hamity, Thomas Bode and Aly Sneider from Larkins Vacura Kayser LLP for their representation of Justice in this case.
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