Monday, August 31, 2015
C.A. Rejects Taxpayer Suit as Means of Challenging Animal Cruelty
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
A taxpayer suit is not a permissible vehicle for enforcing state animal cruelty laws, the First District Court of Appeal has ruled.
Div. Two held Thursday that an Alameda Superior Court judge was correct in tossing a suit by the Animal Legal Defense Fund and two individuals against California Exposition and State Fairs—better known as CalExpo—the agency that organizes the California State Fair every July, and UC Davis’s veterinary school. The ALDF sought to enjoin what it claims is the mistreatment of pregnant pigs at the fair.
The vet school was named as a defendant because it contracts with CalExpo to set up and manage the livestock nursery exhibit where pigs, who are generally brought to the fair about two weeks before giving birth, are put on display while they bear and nurse their piglets.
The transport of pigs so close to giving birth, their confinement in five foot by three foot farrowing crates at the fairgrounds, and the display of crated pigs in close proximity to fairgoers cause stress and discomfort, the plaintiffs alleged, and violate Penal Code provisions barring the subjection of animals to “needless suffering” and requiring that a confined animal be provided “with an adequate exercise area.”
The plaintiffs pled their suit as a taxpayer action under Code of Civil Procedure §526a. The defendants demurred on the grounds that only public authorities and humane societies have standing to enforce animal cruelty laws; that Proposition 2, the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act approved by voters in 2008 and operative Jan. 1 of this year, protects the right to confine animals during fairs; and that the conduct alleged constituted discretionary action by a public agency and was thus beyond the reach §526a.
The trial judge ruled for the defendants on all three issues, and said the plaintiffs were attempting ““to pursue principally ‘political’ issues and issues involving the exercise of the discretion of either the legislative or executives branches of government.”
The Court of Appeal affirmed on the ground that the plaintiffs lacked a private right of action and found it unnecessary to rule on the other issues.
Justice James Richman cited Animal Legal Defense Fund v. Mendes (2008) 160 Cal.App.4th 136, which held that there was no private right for action for violation of the exercise-area statute, Penal Code Sec. 597t. He agreed with the trial judge, who said it was “illogical and without merit” for plaintiffs to argue that they could do “as taxpayers . . . what they may not do as bystander citizens.”
Richman noted, as did the Mendes court, that there is a comprehensive statutory scheme for enforcing the animal cruelty laws.
Humane societies, he noted, have been given “quasi-governmental powers” to aid in the enforcement of the laws, and any individual who believes animal cruelty is taking, or will take, place may seek a warrant from a magistrate, in addition to the normal authority of law enforcement agencies.
“In light of these many means of enforcing the animal cruelty laws, the very purpose of a section 526a action is not furthered by plaintiffs’ lawsuit here, since it cannot be said that defendants’ conduct—if indeed violative of the animal cruelty laws—would go unchallenged in the absence of a taxpayer action (notwithstanding plaintiffs’ claim that they ‘are the only persons who can challenge this unlawful government conduct because Cal Expo and the School’s victims are pigs who do not have standing to sue’).”
Richman noted that California is generally viewed as having some of the most stringent animal cruelty laws in the world.
The case is Animal Legal Defense Fund v. California Exposition and State Fairs, 15 S.O.S. 4155.
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