Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Fourth Department, New York
Erie County Society ex rel. Prevention of Cruelty to Animals v. Hoskins
91 A.D.3d 1354 (N.Y.A.D. 4 Dept.,2012)
In this action, plaintiff animal society appeals from an order to return 40 horses to defendant after they were seized pursuant to a warrant. This seizure stemmed from complaints that defendant failed to provide adequate care for animals housed on her property, including 73 horses and 51 cats. Defendant was later charged with 10 misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty. While the instant action was commenced by plaintiff to obtain $125,000 in reimbursement for the care of the seized animals, the issue of whether the Court has the authority to order return of animals to the original owner was raised for the first time. Despite the procedural impropriety, the Court found plaintiff's contention without merit. The Court held that the return of the horses is based on principles of due process, not statutory authority. Thus, the order was affirmed.
Opinion of the Court:
*1 Plaintiff appeals from an order that, inter alia, directed it to return 40 horses to defendant, which were seized pursuant to a warrant. After receiving complaints that defendant had failed to provide adequate care for the animals housed on her property, plaintiff executed a warrant and thereby seized 73 horses and 51 cats from defendant. The animals were kept in plaintiff's custody and, according to the complaint, defendant violated Agriculture and Markets Law § 353 and was charged by the Erie County District Attorney with 10 misdemeanor counts of cruelty to animals. This action was commenced by plaintiff seeking, inter alia, reimbursement in a minimum amount of $125,000 “for all reasonable expenses incurred in caring for and sheltering the subject animals since the date of seizure.” Plaintiff's contention that Supreme Court lacked statutory authority under the Agriculture and Markets Law, or otherwise, to order that seized animals be returned to their owner is raised for the first time on appeal and thus is not properly before us (see Ciesinski v. Town of Aurora, 202 A.D.2d 984, 985, 609 N.Y.S.2d 745). In any event, plaintiff's contention lacks merit. While plaintiff's ability to obtain a warrant to enter private property and seize privately owned animals is necessarily dependant on statutory authority (see Agriculture and Markets Law §§ 353, 372), the ability of an owner to seek the return of the seized property and a court's inherent authority to order that such property be returned is founded on principles of due process (see Fuentes v. Shevin, 407 U.S. 67, 86, 92 S.Ct. 1983, 32 L.Ed.2d 556, reh denied 409 U.S. 902; see generally Property Clerk of Police Dept. of City of N.Y. v. Harris, 9 N.Y.3d 237, 246, 848 N.Y.S.2d 588, 878 N.E.2d 1004). Indeed, the Supreme Court has expressly stated that due process protection extends to “[a]ny significant taking of property” (Fuentes, 407 U.S. at 86). We have considered plaintiff's remaining contentions and conclude that they are without merit.
It is hereby ORDERED that the order so appealed from is unanimously affirmed without costs.