Exotic Pets: Related Cases

Case namesort descending Citation Summary
Hoffmann v. Marion County, Tex. 592 F. App'x 256 (5th Cir. 2014) Plaintiffs operated a derelict-animal “sanctuary” on their ten-acre property in Marion County, Texas, where they held over one hundred exotic animals, including six tigers, several leopards, and a puma. Plaintiffs were arrested and charged with animal cruelty and forfeited the animals. Afterward, plaintiffs sued many of those involved in the events under a cornucopia of legal theories, all of which the district court eventually rejected. On appeal, plaintiffs argued Marion County and the individual defendants violated their Fourth Amendment rights by illegally searching their property and seizing the animals. The court held, however, that government officials may enter the open fields without a warrant, as the defendants did here, because “an open field is neither a house nor an effect, and, therefore, the government's intrusion upon the open fields is not one of those unreasonable searches proscribed by the text of the Fourth Amendment.” One plaintiff further alleged violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act; however, the court dismissed this claim because the plaintiff failed to allege how he was excluded from a government benefit or effective service as a result of not having an interpreter during the investigation or arrest. The other claims were either dismissed for lack of jurisdiction, not being properly appealed, or not stating a proper cause of action. The district court’s grant of summary judgment was therefore affirmed.
Animal Legal Defense Fund v. State, Dept. of Wildlife and Fisheries 140 So.3d 8 (La.App. 1 Cir. 4/25/13)

The Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), along with others, filed a petition for injunctive relief and a writ of mandamus against the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fish (DWF) for permitting the exhibit of a real tiger ("Tony") at a truck stop owned by Michael Sandlin. An ordinance prohibiting the display of wild animals was in effect when Tony was acquired. Subsequent to that, the Louisiana legislature adopted a law that required those who legally held big cats who were "grandfathered in," obtain a permit from the DWF. After Tony's caretaker, Michael Sandlin was denied a DWF permit because he was not in compliance with the Parish ordinances, Sandlin sued the Parish. The Parish then carved out an exception for him in the ordinances and the DWF, through Secretary Barham, issued a state permit to Sandlin. ADLF and others sued, alleging that the permit violated Louisiana law and the renewal of the permit was arbitrary, capricious, and an abuse of discretion.  At the first trial court hearing, the trial court issued a judgment granting the preliminary and permanent injunction ordering DFW to revoke the permit, but the truck stop owner alleged he had not received notice of the hearing and therefore decided to intervene. Once the truck stop was allowed to intervene, a hearing on all pending issues was held, which resulted in the intervenors appealing the trial court’s judgment and the trial court’s denial for a new trial. On appeal here, the appeals court dismissed the appeal, in part, and affirmed, in part, the November 17, 2011 judgment of the trial court. With regard to the issue of standing for the injunction, this court found that the individual named plaintiffs (residents of Louisiana) had taxpayer standing, but the court did not find that plaintiff ALDF alleged and proved sufficient interest to sustain a right of action seeking an injunction against any unlawful conduct by DWF. That part of the November 17, 2011 judgment of the trial court was reversed. Further, the court found that, based on factual findings, there was no error in the trial court's legal conclusion that Michael Sandlin did not meet the legal requirements for a Potentially Dangerous Wild Quadruped permit, and that permanent injunctive relief, enjoining DWF from issuing Michael Sandlin future permits for Tony, was warranted. That part of the trial court judgment was affirmed.

ARFF, Inc. v. Siegel 867 So.2d 451 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2004)

Resort developer and president of an animal performance company received an injunction against an animal rights group limiting their ability to both picket the resort and distribute pamphlets claiming that the big cats were abused.  Appellate court reversed, finding that the picketing regulations burdened more speech than necessary and that the restriction on distributing pamphlets was a prior restraint not justified by a compelling state interest.

Barnes v. City of Anderson 642 N.E.2d 1004 (Ind.App. 2 Dist. 1994)

Virginia Barnes and Jan Swearingen appealed a trial court's decision in favor of the City of Anderson, Ind., granting a permanent injunction enjoining the women from keeping and maintaining Swearingen's pet Vietnamese pot-belly pig, Sassy, and ordering Sassy's removal from the residence. Appeals Court found for pig owner, holding that the phrase "raising or breeding" in an Anderson livestock ordinance refers to a commercial enterprise and not to the keeping of pigs as pets.  

Broden v. Marin Humane Society 70 Cal.App.4th 1212 (1999) Owner of animals that had been impounded from reptile store brought administrative mandamus proceeding, challenging conclusions by hearing officer at hearing that followed animal control service's seizure of animals from store.  On appeal, the court held that the warrantless entry of animal control officer into store was justified by exigent circumstances and that the owner lost all possessory interest in seized animals by failing to pay costs of seizure and impoundment within 14 days of seizure.
City of Rolling Meadows v. Kyle 494 N.E.2d 766 (Ill.App. 1 Dist.,1986)

In this Illinois case, the Plaintiff, City of Rolling Meadows, brought an action against defendant for keeping an undomesticated animal, a monkey, in her home in violation of a city ordinance. The lower court entered judgment in favor of plaintiff. At issue on appeal is the construction and application to be given the phrase “other than domesticated house pets” as set forth in the ordinance in question. The court was required to adopt the common and approved usage of the term 'domesticated.' The court concluded that the evidence presented established as a matter of law that Yondi is a domesticated animal. Thus, the trial court erred in finding defendant in violation of ordinance 4-28 because the monkey was a domesticated house pet.

Commonwealth v. Reynolds 76 A.2d 1088 (Pa., 2005)

A woman's four serval cats, two fennic foxes, three ringtailed lemurs, three kinkajous, and one wallaby were all seized pursuant to a search warrant.  The trial court granted the woman's motion for return of her property in part and denied in part, specifically allowing for the return of the kinkajous and lemurs.  The Court of Appeals remanded to determine whether the woman's possession of the animals was in violation of the federal AWA or state Game Code.   

Coroneos v. Montgomery County 869 A.2d 410 (Md. 2005)

Pursuant to a warrant, the police seized all un-cared for animals owned by a reptile distributor.   The distributor was told he could appeal the seizure, but must prepay the costs of boarding and caring for the animals pending the appeal.  The trial court granted summary judgment in favor fo the county and the Court of Special Appeals reversed, holding the owner was not required by the county code to prepay the costs of care as a condition for an appeal.         

Dehart v. Town of Austin 39 F.3d 718 (7th Cir. 1994)

The breeder was in the business of buying, breeding, raising, and selling of exotic and wild animals. The town passed an ordinance making it unlawful to keep certain wild animals, and the breeder filed suit challenging the constitutionality of a local ordinance.  On appeal, the court affirmed the grant of summary judgment in favor of the town because: (1) the ordinance was not preempted by the Animal Welfare Act; (2) the ordinance was not an impermissible attempt to regulate interstate commerce in violation of the Commerce Clause; and (3) the town did not deprive him of his property interest in his federal and state licenses without due process.

Eyrich v. Earl 495 A.2d 1375 (N.J.Super.A.D.,1985)

In this New York, the neighbors of a five-year-old child who was mauled to death by a leopard that was at a circus held on school property filed suit against the operators of the circus seeking compensation for emotional damages. On defendants' appeal, this court held that defendants were strictly liable to plaintiffs. The court first began with the proposition that wild animals are presumed to have a dangerous propensity and the keepers of such have been held strictly liable. Using a products liability analogy, the court found that as a matter of public policy, it would be 'unthinkable' to refuse to insulate individuals who put a defective car on the road and 'then tell one injured by a wild beast that he has no claim against those who put that beast on the road.' The judgment was affirmed.

Flikshtein v. City of New York 273 A.D.2d 439 (N.Y. 2000)

The New York appellate court held that the dangerousness or viciousness of plaintiff’s pet monkey was irrelevant, and that the city could remove the monkey regardless of its benevolent behavior.

Gill v. Prehistoric Ponds, Inc. 634 S.E.2d 769 (Ga.App., 2006)

In this Georgia case, the Court of Appeals held that, on issue of first impression, an alligator farm was not a "farm" within meaning of the state statute that exempted "farm laborers" or their employers from coverage under the Workers' Compensation Act (Gill was bitten while cleaning out a pen and subsequently developed both a bone infection and salmonella). In construing the relevant statutes, the court found that in the chapter on Employment Security Law (ESL), the legislature meant that individuals who raise or tend wildlife perform "agricultural labor," but only when they do so on a "farm," which is "used for production of stock, dairy products, poultry, fruit, and fur-bearing animals." Accordingly, the court concluded that when Gill cleaned out the alligator pens, he was caring for wildlife and thus performing "agricultural labor." However, his employer, an alligator farm, was not a "farm" because alligators are "wildlife," not "[live]stock ... [or] fur-bearing animals." 

Hendricks v. Barlow 656 N.E.2d 481 (Ind. 1995)

Landowners were held in violation of a zoning regulation, established under a Hendricks County ordinance, which forbade having wild animals residing on residential property.   The trial court held that the county could not pass such a law, since it would be preempted by state and federal law.   However, on appeal, this Court found that federal  (the AWA) and state law did not preempt the County from passing such ordinances.   The trial court erroneously attempted to interpret the law when it was not ambiguous, and, thus, preemption   by state and federal law should not have been found.   Thus, the zoning regulation was permitted.

Hoctor v. Dept of Agriculture 82 F.3d 165 (7th Cir. 1996)

A dealer raised exotic animals (mainly big cats), and USDA ordered that the dangerous ones be fenced, with fencing being a minimum of eight-feet high.   However, the animal housing standard only required that the fencing be sturdy enough to prevent the animals from escaping.   The eight-foot rule established by USDA was considered arbitrary, and it did not have to be followed.    

Howard v. Chimps, Inc. 284 P.3d 1181 (Or. App. 2012)

While cleaning a cage at a chimpanzee sanctuary, the plaintiff was twice attacked by a chimpanzee, which left the plaintiff without much of her thumb. Plaintiff brought a suit against the sanctuary based on claims of strict liability; under a statute and common law; negligence; and gross negligence. At the district court, the plaintiff lost because she had signed a waiver releasing the sanctuary from liability "on all claims for death, personal injury, or property damage" and because she failed to state a claim in regards to the gross negligence charge. In affirming the lower court's decision, the appellate court found an enforceable contract existed with the waiver, and that there was no evidence of reckless disregard on defendant's part to rise to the level of gross negligence.

IN RE: RONNIE FAIRCLOTH AND JR's AUTO & PARTS, INC. 52 Agric. Dec. 171 (1993) Individual who owned auto parts company, and who kept exotic animals on premises (allegedly as pets), was exhibitor for purposes of Act, even though economic benefit to him from exhibiting animals to public was de minimis, because individual's activities were in commerce.
IRVIN WILSON and PET PARADISE, INC. v. UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE 54 Agric. Dec. 111 (1995) Irvin Wilson, Sr. owns a corporation named Pet Paradise, Incorporated, which included a pet shop, also called Pet Paradise, specializing in exotic animals. The pet shop was operated by Irvin Wilson, Jr., who is now incarcerated on unrelated charges. Several inspections by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) resulted in a finding of 61 violations involving 27 of the regulations and standards promulgated pursuant to the Animal Welfare Act, 7 U.S.C. § 2131 et seq. The USDA imposed sanctions of a $5,000 fine and a suspension of the USDA license for 30 days or until compliance is shown. This court found no reason to disturb the sanctions imposed.
Kent v. Polk County Board of Supervisors 391 N.W.2d 220 (Iowa 1986)

The Iowa Supreme Court held that a county ordinance regulating possession of dangerous and vicious animals did not violate the due process, equal protection, or takings clauses of the Constitution (in this instance, appellant was the owner of a lion). The regulation was a legitimate exercise of police power, which was rationally related to the legitimate government interest of protecting public safety.

Long v. Noah's Lost Ark, Inc. 814 N.E.2d 555 (Ohio 2004)

Owner of lion cub sued animal shelter for refusing to return the cub to him, alleging breach of contract, conversion, replevin, fraud, and intentional misrepresentation.  The Trial Court granted summary judgment for plaintiff and defendant appealed.  On appeal, the Court affirmed for plaintiff, as plaintiff had established that he was the legal owner of the lion and was entitled to possession.

New York City Friends of Ferrets v. City of New York 876 F. Supp. 529 (S.D.N.Y. 1995)

New York City Friends of Ferrets, an unincorporated association of individuals in New York City who own or wish to own ferrets as household pets, bring this action challenging the legality of the City of New York's prohibition against the keeping of ferrets within the City limits and the requirement that in any case where a ferret is reported to have bitten a human being, the ferret be immediately surrendered to the New York City Department of Health and humanely destroyed in order to conduct a rabies examination.  The district court granted the city's summary judgment motion, and dismissed the ferret owners' equal protection claim. The court found a rational relationship between the city's ferret ban and its legitimate interest in protecting human safety.

People ex rel. Nonhuman Rights Project, Inc. v. Lavery 2014 WL 6802767 (N.Y. App. Div. Dec. 4, 2014) This case is an appeal from a Supreme Court judgment denying petitioner's application for an order to show cause to commence a CPLR article 70 proceeding. At issue is the legal status of a chimpanzee named Tommy who is being kept on respondents' property. Petitioners filed a habeas corpus proceeding pursuant to CPLR article 70 on the ground that Tommy was being unlawfully detained by respondents. They offered support via affidavits of experts that chimpanzee have the requisite characteristics sufficient for a court to consider them "persons" to obtain personal autonomy and freedom from unlawful detention. The Court of Appeals here is presented with the novel question on whether a chimpanzee is a legal person entitled to the rights and protections afforded by the writ of habeas corpus. In rejecting this designation, the Court relied on the fact that chimpanzees cannot bear any legal responsibilities or social duties. As such, the Court found it "inappropriate to confer upon chimpanzees the legal rights . . . that have been afforded to human beings."
Renzo v. Idaho State Dept. of Agriculture 241 P.3d 950 (Idaho, 2010)

A tiger habitat developer sued the Idaho State Department of Agriculture (Department) under the Idaho Tort Claims Act (ITCA) for breach of ordinary care in refusing to grant exotic animal possession and propagation permits and for intentional interference with developer's prospective economic advantage. The Court held that the time period under which the developer had to file notice of its claim began to run when the Department sent its letter stating that a possession permit would be conditioned upon the tigers’ sterilization. This letter put developer on notice that he would not receive a possession permit without sterilizing the tigers, and therefore, had knowledge that he would not be granted a propagation permit.

Rhoades v. City of Battle Ground 63 P.3d 142 (Wash. 2002)

Exotic pet owners challenged on equal protection grounds an ordinance that banned exotic pets, yet allowed dangerous dogs under certain conditions. The court, in upholding the ordinance, found a rational relationship between the regulation and the public interest in preventing exotic pet attacks.

Rhoades v. City of Battle Ground 2002 WL 31789336 (Wash.App. Div. 2)

In this case, exotic animal owners appeal a summary judgment order dismissing their various constitutional challenges to a City of Battle Ground ordinance that prohibits ownership of such animals within city limits.  Specifically, the owners contended that the ordinance violated their right to equal protection under the constitution because it treats those who keep exotic pets within the City differently from those who keep dangerous dogs.  The court held that it was within the city's police power authority to enact these laws if they were supported by a rational relationship.  In fact, the court found that the local legislative body may draw a different conclusion from the Washington Supreme Court in areas of public safety and the exercise of the local government's police powers provided it does not conflict with the general laws of the state.  ( Note :  publication of case ordered Feb. 7, 2003 in 115 Wash.App. 752, 63 P.3d 142 ).

Rogers v. Teignbridge District Council

A planned event called "The Creepy Crawly Show" was to have been held at a racecourse and to have involved the display and sale of small exotic animals by a number of different breeders, dealers and enthusiasts. The event's organizer applied to the local council for a pet shop licence under the Pet Animals Act 1951. The application was refused on the ground that the event was prohibited by section 2 of the Act which states that a person is guilty of an offence if he "carries on a business of selling animals as pets in any part of a street or public place, [or] at a stall or barrow in a market". The organizer's appeal to the local magistrates court was dismissed. Held: the holding of the event would have involved the carrying on a business of selling pets in a "public place". It would also have involved the selling of animals in a market. The event was therefore prohibited by section 2 and that it would have been unlawful for the local authority to have licensed it.

State v. DeFrancesco 668 A.2d 348 (Conn. 1995)

After the USDA went to the defendant’s house to perform a prelicense inspection for an Animal Welfare Act permit for a rabbit, the USDA discovered the defendant also kept a Bengal cat, a Jungle cat and a Bobcat on the premises; the USDA then notified the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) about the three cats. After the defendant’s attempt to sell the three cats, the DEP confiscated them and placed them in the care of an expert; the DEP also charged the defendant with three misdemeanor violations of General Statutes section 26-40a. After trial and appellate court determinations, the Connecticut Supreme Court found the three cats to be included on the list of prohibited felidae in General Statutes section 26-40a and found General Statutes section 26-40a did not violate Due Process.

State v. Walker 841 N.E.2d 376 (Ohio 2005)

A dog owner was placed on probation which limited him from having any animals on his property for five years.  While on probation, bears on the owner's property were confiscated after getting loose.  The trial court ordered the dog owner to pay restitution for the upkeep of the confiscated bears, but the Court of Appeals reversed holding the trial court did not the authority to require the dog owner to pay restitution for the upkeep of the bears because the forfeiture of animals penalty did not apply to conviction for failure to confine or restrain a dog.

Summit County Board of Health v. Pearson 809 N.E.2d 80 (Ohio 2004)

In this Ohio case, appellant, Lorenza Pearson, appealed from a judgment of the Summit County Court of Common Pleas that affirmed a decision of the Summit County Board of Health finding that his property was a public health nuisance.  Lorenza and Barbara Pearson were the owners of property where they kept a collection of exotic and domestic animals, including lions, tigers, leopards, bears, foxes, pigeons, dogs, and an alligator. At the time of the Board of Health hearing, they had 44 large cat species and 16 black bears.  The court held that the administrative body’s determination of a public nuisance resulting from unsanitary confinement of exotic pets was not arbitrary and capricious, and was “supported by a preponderance of reliable, probative and substantial evidence.”

Texas Attorney General Opinion No. JC-0552 2002 Tex. Atty. Gen. Op. JC-0552

Texas Attorney General Opinion clarifying a new provision in Chapter 822 of the Texas Health & Safety Code that requires all dangerous wild animals to be registered in the county in which they're located.  Otherwise, possession of these animals is unlawful.

U.S. v. Bronx Reptiles, Inc. 217 F.3d 82 (2nd Cir. 2000)

After defendant received a shipment of dead frogs, he was convicted of violating a portion of the Lacey Act, 18 U.S.C.S. § 42(c), which made it a misdemeanor to knowingly cause or permit any wild animal to be transported to the United States under inhumane or unhealthful conditions. Defendant appealed, and judgment was reversed and remanded with instructions to enter a judgment of not guilty. The government failed to meet its burden to prove not only that the defendant knowingly caused or permitted the transportation to the United States of a wild animal, but also that the defendant knew the conditions under which the frogs was transported were "inhumane or unhealthful."

U.S. v. Crutchfield 26 F.3d 1098 (11th Cir. 1994)

The court reversed the district court's judgment of convictions against defendants for the illegal importation and the intent to sell iguanas in the United States because of prosecutorial misconduct. The court held that the prosecutor wasted valuable money in pursuing irrelevant testimony, and improperly questioned defendants and their witnesses after repeated warnings from the district court judge.

U.S. v. Guthrie 50 F.3d 936 (11th Cir. 1995)

The court affirmed the decision of the district court which convicted defendant of violations of the Lacey Act (Act) and the Endangered Species Act. The court held that the Act was not unconstitutional, that defendant was not permitted to collaterally challenge an agency regulation on the grounds of new scientific evidence, and that the Secretary of the Interior's finding that the turtle was a valid species was not arbitrary.

U.S. v. Molt 631 F.2d 258 (3rd Cir. 1980)

The court affirmed a judgment of sentence entered following defendant's conditional plea of guilty to smuggling and to violating the Lacey Act. The court held that the district court properly denied defendant's Speedy Trial Act motion where defendant incorrectly computed the number of excludable days. Therefore, the court concluded that more than 120 non-excludable days did not elapse between the indictment and the trial.

Wilkins v. Daniels Slip Copy, 2012 WL 6644465 (S.D.Ohio, 2012)

Various owners of exotic and wild animals filed a lawsuit in order to obtain a temporary restraining order and a permanent/preliminary injunction against the Ohio Department of Agriculture and its Director, David Daniels. The owners of the exotic and wild animals argued the Ohio Dangerous Wild Animals and Restricted Snakes Act, which the Ohio Department of Agriculture and its Director were trying to enforce, was unconstitutional. The district court denied the owners’ motion for obtain a temporary restraining order and a permanent/preliminary injunction reasoning that the exceptions to the Act’s ban on owning wild and exotic animals does not violate the owners’ freedom of association rights, that the legislature had a legitimate purpose so as to not violate procedural due process with regards to micro-chipping wild and exotic animals, and that the Act did not constitute an unconstitutional takings. Significantly, the court recognized that owners of wild and exotic animals have a limited or qualified property interest in said animals.

Wright v. Fish and Game Commission (unpublished) 2003 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 8091

The California Court of Appeal upheld the state's Fish and Game Commission’s ferret ban against an equal protection challenge from a ferret owner. The owner argued that the ban discriminated between ferret owners and owners of other companion animals. However, the court found a rational relation between the ban and concerns about wildlife and human health (from attacks and from rabies).