Massachusetts Cases

Case namesort descending Citation Summary
American Dog Owners Ass'n, Inc. v. City of Lynn 404 Mass. 73, 533 N.E.2d 642 (Mass.,1989)

This is an appeal by American Dog Owners Association from a judgment upholding two of three city of Lynn ordinances which restrict ownership of certain dogs within the city limits. The lower court found that one of three animal control ordinances regulating “pit bulls” was unconstitutional. First, the Supreme Judicial Court held that the first two ordinances were repealed by passage of third which was intended to treat subject of pit bulls comprehensively. However, the court found that the third ordinance which attempted to define pit bull by breed was unconstitutionally vague. The court stated that, "if identification by breed name does not provide sufficient ascertainable standards for enforcement, then the “definition” of “Pit Bull” in the fourth ordinance, which is devoid of any reference to a particular breed, but relies instead on the even less clear 'common understanding and usage' of the term 'Pit Bull,' is not sufficiently definite to meet due process requirements."

City of Boston v. Erickson 877 N.E.2d 542 (Mass.2007)

This very short case concerns the disposition of defendant Heidi Erickson's six animals (four living and two dead) that were seized in connection with an animal cruelty case against her. After Erickson was convicted, the city withdrew its challenge to the return of the living animals and proceeded only as to the deceased ones. A single justice denied the city's petition for relief, on the condition that Erickson demonstrate “that she has made arrangements for [t]he prompt and proper disposal [of the deceased animals], which disposal also is in compliance with health codes.” Erickson challenged this order, arguing that it interfered with her property rights by requiring her to discard or destroy the deceased animals. However, this court found no abuse of discretion, where it interpreted the justice's order to mean that she must comply with all applicable health codes rather than forfeit her deceased animals.

Com v. Daly 56 N.E.3d 841 (Mass. App. 2016) The Defendant Patrick Daly was convicted in the District Court of Norfolk County, Massachusetts of animal cruelty involving a “snippy," eight-pound Chihuahua. The incident occurred when Daly flung the dog out of an open sliding door and onto the deck of his home after the dog bit Daly’s daughter, which led to the dog's death. On appeal, defendant raised several arguments. He first challenged the animal cruelty statute as vague and overbroad because it failed to define the terms "kill," "unnecessary cruelty," or "cruelly beat." The court disregarded his claim, finding the terms of the statute were "sufficiently defined" such that a person would know that he or she "may not throw a dog on its leash onto a deck with force enough to cause the animal to fall off the deck, twelve feet to its death . . ." Defendant also claimed that a photo of his daughter's hand showing the injury from the dog bite was improperly excluded. However, the court found the defendant was not prejudiced by the judge's failure to admit the photo. Under a claim that his conduct was warranted, defendant argues that the jury was improperly instructed on this point. It should not have been instructed on defense of another because that relates only to defending against human beings and, instead, the jury should have been instructed on a defense of attack by an animal. The court found while there is no precedent in Massachusetts for such a claim, the rationale is the same as the given instruction, and defendant cannot complain that the jury was improperly instructed where he invited the instruction with his claims that his actions were necessary to protect his daughter. His other claims were also disregarded by the court and his judgment was affirmed.
Com. v. Erickson 905 N.E.2d 127 (Mass.App.Ct.,2009)

In this Massachusetts case, the defendant was found guilty of six counts of animal cruelty involving one dog and five cats after a bench trial. On appeal, defendant challenged the warrantless entry into her apartment and argued that the judge erred when he failed to grant her motion to suppress the evidence gathered in the search. The Court of Appeals found no error where the search was justified under the "emergency exception" to the warrant requirement. The court found that the officer was justified to enter where the smell emanating from the apartment led him to believe that someone might be dead inside. The court was not persuaded by defendant's argument that, once the officer saw the dog feces covering the apartment that was the source of the smell, it was then objectively unreasonable for him to conclude the smell was caused by a dead body. "The argument ignores the reality that there were in fact dead bodies in the apartment, not merely dog feces, to say nothing of the additional odor caused by the blood, cat urine, and cat feces that were also found."

Com. v. Linhares 957 N.E.2d 243 (Mass.App.Ct., 2011)

Defendant intentionally hit a duck with his car and was convicted of cruelty to animals. The conviction was upheld by the Appeals Court because all that must be shown is that the defendant intentionally and knowingly did acts which were plainly of a nature to inflict unnecessary pain. Specific intent to cause harm is not required to support a conviction of cruelty to animals.

Com. v. Trefry --- N.E.3d ---- 2016 WL 3262665 (Mass. App. Ct., 2016) The Defendant Trefry, left her two sheepdogs, Zach and Kenji, alone on the property of her condemned home. An animal control officer noticed that Kenji was limping badly and took him to a veterinarian. Both dogs were removed from the property three days later. The Defendant was convicted of two counts of violating statute G.L. c. 140, § 174E(f ), which protects dogs from cruel conditions and inhumane chaining or tethering. The Defendant appealed. The Appeals Court of Massachusetts, Barnstable held that: (1) neither outside confinement nor confinement in general is an element of subjecting dogs to cruel conditions as prohibited by statute; and (2) the evidence was sufficient to support finding that the defendant subjected her dogs to cruel conditions. The Appeals Court reasoned that the defendant subjected her dogs to cruel conditions in violation of the statute because by the time they were removed, the dogs were “incredibly tick-infested” and “matted,” and Kenji had contracted Lyme disease and sustained a soft shoulder injury to his leg. An animal control officer also testified that the defendant's home was cluttered on the inside and overgrown on the outside. The yard also contained items that posed a danger to the animals. There was also sufficient evidence to infer that, while the dogs could move in and out of the condemned house, the dogs were confined to the house and fenced-in yard. The area to which the dogs were confined presented with every factor listed in § 174E(f)(1) as constituting “filthy and dirty” conditions. Also, "Zach's and Kenji's emotional health was further compromised by being left alone virtually all day every day" according to the court. Therefore the Defendant’s conviction was affirmed.
Com. v. Zalesky 906 N.E.2d 349, (Mass.App.Ct.,2009)
In this Massachusetts case, the defendant was convicted of cruelty to an animal, in violation of G.L. c. 272, § 77. On appeal, the defendant contended that the evidence was insufficient to establish his guilt; specifically, that the state proved beyond a reasonable doubt that his actions exceeded what was necessary and appropriate to train the dog. A witness in this case saw defendant beat his dog with a plastic "whiffle" bat on the head about 10 times. The defendant told the officer who arrived on the scene that he had used the bat on previous occasions, and did so to “put the fear of God in [the] dog.” At trial, a veterinarian testified that the dog suffered no trauma from the bat, but probably experienced pain if struck repeatedly in that manner. The court found that defendant's behavior fell under the ambit of the statutes because his actions were cruel, regardless of whether defendant viewed them as such. Judgment affirmed.
Commonwealth v. Bishop 67 Mass.App.Ct. 1116 (2006)

David Bishop was convicted of animal cruelty and failing to provide a sanitary environment for his five dogs. He was ordered to pay over $60,000 in order to provide for the medical expenses that his dogs needed after they were taken away from him. While defendant argued that the amount of restitution was excessive, the court found that each of the five dogs had medical bills in excess of $10,000. Defendant was sentenced to three months in a house of corrections, and ten years probation.

Commonwealth v. Epifania 951 N.E.2d 723 (Mass.App.Ct.,2011)

Defendant appealed his conviction of arson for setting fire to a dwelling house, and wilfully and maliciously killing the animal of another person. The Appeals Court held that testimony that the cat belonged to the victim was sufficient to support a conviction of wilfully and maliciously killing the animal of another person.

Commonwealth v. Szewczyk 53 N.E.3d 1286 (Mass.App.Ct.,2016) In this Massachusetts case, defendant was charged with animal cruelty after he shot a dog that had wandered onto his property with a pellet gun. The pellet was lodged in the dog’s leg and caused significant pain and discomfort to the dog. Following conviction, defendant appealed the District Court’s ruling arguing that the judge erred in denying three of his eleven requests for rulings of law.Specifically, defendant's principal argument was that he had a lawful purpose in shooting (to scare the dog off his property), his intent was justified (to insure his wife's safety on the property), and the pain inflicted by defendant shooting the dog does not fit the statutory meaning of "cruel." At the close of evidence, defendant submitted a written request for ruling under Mass. R.Crim. P.26 setting out these issues. The court held that the District Court judge correctly denied the three requests because they were clearly outside the scope of rule 26 because they called upon the judge as a fact finder to weigh the evidence presented at trial. Next, the court reviewed the facts of the case to determine whether or not a rational trier of fact could have found the elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Ultimately, the court held that a rational trier of fact would have been able to find that defendant did commit animal cruelty by shooting the dog. The court focused on the fact that the defendant could have used other means to ensure that the dog did not enter the property again without causing pain and suffering to the dog by shooting the dog in the leg. The judgment was affirmed.
Commonwealth v. Thorton Commonwaelth v. Thorton, 113 Mass 457 (1873)

The defendant was convicted of causing his dog to be bitten, mangled and cruelly tortured by another dog.  The defendant appealled and the Supreme Court affirmed.

Commonwealth v. Turner Commonwealth v. Turner, 14 N.E. 130 (Mass. 1887).

Defendant released a fox from his possession and a number of other people then released various dogs, which pursued and killed the fox. Defendant was charged and brought to trial. Defendant moved to dismiss the charge on the basis that there was no such crime, which the trial court denied. Defendant also moved to dismiss for lack of evidence, which the trial court also denied. Defendant was convicted and he appealed. The court found that there was a statutory basis for the charge and that the word "animal" in Mass. Pub. Stat. ch. 207, § 53 encompassed wild animals in the custody of a man. The court denied the exceptions brought by defendant and affirmed the order of the trial court, which convicted defendant of willfully permitting a fox to be subjected to unnecessary suffering.

Commonwealth v. Waller --- N.E.3d ----, 2016 WL 4993441 (Mass. App. Ct., 2016) Tasha Waller was convicted of animal cruelty for starving her dog to death. As a result of this conviction, Waller was placed on probation which prohibited her from owning animals and allowed for random searches of her property. Waller appealed this decision for the following reasons: (1) the animal cruelty statute under which she was convicted was unconstitutionally vague; (2) the expert witness testimony was improper and insufficient to support her conviction; (3) she may not as a condition of her probation be prohibited from owning animals, and the condition of probation allowing suspicions searches should be modified. The court reviewed Waller’s arguments and determined the statute was not unconstitutionally vague because it is common for animal cruelty statutes to only refer to “animals” in general and not specifically mention dogs. The court noted that dogs are commonly understood to fall within the category of animals and therefore the statute was not vague. Also, the court held that the expert witness testimony from the veterinarian was not improper because the veterinarian was capable of examining the dog and making a determination as to how the dog had died. Lastly, the court held that it was not improper to prohibit Waller from owning animals, but did agree that the searches of her property should only be warranted if authorities have reasonable suspicion to search the property. Ultimately, the court upheld Waller’s conviction and probation but modified the terms in which authorities are able to search her property.
GOODWIN v. E. B. NELSON GROCERY CO. 132 N.E. 51 (Mass. 1921)

Plaintiff brought her dog into a store. The dog fought with the store owner's cat. After the fight was over, and the animals were calm, plaintiff reached down and grabbed the cat's front paw. The cat scratched and bit plaintiff, who brought a negligence action against the store owner. The court held that plaintiff could not recover because plaintiff did not exercise due care when she interfered with a strange animal, and there was no evidence that the cat was vicious.

Knox v. Massachusetts Soc. for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals 425 N.E.2d 393 (Mass.App., 1981)

In this Massachusetts case, the plaintiff, a concessionaire at the Brockton Fair intended to award goldfish as a prize in a game of chance. The defendant, Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA), asserted that such conduct would violate G.L. c. 272, s 80F. In the action for declaratory relief, the court considered whether the term "animal" in the statute includes goldfish. The court concluded in the affirmative that, "in interpreting this humane statute designed to protect animals subject to possible neglect by prizewinners," former G.L. c. 272, s 80F applies to goldfish.

Krasnecky v. Meffen 777 N.E.2d 1286 (Mass.App.Ct.,2002)

In Krasnecky v Meffen , the plaintiffs sought damages for emotional distress, loss of companionship, and society when defendant’s dogs broke into plaintiff’s backyard and killed their seven sheep. The plaintiffs loved their sheep like a parent would love a child, and went so far as to throw birthday parties for them. Plaintiff’s counsel, Steven Wise, Esq., also instructed the court to consult a text on veterinary ethics, which defined companion animals to include the plaintiff’s sheep within the definition. The court did not address the issue concerning the emotional distress claim, but instead stated that the class of persons authorized to recover were “persons” closely related to the injured person. Furthermore, Justice Jacobs noted that it would be irrational for plaintiffs to have greater rights in the case of a companion animal than in a case of the tortious death of an immediate family member.

Lieberman v. Powers 873 N.E.2d 803 (Mass.App.Ct., 2007)

In this Massachusetts case, Noah Lieberman sustained injuries when he was scratched and bitten by a cat while visiting a “cat lounge” at the Sheldon branch animal shelter, which was operated by the Animal Rescue League of Boston (ARL). Plaintiff alleged that his injuries resulted from the defendants' negligent design and maintenance of the cat lounge. The Appeals Court of Massachusetts, Suffolk reversed the lower court's grant of summary judgment for defendants. Specifically, the court found that the plaintiff has provided sufficient evidence, in the form of expert opinion, that an ordinarily prudent person in the circumstances of this case-which include the defendants' knowledge regarding the behavior (and potential for aggression) of cats-would have taken additional steps to ensure the safety of visitors to the cat lounge. At the very least, the defendants should have foreseen that the small size of the room, as well as the set-up (one food bowl, one litter box, two perches) and unsupervised operation of the cat lounge was such that it was more likely than not to increase stress in cats, which in turn made it more likely than not that the cats would behave aggressively.

Nason v. Stone Hill Realty Association 1996 WL 1186942 (Mass. 1996)

A tenant with multiple sclerosis took in her mother's cat when her mother became ill. The housing authority had a no pets policy and requested that the tenant remove the pet from the premises. The tenant in turn offered a letter from her physician stating that "there would be serious negative consequences for her health if she was compelled to remove the cat." The court held that the tenant did not meet her burden of proving a nexus between the cat and her multiple sclerosis, reasoning that the physician's note does not state that the cat is necessary to alleviate her symptoms and that a more reasonable accommodation may be available.

Nutt v. Florio 914 N.E.2d 963 (Mass. Ct. App., 2009)

This Massachusetts case involves an appeal of a summary judgment in favor of the landlord-defendant concerning an unprovoked dog attack. The dog, described as a pit bull terrier, was kept by a tenant of Florio's. The court found that, while the defendants cannot be held strictly liable by virtue the dog's breed, "knowledge of that breed and its propensities may properly be a factor to be considered in determining whether the defendants were negligent under common-law principles." Reviewing the record de novo, the court held that this question and the defendant's knowledge of the dog's propensities, created a genuine issue of material fact. The order of summary judgment for defendant was reversed and the case was remanded.

Rosenfeld v. Zoning Bd. of Appeals of Mendon 940 N.E.2d 891 (Ma. App., 2011)

A zoning board granted landowner’s application for a special permit, and neighbor property owners appealed. The Appeals Court of Massachusetts held that defendant’s proposed use of land for horse stables fit within the agricultural use exception of the zoning ordinance and by-laws, and that plaintiffs had standing to enforce a deed restriction on defendant’s property.

Whittier Terrace Associates v. Hampshire 532 N.E.2d 712 (Mass. 1989)

Defendant was a person with a psychiatric disability and living in public housing. Defendant claimed to have an emotional and psychological dependence on her cat. The court held that the housing authority discriminated against defendant under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act for failure to waive the no pets policy as a reasonable accommodation for the mental disability. The court noted that there must be a narrow exception "to the rigid application of a no-pet rule, involving no untoward collateral consequences," because the handicapped person could fully receive the benefits of the program if provided the accommodation.