Last week, an Oregon appeals court handed down yet another rejection of an animal rights group’s effort to have animals recognized as legal persons.
Five years ago, a horse in Oregon named “Shadow” was seized from his owner’s care due to neglect and given to a new caretaker. After pleading guilty to first degree animal neglect, the former owner was ordered to pay for the cost of the horse’s care.
In 2018, the horse’s name was changed to “Justice”, and his new owner filed a lawsuit that named the horse as plaintiff and the new owner as “guardian”. The negligence suit sought economic damages for Justice’s past and future care, non-economic damages for Justice’s pain and suffering, and attorney’s fees. The Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) represented “Justice”.
A trial court first considered the case, but granted a motion to dismiss on the grounds that a horse, which is not considered a person or legal entity, did not have the legal capacity to sue to in court. Justice’s guardian appealed.
Summary of Appeals Court Holding
First, the Court of Appeals rejected the argument that the horse’s caretaker was its guardian and that the caretaker could have been appointed by the trial court as its guardian ad litem. That court further noted that the plaintiff’s argument that a party to a lawsuit could be anyone other than a natural or artificial person (like a corporation) does not exist under Oregon law.
Then the court considered important hypotheticals: If a legal guardian were appointed, how could it determine what the interests of an animal are in an action at law and who gets to determine the animal’s own interests? It response, the court wrote that animals inherently lack self-determination, cannot express their wishes in a way that the legal system could recognize, and that these incapacities exist perpetuity so that any court or human being would not be able to discern an animal’s interest in pursuing a legal action.
Next the court disagreed with ALDF’s argument that animals should be afforded the same legal rights as incompetent or incapacitated persons. It further rejected the notion that an activist group will always have an animal’s best interest at heart; and finding otherwise would leave animals at the mercy of an “institutional actor to advance its own interests.”
Finally, the court analyzed current Oregon common law to conclude that the right to sue and redress a violation of rights has always been and is the right of humans or entities created by human law, and that it found no reason to depart from that doctrine.
The case is Justice v. Vercher, 321 Or. App. 439, 441 (2022) and is available at https://cdm17027.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p17027coll5/id/32318/rec/1.
Reliability of Traditional Law
Since its beginnings, the American legal system has classified animals as the property of their owners and created unique protections for them. In practice, these traditions have resulted in a stable legal system that clearly protects animals by defining the rights and responsibilities of owners and others in the animal care chain, like veterinarians. For example, animal owners are legally responsible for providing appropriate care, humane conditions, and safety measures. They are legally liable if their animal becomes a public nuisance, poses a danger, or causes the injury or death to another animal or a person. Current laws also protect against animal theft and respect shared ownership rights. For these reasons, the American Kennel Club (AKC) continues to support the legal classification of animals as property.
Oregon: Petitions Circulating For “Animal Cruelty” Ballot Measure – Do Not SignI
Once again, animal rights activists in Oregon are circulating petitions to put an extreme measure on the 2024 ballot that, in their own words, “is the first ballot initiative in history that would criminalize the killing and breeding of animals.”
Oregonians are urged to not sign this petition for Initiative Petition 3, even though it is being advertised as an “end to animal cruelty” and an effort to ensure “all animals have equal protection under the law.” This animal rights measure would actually criminalize all hunting, and most breeding practices and humane forms of dog training. Click here for more information.