Does Man’s Best Friend Stand a Chance in Court?
You are the defendant in a lawsuit. You spend thousands of dollars and months preparing to defend your case in a court of law. You hire an attorney to help navigate the web of legal issues created by this litigation.
Then the day arrives. You show up to court, and sitting on the other side of the courtroom is the plaintiff…
While it seems ridiculous, a monkey is only one of the animals that recently filed a lawsuit. In that case, a British man who photographed macaques on a trip to Indonesia got one of the animals to snap a selfie—that is, the monkey triggered the camera shutter while looking into the lens.
After the picture gained popularity online (and made the photographer some money), People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) filed a lawsuit on behalf of the macaque, “claiming that the animal was the rightful owner of the copyright.”
The trial court judge ruled that animals weren’t subject to the Copyright Act and PETA appealed to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
That’s right. A federal appeals court. Luckily, the Ninth Circuit saw the lawsuit for what it was, and threw it out. But not before the photographer had expended considerable time and money defending himself, even losing his photography business.
The latest animal lawsuit comes from Oregon, where a neglected horse named Justice is seeking $100,000 from its previous owner, in addition to damages for pain and suffering. The lawsuit seeks funds that would go into a trust administered by any future owners of Justice for the remainder of its life.
Many states have enacted laws protecting animals from neglect and cruelty at the hands of humans. And rightfully so. But these lawsuits take that a step further, as the article notes.
“Expanding the protections for animals is quite different from granting them legal standing, which courts have not been willing to do.”
One animal law expert made the implications clear:
“Allowing Justice to sue could mean any animal protected under Oregon’s anti-cruelty statute – a class that includes thousands of pets, zoo animals and even wildlife – could do the same, he said…. If this approach were adopted elsewhere,” Cupp said, “a stampede of animal litigation could overrun courts.”
“Any case that could lead to billions of animals having the potential to file lawsuits is a shocker in the biggest way,” Cupp said. “Once you say a horse or dog or cat can personally sue over being abused, it’s not too big a jump to say, ‘Well, we’re kind of establishing that they’re legal persons with that. And legal persons can’t be eaten.’ “
Cupp emphasized that he supports Oregon’s progressive animal cruelty laws and rulings. “But legislation is a more reasonable way of expanding animal protections,” he said. “Justice’s case, for example, could be addressed through a law requiring an abuser to cover an animal’s future care.”
We have talked a lot recently about activists using the courts to push a public policy agenda, rather than going through the legislative process. Whether the lawsuits have to do with climate change or animal cruelty, the bottom line is that the courts are the not the appropriate venue to enact public policy.