by Michelle C. Pardo
In August, we updated you about a lawsuit filed by the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) in which a horse called Justice was the named plaintiff. On September 17, 2019, an Oregon judge rejected the “creative” theory that an animal has legal capacity to sue its former owner and dismissed the case with prejudice, delivering another blow to various animal activist groups’ movement to open the courthouse doors to non-human animal litigants.
In granting the defendant’s motion to dismiss, the Court determined that “Justice” the horse is not a “real party in interest” and lacks the legal status or qualifications necessary to establish standing to be a plaintiff in a lawsuit. The Court stated:
“There are profound implications of a judicial finding that a horse, or any non-human animal for that matter, is a legal entity that has the legal right to assert a claim in a court of law. Such a finding would lead to a flood of lawsuits whereby non-human animals could assert claims we now reserve just for humans and human creations such as businesses and other entities.”
The Court left open the possibility that an appellate court could decide differently or the Oregon Legislature could make a decision to grant animals the legal right to sue. The public policy debate involving “the evolution of animal rights” was not for this Court to decide. The Court declined, however, to award the defendant her legal fees for having to litigate the case, indicating that it did not want to “punish plaintiff” for “pushing the envelope”.
This case follows the lead of other animal rights organizations, including the NonHuman Rights Project, to secure actual legal rights for animals in courts across the country in order to challenge the conditions of their captivity and allow them to advocate for their “right” to live in a sanctuary.