Three Oregon farming groups have partnered to file a legal brief opposing a lawsuit brought on behalf of a horse against its former owner. The group’s Amicus or Friend of the Court Brief argues that the suit would change the rights of animals and their owners there.

Last year, an owner surrendered a Quarter Horse now named Justice to a rescue organization. The Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) later filed a personal injury complaint against the former owner on the behalf of the horse seeking $100,000 on grounds that months of neglect caused permanent injuries that will require specialized medical care for the rest of his life.

Washington County Circuit court Pro Tem Judge John S. Knowles later dismissed the case on grounds that Justice lacked the legal status or qualification needed to assert legal rights under the law.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund appealed that decision to the Oregon Court of Appeals.

Last month the Oregon Farm Bureau (OFB), the Oregon Cattleman’s Association, and the Oregon Dairy Farmers Association partnered in a Friend of the Court brief opposing the appeal. A Friend of the Court brief or Amicus Curiae is generally brought by a person or group who is not a party to a lawsuit but has a strong interest in the matter. Filed with the court’s permission, the brief is an attempt to influence the court’s decision.

Said Samantha Bayer, the OFB’s associate policy counsel, the brief argues that the suit’s success would change animals’ status from personal property under the law to legal persons.

“We never condone animal cruelty of any kind, and we do not dispute the facts of the case,” Bayer said. “But if Justice’s case is successful, subsequent cases could be brought by individuals and organizations in the names of animals—livestock pets, any kind of animal—who may have a specific agenda.”

The potential surge of lawsuits could put equine industry professionals, including veterinarians, farriers, and horse trainers, at risk for litigation and would be costly to animal industries, Bayer said. “It would be incredibly expensive to fight these cases, and it would be costly for the courts,” she added.

Matthew Liebman, director of litigation for ALDF, said he was not surprised by the group’s brief.

“But the (animal agricultural) industry fails to realize that Justice’s case merely seeks to enforce rights that Oregon law already recognizes,” he said. Whether factory farmers like it or not, horses, pigs, cows, and chickens are protected from cruelty in Oregon. As a victim of animal cruelty, Justice’s legal rights were violated, and he deserves to be compensated for his suffering.”

The case Justice, an American Quarter Horse v. Gwendolyn Vercher remains pending in the Oregon Court of Appeals.

Meanwhile, Justice remains under care at the Sound Equine Options horse rescue, in Gresham, Oregon.