No Private Cause Of Action In New Jersey’s Animal Cruelty Statute

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Similar to bans on citizen lawsuit based on alleged violations of the Federal Animal Welfare Act (see, e.g., Animal Legal Def. Fund, Inc. v. Espy, 23 F.3d 496 (D.C. Cir. 1994); Peninsula Humane Soc’y v. Walters, No. C 84-2010 SAW (N.D. Cal. Feb. 5, 1985) courts have dismissed lawsuits filed by individuals alleging violations of state animal cruelty statutes on similar grounds.

A good example is a case decided in New Jersey, Goldman v. Critter Control of New Jersey, 454 N.J. Super. 418 (App. Div. 2018).  In Goldman, the Court analyzed whether an individual could file a civil lawsuit against animal facilities for alleged violations of the animal cruelty statute.  In summary, the Court held there was no private cause of action, including, as alleged here, as a qui tam action under the animal cruelty statute, because the statute did not expressly permit such action.

Plaintiff Stuart Goldman, the former chief humane law enforcement officer for the Monmouth County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Monmouth SPCA) and a trustee for two non-profit animal welfare organizations, “filed a complaint ‘by way of . . . qui tam’ against Critter Control defendants, for removing a female adult raccoon from the roof of a house but left behind baby raccoons who allegedly went without sustenance for a week as result of the removal, which therefore constituted animal cruelty.”

Plaintiff’s complaint against Simplicity Farms, alleged that Simplicity Farm defendants violated N.J.S.A. 4:22–26(a)(1)2 and N.J.S.A. 4:22–26(a)(4) by mistreating horses.

In both cases, Plaintiff asserted that he was filing the complaints on behalf of the Monmouth SPCA which he stated was permitted by statutes which stated,

a civil action [could be filed] by any person in the name of the New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals or a county society for the prevention of cruelty to animals, as appropriate, or, in the name of the municipality if brought by a certified animal control officer or animal cruelty investigator.

N.J.S.A. 4:22–26.  Originally filed as separate complaints, the Critter Control matter was dismissed for plaintiff’s lack of standing, as the Court held “[t]he statute was ‘plain and unambiguous’ . . . providing that ‘only select organizations, not individuals, may pursue a civil remedy under the statute.”

Plaintiff filed the complaint against Simplicity Farms because he “disagreed with the Monmouth SPCA’s decision not to pursue criminal or civil charges against Simplicity Farm defendants.”  “The judge rejected plaintiff’s contention that a private individual had authority under N.J.S.A. 4:22–26 to investigate or prosecute allegations of animal cruelty” and dismissed the case.

Plaintiff appealed both dismissals and the matters were consolidated.

On appeal in Critter Control, Plaintiff alleges he had standing to sue in the name of the Monmouth SPCA as a qui tam action and . . . [i]n Simplicity Farms, Plaintiff contends his complaint should not have been dismissed because the statute authorizes “any person in the name of” the SPCA to file a civil action.”

The Court upheld the decisions granting motions to dismiss, finding the Plaintiff did not have standing to sue in either matter, stating, “[w]e decline to construe N.J.S.A. 4:22–26 as authorizing private citizens, who otherwise would not have standing, to sue for civil penalties under the PCAA in qui tam actions against other parties, who they allege may have committed acts of animal cruelty.”

The Court rejected Plaintiff’s contention “that the legislature intended N.J.S.A. 4:22–26 to authorize qui tam law suits because it provides that ‘any person in the name of the New Jersey [SPCA]’ or county SPCA can sue for civil penalties.”

The Court analyzed the amendments to the State animal cruelty statute, amended by L. 2017, c. 331, effective August 1, 2018, which transferred the “power of humane law enforcement from the New Jersey [SPCA] and county societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals (county societies) to a county prosecutor animal cruelty task force in each county, and a municipal humane law enforcement officer appointed in each municipality” finding

Given the many amendments of this legislation, we decline to interpret the PCAA as authorizing qui tam lawsuits.

Holding, further,

Indeed, the new amendments to the PCAA shift enforcement responsibilities to the county prosecutor task forces and militate against plaintiff’s contention that the law allows for private enforcement actions. In sum, we decline to construe the PCAA as authorizing qui tam lawsuits.

[View source.]

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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