In April 2010, a Pennsylvania dog warden reportedly stopped a vehicle transporting 16 dogs from the south to a group called Sixth Angel Shepherd Rescue. The Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals seized the dogs, releasing all but 3 of them to other parties.
The final 3 dogs belonged to Sixth Angel – a PSPCA approved rescue group – and were kept in crates and not properly cared for while at the shelter, according to a lawsuit brought by Sixth Angel. The PSPCA reportedly advised Sixth Angel that the 3 dogs would only be released to another rescue group or adopter.
The plaintiffs sued under Section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act, alleging that the defendants took the dogs in violation of the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights to property and liberty with procedural and substantive due process.
The record shows that on April 21, 2010, the court granted the plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction based on the conversion claim, and ordered the defendants to return the dogs to the plaintiffs.
The trial judge did not address the merits of the plaintiffs’ Section 1983 claims.
The PSPCA appealed the decision but it was ultimately upheld. Sixth Angel then went after the PSPCA in U.S. District Court for attorney’s fees and court costs.
[Berle M.] Schiller, the judge, noted that while attorney’s fees are typically not recoverable on a conversion claim in Pennsylvania, they can be awarded to a prevailing party in an action to enforce Section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act.
There was much haggling over the dollar amounts on both sides, including:
The PSPCA also asked the court to reduce the attorney’s fees by $6,919.06, which represented the cost of the veterinary care administered to the plaintiffs’ dogs after their confiscation.
Sixth Angel prevailed in a decision announced this week:
“The Court found that ‘[d]efendants unquestionably deprived Plaintiffs of their right in their property, an intrusion to which Plaintiffs certainly did not consent, and for which Defendants fail to offer any lawful justification,’” the judicial memorandum states.
Schiller also declined the defense request to take off the more than $6,000 for the veterinary care given to the dogs, writing that the court would not “reward Defendants for improperly confiscating Plaintiffs’ dogs.”
The PSPCA has been ordered to pay more than $50,000 to Sixth Angel Shepherd Rescue in attorney fees and litigation costs.
Related Reading: Section 1983 to the Rescue
(Thanks Arlene for sending me this story.)