The local horse-suing-owner case could have bigger impact, receiving national attention over the debated topic.

The Cornelius-area woman who pleaded guilty to first-degree animal neglect for allegedly starving and neglecting her horse last year is now trying to dismiss a lawsuit the abused horse has filed against her.COURTESY PHOTO -

The Animal Legal Defense Fund, which provides legal advocacy in animal abuse cases across the country, filed a lawsuit in last April on behalf of the horse, renamed Justice, against its previous owner Gwendolyn Vercher.

The lawsuit — a first of its kind, which seeks to grant abused animals the ability to sue their former owners — seeks at least $100,000 in damages, as well as damages for the horse's pain and suffering.

In March 2017, neighbors in the 34000 block of Firdale Road, south of Hillsboro, called the Oregon Horse Rescue about an extremely emaciated horse on Vercher's property.

Formerly named Shadow, the American quarter horse-Appaloosa mix was brought to Sound Equine Options, a Troutdale horse rescue, where the animal has lived ever since.

When the horse was rescued it was 300 pounds underweight, according to the lawsuit. His genitals had been damaged by frostbite. The horse had lice and suffered from rain rot.

As a result of the horse's injuries, the animal has permanent physical and psychological injuries, requiring specialized medical care, according to the Animal Legal Defense Fund.

After pleading guilty to the misdemeanor crime last year, Vercher was placed on three years' probation and is banned from possessing animals or livestock for five years. She was required to pay $3,700 in restitution — the cost of the horse's medical bills between March and July 2017.

But restitution isn't enough to cover future costs for caring for the horse, said Natalia Lima, a spokeswoman with the Animal Legal Defense Fund.

"Any funds awarded to Justice through the lawsuit would be placed in a legal trust established to pay for his care," she said.

Kim Mosiman, the organization's executive director, said the horse is unable to find a new home because of his complicated medical needs. According to the lawsuit, the animal's frostbite was so severe it will likely need partial amputation of its penis.

A hearing is scheduled for Friday, Sep. 14, after Vercher's lawyer Geordie Duckler issued a motion to dismiss the complaints against Vercher, claiming that, as a horse, the creature lacks of legal capacity to sue, and alleging the lawsuit failed to state sufficient facts to constitute a claim, according to court documents.

The Oregon Supreme Court has ruled in the past that animals should be considered victims in animal cruelty cases, but no court in the country has ruled that animals should have the same rights as humans to seek damages in civil lawsuits.

"'Every standing analysis begins with the basic axiom that it is a 'person' or 'legal entity' who is attempting to assert the right, the core question really then being whether that person or entity in particular has the requisite status or qualification to make the specific claim being asserted,"' Duckler stated in court documents. "Here, where the named plaintiff is not a person or legal entity but is a horse, that threshold assumption is not even met."

He added, "A horse is simply not an entity with a recognized legal ability to bring or appear in an action."

The case has seen some national attention, recently featured in an article by The Washington Post, "Seeking justice for Justice the horse" which discussed the movement by advocates to recognize abused animals as plaintiffs. Judges have heard several lawsuits much like Justice's in the past, but none have ruled that animals should be recognized as plaintiffs.

"The few previous attempts — including a recent high-profile case over whether a monkey can own a copyright — have failed, with judges ruling in various ways that the nonhumans lacked legal standing to sue," the Washington Post article stated. "But Justice's case, the animal rights lawyers behind it contend, is built on court decisions and statutes that give it a stronger chance, particularly in a state with some of the nation's most progressive animal protection laws."

Duckler has made a name for himself as an expert in animal law in the Portland area. He made national headlines in 2003, after the city of Beaverton attempted to change city ordinances to prevent residents from owning alligators. Stories about Al the alligator — who escaped its backyard pen in 2002 and wandered through a Beaverton neighborhood — were written about in the New Yorker. Duckler represented the animal's owners, who fought for the right to keep Al.

But while Duckler has argued in previous cases that animals are more than mere property, but companions, that does not mean the animals should be given legal standing.

"There's a massive chasm between saying a thing is a victim and saying now it must have rights, and the rights are apparently the full panoply of rights, and must include a right to sue," Duckler told The Washington Post. "There's no such thing as a right in a vacuum. . . . As soon as you have animal rights, then you'd better have animal jails and prosecutions against animals."

By Olivia Singer
Reporter, Forest Grove News-Times and Hillsboro Tribune
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Follow Olivia at @oliviasingerr
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