Dairy Operation Wins Calf-Cruelty Lawsuit

February 15, 2008 | Roger McEowen


The California Court of Appeals has ruled that the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) has no private right of action against a dairy operation under the state penal code. ALDF had claimed that the dairy violated state criminal statutes by cramming calves into small crates for up to 60 days at a time. While the court seemed to indicate that the dairy’s practices were disgusting (confining calves to tiny isolation crates too small to allow the calf to turn around or lie down in a natural position for up to 60 days at a time, with only the bottom of the crates regularly washed), the court ruled that California law (Penal Code §597t) which provides that it is a misdemeanor to confine an animal without an “adequate exercise area” does not create a private right of action for enforcement. Instead, the court noted that California law authorizes specific entities to be created for the prevention of cruelty to animals and sets forth a specific procedure for protecting animals. Indeed, the state statutory scheme effectively deputized humane societies to aid local authorities in the enforcement of anti-cruelty laws. That meant, the court reasoned, state anti-cruelty laws are to be enforced via the existing governmental regime rather than by private right of action. The court also ruled that ALDF failed to state a cause of action under the state unfair business practices law – a tort claim. The penal code did not impose a duty of care on livestock owners. As for milk consumers, they claimed that they were affected by the defendant’s practices. But, their only claim was that they bought milk that they otherwise would not have bought if they thought some of the dairy cows producing the milk may have been raised in the cruel conditions. They didn’t establish any causal connection between wrongful conduct and injury. Animal Legal Defense Fund, et al. v. Mendes, et al., No. F052009, 2008 Cal. App. LEXIS 229 (Cal. Ct. App. Feb. 15, 2008).