Fort Worth Court of Appeals Partially Reverses Final Judgment in Whitmire v. NCHA

Yesterday, the Fort Worth Court of Appeals reversed and rendered in part and affirmed in part the judgment of the 236th District Court of Tarrant County, Texas in Whitmire v. NCHA. 

In the underlying suit, the jury returned a verdict for Lainie Whitmire for $70,000 in damages for breach of oral contract and $0 in damages on her false imprisonment claim. Lainie requested that the trial court enter judgment in accordance with the jury’s verdict and also requested attorneys’ fees for prevailing on her breach of contract claim.

On motion of the NCHA, the trial court entered a judgment notwitstanding the verdict (JNOV), holding that Lainie take nothing on her breach of oral agreement claim and awarding her no attorneys’ fees. The final judgment also ordered that the NCHA recover $302,000 in attorneys’ fees from Lainie and $45,000 in attorneys’ fees from her husband, Ray.

The Whitmires filed a timely notice of appeal.

A panel of the Fort Worth Court of Appeals, consisting of Dauphinot, Walker, and Gabriel, JJ., held on appeal that the trial court erred by disregarding the jury’s findings that the NCHA breached an oral agreement with Lainie and that Lainie sustained $70,000 in damages as a result. The court of appeals reversed that portion of the judgment and rendered judgment in favor of Lainie for $70,000. 

The court of appeals also sustained the Whitmires’ issue on the NCHA’s attorneys’ fees, and modified the trial court’s judgment to delete the NCHA’s recovery of attorneys’ fees of $302,000 from Lainie and $45,000 from Ray. The court of appeals affirmed the remainder of the judgment.

Case InformationWhitmire v. National Cutting Horse Ass’n, No. 02-11-00170-CV, 2012 WL 4815413 (Tex. App.—Fort Worth, Oct. 11, 2012, no pet. h.).

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Texas "Puppy Mill Bill" Challenged in Federal Court

The constitutionality of the hotly-contested “Puppy Mill Bill” passed in the 2011 Texas Legislature has been challenged in a federal suit filed in Austin on October 1, 2012.  A copy of the complaint can be downloaded here.

The new law, commonly referred to as the “Puppy Mill Bill”, was passed as HB 1451 and codified as Chapter 802 of the Texas Occupations Code . The title given to the codified act is “The Dog and Cat Breeders Act”. As part of the Act, the Texas legislature charged the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation with the task of creating a regulatory and licensing scheme for dog and cat breeders in Texas. The rules related to the Act are set forth in Title 16, Texas Administrative Code, Chapter 91.

The plaintiffs in this week’s suit challenging the Act and related rules include Responsible Pet Owners’ Association Texas Outreach Inc.; Teresa Arnett, a Boston Terrier breeder in Rosansky; Sharleen Pelzl, a cat breeder in Dripping Springs; and James Smith, a cat breeder in Georgetown. The plaintiffs are represented by Steven Thornton of the firm of Westerburg & Thornton, P.C. in Dallas.

Could horse breeders be the next target of "Puppy Mill Bill" type legislation?

Included among the plaintiffs’ complaints about the “Puppy Mill Bill” and related rules are the following:

·       The Act allows inspectors to enter breeders’ facilities without a warrant. 

·       The Act allows inspectors to enter the private residence of a breeder without first obtaining a warrant.

·       The Act exempts dogs bred primarily to be used for purposes such as herding livestock, hunting, field trials, and other performance events. But the Act does not give a reason for a disparate treatment of breeders of different types of dogs, nor does it specify whether it is the intent of the breeder or the end purchaser that controls the analysis.

·       The Rules allow applications for breeders’ licenses to be denied with no possibility of appeal.

·       The Rules related to licensure of breeders require the successful completion of a “criminal background check.” However, the Rules do not specify what constitutes successful completion.

Animal cruelty and animal neglect have been illegal in the state of Texas for a long time. Some question why Act was even necessary, while others view the Act as nothing more than a vehicle to allow rescue groups (with the help of the authorities) to enter property of others and seize animals without a warrant. I believe that if such regulations are allowed to stand, it is only a matter of time before the animal welfare lobby will push for similar regulations applicable to horse breeders.

DVM News Magazine and others have expressed reservations about the “unintended consequences” of “puppy mill laws” passed in other states.  And just this morning, some pure bred dogs were abandoned in a rural area near Flower Mound around 1:00 AM. Some have suggested that the “Puppy Mill Bill” is to blame because these new laws are so draconian that no commercial breeder is able to comply with them.

Updates will be posted as this case progresses.