The latest case featuring ClassicStar and GeoStar’s mare-leasing scheme featured the defendants leasing out mares they didn’t own and leasing less-valuable quarter horses and misrepresenting them to be Thoroughbred mares. On July 18, 2013, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a $65 million award to victims of the scheme. In re ClassicStar Mare Lease Litig., — F.3d —, 2013 WL 3476220 (6thCir. July 18, 2013). Guest blogger B. Paul Husband wrote about ClassicStar’s litigation with the IRS in 2011.

In the recent case, a group of investors sued the ClassicStar defendants in federal district court in Kentucky. They alleged that the defendants had violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”) by persuading them to invest in the mare-leasing program in order to profit from various tax deductions. They also asserted common-law fraud and breach-of-contract claims.

The basic tax concept was that investors would lease a breeding mare for a single season. The mare would be paired with a stallion for breeding purposes, and investors could keep any resulting foals. If investors kept their foals for at least two years before selling them, the sale would be taxed at the lower capital-gains tax rate.

The district court granted summary judgment for the plaintiffs, ruling that the undisputed facts established violations of the RICO statute, as well as fraud and breach of contract. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, noting that the investors did not know “that the assets which formed the basis of the touted tax deductions were dramatically undervalued and, in some cases, wholly fictitious.” 

The appellate court made the critical point that, “[a]lthough investors were repeatedly told that they were leasing actual horses, ClassicStar never owned anywhere near the number of horses purportedly being leased.” In other words, the defendants leased out horses they didn’t own or that didn’t exist. 

The court continued, “[t]o disguise the shortfall and convince investors that they were purchasing interests in actual horses, Defendants substituted less valuable quarter-horses for the Thoroughbreds that were supposed to be part of the packages, and in many cases, simply did not name the horses that investors believed they were purchasing.”

The Sixth Circuit affirmed the award of $49.4 million plus $15.6 million in prejudgment interest. The damages were three times the amount of the plaintiffs’ investments, as treble damages are available under the RICO statute. Collecting the judgment, however, may be complicated by ClassicStar’s bankruptcy and extensive other litigation against ClassicStar.

About the Author:   Toby Galloway is a partner in the Fort Worth office of Kelly Hart & Hallman LLP.  Before joining Kelly Hart, he served as an attorney for the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (the "SEC") for over 11 years.  Find Toby’s full biography here.

On December 6, 2012, we will be putting on a free equine law webinar for clients and potential clients involved in the horse industry. Details are below.

Title: Top Three Things That Cause Equine Litigation & How to Avoid Them

Date: Thursday, December 6, 2012

Time: 12:00PM to 1:00PM CST

Those who wish to participate should click on this link to pre-register: Pre-Register for Webinar

 

Photo:  My husband Rick and I at Santa Anita for Breeders’ Cup 2012

The topic of this week’s post is not a true “horse case”, per se, but horse dealers and those who purchase horses from dealers can certainly glean some valuable lessons from it. 

David and Lisa Moore were breeders and sellers of horses and dogs. Originally operating as “Kanes Lake Horse & Kennel” in Minnesota, they relocated to Magnolia, Texas, where they purchased about 25 acres of land and began “Brushy Creek Kennel”, where they also lived. 

The Moores sold at least 163 dogs to Lisa Bushman, who herself was a breeder and seller of rare dogs, including Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, West Highland White Terriers, and Jack Russell Terriers. 

 

Cavalier King Charles Spaniels

At some point after Bushman bought dogs from the Moores for a sum of $132,000, Bushman sued the Moores in the 155th District Court of Waller County, Texas alleging violation of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices-Consumer Protection Act (“DTPA”), fraud, and breach of contract. 

In her lawsuit, Moore alleged that some of the dogs she purchased were sick, and that she had difficulty obtaining registration papers on the dogs. Moore claimed that she had been sued by some of her customers, that she to refund money on some of the sales to customers, and that she had to pay more than $10,000 in veterinary expenses to nurse the sick dogs back to health.

The court opinion makes no reference to any written agreement between the parties as to the terms of the dog sale. 

In his defense, David Moore alleged that the business arrangement with Bushman consisted of the Moores shipping dogs to Bushman via third-party breeders or brokers, without registration paperwork unless a higher price was paid.

Before the suit went to trial, Lisa Moore conveyed 18 of their 25 acres of land to Dalvis Enterprises, Ltd. (“Dalvis”), an entity owned almost entirely by the Moores. 

A side note that will prove relevant as you read on: in Texas, a husband and wife can claim up to 200 acres of rural land as their homestead, thereby shielding the land from creditors’ claims.

After a trial, the court found in Bushman’s favor, awarding her damages of approximately $350,000 against the Moores.

After Bushman attempted to levy execution of her judgment upon the 18 acres of land that had been partitioned from the 25-acre homestead and conveyed to Dalvis, Dalvis purported to convey the 18 acres back to Lisa Moore. Shortly thereafter, the Moores filed a Chapter 7 bankruptcy proceeding.

The bankruptcy court, and later the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas on appeal, held that:

1) Bushman’s state court judgment was non-dischargeable in bankruptcy because the debt was incurred by fraud; and

2) the 18 acres of land was subject to execution on Bushman’s judgment, because the homestead exemption was lost when Lisa Moore transferred the property to Dalvis.

Surprisingly, the Moores claimed that the conveyance of land to Dalvis was a “pretend sale”, because it was allegedly made without consideration, in an attempt to hide the eighteen-acre tract from Bushman. The Moores made this seemingly self-defeating allegation in favor of their position that they never lost their homestead exemption on the 18 acres. Both the the bankruptcy court and federal district court on appeal found this argument unconvincing.

Take aways: Many or most of these issues could have been avoided, had the parties put the express terms of their purchase and sale agreement in writing. Further, an inspection of both the dogs and their registration paperwork before the dogs were accepted and paid for might have alleviated the situation. 

Case InformationBushman v. Moore, 2011 WL 7655696, Civil Action No. H-10-3045 (S.D. Texas, Sept. 14, 2011).  Hot off the presses from Westlaw this week (not sure why it took Westlaw so long to publish this opinion?).

As a follow-up to last Thursday’s post, Tips for Equine Pre-Purchase Exams, the following is a guest post by veteran Kentucky equine lawyer, Joel B. Turner, with valuable information concerning pre-purchase exams and other steps buyers can take to protect their interests in a horse sale transaction.

"As a ‘horse lawyer’, people usually do not call me to tell me how happy they are with their newly- purchased horses.

One of the most common calls from potential new clients (i.e. the variety that is extremely unhappy and ready to litigate) involves the post purchase discovery of a serious soundness issue. Recently during one such call I rudely interrupted the caller to interject, "Excuse me, but let me guess which joint is causing your horse an issue?" My guess was correct and the caller was dumbfounded. While it was the first for her, the same sorts of issues crop up time after time in my world.

How do you protect yourself in a situation like this? 

a) Have a veterinarian, your veterinarian, perform a thorough pre-purchase examination; and

b) have an experienced lawyer prepare a contract to close the loopholes by obtaining proper warranties/ representations from the seller. 

The combination of these two steps should provide adequate protection from the possible deceptions that so often turn an excited purchaser of a new horse into a disgruntled, if not disillusioned, victim and caretaker of an unsound horse.

Top ten pre-purchase exam considerations:

1.            Is the vet performing the exam absolutely free from any conflict of interest or possible undue influence? Make sure the vet (and any vet who is a member or employee of his/her group or practice) has never performed any services for the seller. Do not, under any circumstances, ask the seller to refer you to a vet to perform the pre-purchase exam or consult about radiographs, ultrasound images, etc.

2.            Is the veterinarian performing the pre-purchase exam willing to promptly (within 24 hours) provide a written report of his findings and make all radiographs and scans available digitally for the potential purchaser to use to obtain a second opinion, if necessary?

3.            Is the veterinarian willing to review all the vet records obtained from the seller and watch the horse being ridden (preferably by the potential purchaser) as part of the pre-purchase evaluation for soundness/coordination-neurological issues?

4.            Does the vet know how much money you intend to pay for and the purpose for which you are purchasing the horse? Share the purchase price with the vet and ask the vet to assume you are buying the horse for resale; if you want the highest level of scrutiny and are willing to pay for it, this request will put the vet on notice of your intentions and encourage a much closer look.

5.            Is the seller willing to provide all veterinary records (including all medications dispensed, radiographs, ultrasounds or nuclear scintigraphy, i.e. "bone scans" performed) for the last 18 months to two years as well as any other "therapy" records such as acupuncture, massage, shock wave, hyperbaric chamber, etc. for review by you and your vet prior to the purchase decision?

6.            Is the seller prepared to represent that, at the time of the pre-purchase exam, the horse is not under the influence of any medication, is not being treated with any substance to address any past or present physical condition experienced by the horse and is willing to allow the veterinarian to take a blood sample for drug testing to verify the accuracy of this representation?

7.            Has the horse been examined by a vet in connection with a potential purchase within the last year?

8.            Is the seller willing to represent that the horse has not had any surgery or any intra articular injections of any substance (including without limitation, corticosteroids, blocking agents or hyaluronic acid) during the seller’s ownership, other than those disclosed by the seller, or if such surgeries or "joint’ injections have been performed upon the horse and are disclosed, is the seller willing to identify all of the dates when such procedures were performed and what substances were injected into which joints?

9.            Is the veterinarian willing (and capable) to effectively communicate to the potential buyer the significance of the findings and provide an opinion as to the functional effect of these findings in writing promptly after the examination is completed?

10.          Is the veterinarian sufficiently experienced with the particular type of riding that the potential purchaser intends to do and the kind of work that the horse has been doing, to provide the potential purchaser with a high level of confidence that the vet understands the amount and level of work the horse will have to perform to fulfill the buyer’s intended use?

This list is not exhaustive and does not address such issues as pre-purchase considerations for future breeding soundness of the horse. It is focused upon the veterinarian’s performance of the pre-purchase exam for a performance horse, and the seller’s willingness to make reasonable disclosures of the horse’s condition. This list has a particularly narrow focus on determining if there are any pre-existing issues that could lead to unsoundness making the horse incapable in the future of performing the tasks for which it is being purchased.

In this era when aggressive veterinary intervention with lameness issues, (particularly with the prevalent use of intra articular injections of corticosteroids), is far more common, latent defects in horses may be hidden even from the experienced examining vet, if proper due diligence is not performed in conjunction with the pre-purchase exam. The combination of a) the seller’s reasonable disclosures in response to the purchaser’s requests coupled with, b) representations and warranties in a written purchase agreement, and c) a thorough pre-purchase veterinary exam performed by an unbiased, qualified vet working exclusively for the potential purchaser, may afford the best opportunity to avoid the heartbreak and financial loss caused by a post purchase discovery of a latent, undisclosed and undetected condition suffered by a horse after the sale is final."

 © Joel B. Turner of Frost Brown Todd LLC 2011

About the Author:  Joel B. Turner is a Kentucky attorney practicing equine-related law for the last 27 years. For Joel’s full biography, click here.

Having a thorough pre-purchase veterinary examination done prior to a horse sale is one of the best ways parties to a horse sale can prevent disputes and lawsuits. 

Dr. Camille Knopf, an equine veterinarian in Northern California, offered some excellent advice this week on the blog Ribbons and Red Tape:

Always, always, always have a pre-purchase exam performed. Regardless of length of familiarity with the horse or seller, there should always be a thorough pre-purchase exam performed to provide you with a complete understanding of the health of the animal you are purchasing.

Always have a veterinarian pull and store blood at the time of pre-purchase exam. This blood can be stored for several weeks. If you purchase the animal and later suspect the horse may have been under the influence of a medication at time of exam, the serum can be analyzed for medication and may provide you with legal recourse if necessary.

Be cautious in purchasing any horse where the current owner wants to choose the veterinarian for pre-purchase exam, discourages you from having a pre-purchase exam, or discourages you from using a veterinarian of your choice. Reason: Sadly, the horse business is not immune to fraud and neither is the veterinary world. By choosing a veterinarian that does not have a direct relationship with the seller, you can protect yourself from a potentially biased opinion."

Here are some additional tips for pre-purchase exams that can go a long way to help prevent litigation:

1.     Buyers will often ask sellers for a referral if they do not know any veterinarians in the seller’s area. It’s not always a sign that something is amiss if a seller recommends a veterinarian with whom the seller has a business relationship, as long as the seller discloses the relationship to the buyer. If a buyer asks a seller for a referral, the seller can provide buyers a list of veterinarians in the seller’s area and allow the buyer to choose from the list. If the seller has a relationship with any of the clinics or veterinarians on the list, the seller should disclose that fact to the buyer.

2.     Generally, sellers should not allow a buyer to take a horse off the seller’s property for a pre-purchase examination. The seller or their agent, employee, or representative should be the one to haul the horse to the vet for the exam, if necessary. If the buyer chooses a veterinarian that is so far away that this becomes unduly burdensome for the seller, the parties should work out an agreement on who will pay the transportation costs.

3.     As the term "pre-purchase exam" implies, it should be done prior to the purchase!  That is, a pre-purchase exam should be performed before any of the following occurs: a) the buyer takes possession of the horse; b) the buyer pays the purchase price for the horse; and c) the buyer receives a bill of sale from the seller. A seller can take a down payment on the horse to either refund or apply towards the purchase price, depending on whether the pre-purchase exam results are satisfactory to the buyer. However, it is not advisable for a seller to hold a check for the full purchase price and agree not to cash it while the buyer is inspecting the horse.

4.     Sellers should always encourage every buyer to get a thorough pre-purchase exam and to inspect horses either in person or through an agent prior to the purchase or delivery of the horse. This thorough inspection protects the seller just as much as it does the buyer.

5.     If the seller purchased the horse from a third-party, the buyer should ask the seller if the seller had a pre-purchase exam performed prior to the seller’s purchase.  If the answer is yes, the buyer should ask the seller for a copy of the results of that exam.  

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Some horse breeders, trainers, and consignors who are in the business of selling horses advertise “exchange policies” on their websites. The typical exchange policy contains language promising that a buyer can exchange a horse purchased from the seller for another horse owned by the seller of the same or lesser value within ___ days of the sale. Posting an exchange policy of this nature on the Internet is not a good idea, in my opinion.

Don’t get me wrong–good customer service is paramount to a seller’s reputation. Sellers can surely offer a buyer an exchange horse if a particular situation warrants it and a suitable exchange horse is available. But so much can go wrong if a seller offers each and every buyer the “right” to exchange a purchased horse. For instance:

1)         Some buyers do not get a pre-purchase exam. Even for buyers who do get a pre-purchase exam, they do not check for every malady, disease, or infirmity due to the expense involved. This is problematic when an exchange has been offered. It can be very difficult to tell whether the horse is returned in the same or better condition as when he left the seller’s property.

2)         Exchange policies may work great for retailers where there is price tag on each item in the store and the same items can be found on-line or in other stores. But establishing the value of the exchange horse can be difficult. The seller’s asking price is not always the horse’s fair market value. Reasonable minds can differ as to the value of a horse. Even professional equine appraisers may disagree. 

3)         A seller may not have an exchange horse that possesses all the same qualities as the original horse within the stated time frame. This leads to a lot of confusion. Does the buyer have to keep the horse until the seller obtains a suitable replacement? Does the seller have to keep and feed the buyer’s horse until a suitable replacement has been obtained by the seller? How long will it take the seller to find a suitable replacement?

4)         If a buyer thinks he can simply return the horse for an exchange after 30 days if it doesn’t work out, he may be encouraged to purchase a horse without first inspecting it or spending the money to have a thorough veterinary examination done. This is problematic for several reasons. First, as discussed above, a seller who has offered an exchange policy cannot establish that the horse is being returned in the same condition if no thorough pre-purchase exam was done. Further, a buyer may come back to seller after the exchange policy has expired and demand a refund or exchange because the horse has a soundness or health issue. The presence or absence of a pre-existing condition is then hard to prove because no pre-purchase examination was done.

Due to all of these issues, an exchange policy on horses cannot function as simply as a similar policy offered on household goods sold by Home Depot, Target, and other retailers. Instead of offering a blanket exchange policy on the Internet, sellers should take an “all sales are final” approach and encourage all buyers to get a thorough pre-purchase exam and to inspect the horse prior to purchase in person or via an agent. Taking this approach does not prevent sellers from providing an exchange horse after the fact where the circumstances warrant it. 

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In addition to the terms usually included in a contract to buy a horse, a Purchase and Sale Agreement involving the shipment of a horse to another country should include the following terms:

1)                  Applicable Law: Will your country’s law, or the law of the other party’s country apply to the contract? This is important, considering that certain German-speaking countries have “minimum warranty” statutes applicable to horse sales (die Gewährsmängel). These minimum warranty statutes may make it virtually impossible for a buyer to resell a horse if it has any of the problems (such as cribbing) that do not meet the “minimum warranties” in those countries.

2)                  Terms for Delivery of Horse & Money: Your agreement should set for a specific protocol for when and where the horse, the bill of sale, registration papers and health certificates, and sales proceeds should be delivered.

3)                  Commissions: Your should specify which parties are receiving a commission (buyer’s agent, seller’s agent, or both?), the amount of the commission, and the protocol for the delivery of the commissions.

4)                  Disputes. How will disputes, if any, be decided?  Having to bring suit in another country in the case of a horse sale gone bad is time-consuming, expensive, and may be impossible. I recommend including a provision for alternative dispute resolution in international horse sales contracts, naming a reputable mediation or arbitration forum such as Equestes to settle or decide disputes.

Before you buy a horse from someone in another country or sell a horse internationally, you must have the following four items in place to help avoid disputes and headaches:

1)         Written Purchase and Sale Agreement.  An international sale is typically not one where a buyer can show up with a trailer, hand the seller a check, and load up the horse.  In addition to the usual points typically covered in ordinary sales contracts (description of horse, price, warranties or lack thereof, pre-purchase exam conditions, et cetera), your international sales contract needs to address the logistics of how and when the horse, its papers, and the money will be delivered. Stay tuned, as I will do a post next week on the items your international sales contract should include.

2)         Escrow Service. The use of an escrow service to hold sales proceeds and commissions until certain terms of your Purchase and Sale Agreement have been carried out is a huge help in avoiding disputes and confusion. 

3)         Written Bill of Sale. Your bill of sale, and not the registration papers or health certificate, is the instrument that transfers title to the horse. Your Purchase and Sale Agreement should make clear when the bill of sale should be delivered to the buyer (usually, it is delivered with the horse together with registration papers and health certificates after the escrow account is funded).

4)         Identification of Quarantine Requirements. Identify quarantine and health certificate requirements, and find a reputable quarantine facility and shipper to handle your transaction. 

The last thing anybody wants is an international lawsuit on their hands.  Having the above items in place will greatly diminish the chances that you’ll ever be involved in one.

If you have exported a horse internationally, you probably already know about the international demand for nice American Quarter Horses bred in the US. If you have not yet sold a horse to an international buyer, you might start looking to the international market for sales possibilities. The AQHA’s international department reported to me today that the total dollar amount in bloodstock exported internationally has increased over the past few years, even in this depressed horse market. The AQHA is also looking to position someone in China to manage AQHA’s affairs in that country.

NRHA Reiner Online announced today that a “big money” reining event, the NRHA European Affiliate Championships is happening next week in Switzerland. The venue for the show is the CS Ranch in Givrins, Switzerland. If you don’t believe the Europeans are “getting Western”, check out the CS Ranch’s show and training facility in Switzerland.  Looks like they’re open for serious business. 

In other international news, the Americana, billed as “Europe’s #1 Western Horse Show” will take place in Augsburg, Germany beginning on August 31. I will be attending the Americana, so contact me if you’re going and I’ll meet you there!  The Americana will feature the European Championships for cutting and working cow horse. These international markets are moving into disciplines that involve working cattle in addition to reining and Western pleasure-type events.  

Stay tuned for a discussion of legal issues arising in international horse sales.

A Texas caller bought a horse without getting a pre-purchase exam. The caller has emails from the seller that say the horse “never took a lame step” and was “always sound” while the seller owned the horse. The horse became lame about two months after the caller got him home, and the caller’s veterinarian speculated that the lameness was due to a condition that pre-dated the caller’s purchase of the horse. The caller wants to reverse the sale because the seller “guaranteed” the horse to be sound.

First, the horse trade is one where the phrase caveat emptor (“buyer beware”) applies. It is the buyer’s responsibility to get a pre-purchase exam before buying a horse. Every pre-existing condition cannot be determined in a routine pre-purchase exam. Thus, it is the buyer’s burden to ask the seller specific questions about soundness and suitability for the buyer’s intended purpose, and obtain access to all prior veterinary records on the horse from the seller prior to taking possession of the horse.

Unless the seller expressly promises a refund if the horse is found to be lame, or otherwise expressly guarantees or warranties that the horse is sound, a court will likely not find an express warranty of soundness to have existed. There are no implied warranties on livestock or their unborn young in Texas, as provided in Texas Uniform Commercial Code Section 2.316.

In the absence of an express warranty of soundness, the buyer will have to pursue a fraud action against the seller. To prevail on a fraud claim, the buyer must prove (among other elements): 1) the condition causing the lameness was there when she bought the horse (through a veterinarian’s opinion); and 2) the previous owner knew about the condition at the time of the sale and intended to defraud her.

Plaintiffs lawyers also like to bring horse sale actions under the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act ("DTPA") or similar consumer protection statutes in other states.  The DTPA is attractive to plaintiffs because they allow for treble damages and attorneys’ fees in some cases.

Fraud and DTPA cases are often "tough sledding’" because the buyer must prove the seller knew about the defect at the time the sale took place.  See Tex. Bus. & Com. Code Sec. 17.46(b)(24). 

Proving the seller knew about the defect is hard to do if there are no vet records or other evidence pre-dating the sale showing a diagnosis of the condition or treatments related to the condition.  

Take aways:  When buying a horse,

  • get a pre-purchase exam done by a vet you know and trust;
  • get a written Purchase & Sale agreement on each horse you buy. This agreement should contain a disclosure by the seller of all known faults with the horse;
  • and ask the seller specific questions about past injuries and illnesses;
  • ask the seller who their vets are and obtain releases from the seller so that you can get copies of prior vet records on the horse. Most veterinary practices adhere to confidentiality practices that prevent them from providing a buyer with acces to records that pre-date the buyer’s purchase of the horse; and
  • if you think the seller is guaranteeing a horse sound, get the guarantee in writing.