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Charles Spinks v. Orleans County

June 22, 2011

CHARLES SPINKS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ORLEANS COUNTY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Richard J. Arcara United States District Judge

DECISION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

Pending before the Court is a motion by defendant Orleans County to dismiss plaintiff's amended complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure ("FRCP"). In his amended complaint, plaintiff claims equal-protection violations and federal civil-rights violations actionable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff maintains that Orleans County singled him out for an investigation under New York's animal-cruelty laws, among other dog owners in Orleans County, because he is black. Orleans County seeks dismissal of the amended complaint because plaintiff entered a guilty plea in state court and has not pled that county officials knew about similarly situated dog owners whom they should have investigated.

With the consent of opposing counsel, plaintiff filed his amended complaint in response to Orleans County's motion to dismiss. The Court permitted Orleans County to update its motion papers to account for any new information in the amended complaint. The Court held oral argument on June 3, 2011. For the reasons below, the Court grants Orleans County's motion.

II. BACKGROUND

This case concerns whether racial animus cost plaintiff his dog kennel license and prompted an investigation for animal cruelty that led to a guilty plea in state court. Plaintiff lives in the Town of Gaines in Orleans County and owned approximately 35 dogs that he kept at his residence. A number of these dogs belonged to a breed known as "coon dogs," and plaintiff was a coon dog breeder. As part of his dog owning and breeding activities, plaintiff belonged to two different organizations: the "Coon Club," which promotes breeding of coon dogs for shows and hunting; and the Orleans County Houndsmen, which is a social group for coon dog owners. Plaintiff has been a member of the Coon Club for 17 years; he also has held a kennel license to breed his coon dogs, though he has not pled how many years he held that license.

Although the amended complaint lacks detail concerning the history of plaintiff's relations with Orleans County, the alleged problems that plaintiff experienced and that gave rise to this action began in September 2007. First, "Plaintiff attempted to renew his kennel license through the County of Orleans; this request was arbitrarily denied." (Dkt. No. 15 ¶ 14.) The amended complaint contains no other information about plaintiff's efforts to renew his kennel license or about any communication between plaintiff and Orleans County concerning the license.*fn1

Second, plaintiff was prosecuted in state court on charges of animal cruelty. On September 21 and 26, 2007, an Orleans County animal control officer responded to animal-related complaints concerning plaintiff's residence. On October 12, 2007, an investigator from the Humane Society of Rochester and Monroe County ("Humane Society") visited plaintiff's residence to investigate an animal cruelty report. Based on these three visits to plaintiff's residence, the Humane Society applied to Gaines Town Court on October 16, 2007 for a warrant "directing a search for and seizure of the following property: Any animal(s) found to be in violation of Section 373(2) and 353 of the New York State Agriculture and Markets Law." (Dkt. No. 16-2 at 3.)*fn2 The Humane Society presented the following information to Gaines Town Court in support of its application:*fn3

A. "On October 12, 2007 at approximately 11:00 a.m. I responded to [plaintiff's] location to investigate an animal cruelty report. From the street the smell of dog feces was evident. 8-10 dogs with dilapidated wooden doghouses were also visible from the road. With the permission of the next door neighbor, Beverly Kramer, I entered her property and was able to see 30--35 dogs. Some of the dogs were chained to old wooden doghouses and others were in raised coops. The coops are old, decrepit, and full of feces. Several dogs are thin and unable to get out of their own feces. The accumulation of feces under the coops is at least 2 feet deep." (Id.)

B. "The owner is in violation of the New York State Ag. & Markets law, Section 353 subsection B. The dogs are being left outside exposed to the elements without proper shelter. The doghouses are not insulated or properly waterproofed." (Id.)

C. "On September 21, 2007 at approximately 12:00 P.M. I responded to 14739 Ridge Rd., Town of Gaines, on a complaint of loose dogs in roadway, and check the welfare of dogs at the Spinks home. I checked the area and located an unidentified beagle at the property. I knocked and rang the doorbell. No one answered door. I saw a small puppy in a crate inside the residence. I called the beagle to the rear of the residence to try to contain it as a courtesy to the owner. When I entered the back yard, I encountered approximately 34 dogs (hunting breeds-beagles, red ticks, blue ticks, etc.) chained to dog houses (not insulated) or in wire pens elevated off the ground with plywood houses attached. Pens and dog houses were in poor condition. Feces were in piles under wire pens, creating an offensive odor. Two hounds were extremely thin with hip bones protruding. One beagle had a young litter of pups. Another beagle was birthing pups in an elevated pen. One of these had fallen out of pen and onto the ground. I placed it back in pen. Another pup from this litter was dead in pen. I was unable to secure the loose beagle." (Id. at 4.)

Justice C. Eugene Leigh of Gaines Town Court issued the requested search warrant on October 16, 2007. In the search warrant, Justice Leigh described plaintiff's residence and limited the search to the hours between 6:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m. Justice Leigh also authorized a search and seizure for the following: "Any animal(s) found to be in confined, crowded or unhealthy condition, or in unhealthy or unsanitary surroundings, in violation of Section 373(2) of the Agriculture and Markets Law or in the opinion of said officer, not properly cared for or without sustenance, food or drink. Also any such evidence which tends to demonstrate that an offense was committed or that a particular person participated in the commission of an offense pursuant to Section 373(2) and 353 of the Agriculture and Markets Law of the State of New York." (Id. at 6.) The Humane Society executed the warrant on October 16, 2007 and seized 35 dogs, 5 live puppies, and 3 recently dead puppies.

In response to what it perceived when executing the search warrant, the Humane Society filed an Information in Gaines Town Court on or about October 24, 2007. The Information charged plaintiff with 38 misdemeanor counts of cruelty to animals in violation of N.Y. Agriculture and Markets Law ("A&ML") § 353 and 38 misdemeanor counts of failing to provide shelter in violation of A&ML § 353b(2)(a). Accompanying the Information was a supporting deposition from a Humane Society veterinarian who attended the execution of the search warrant. The supporting deposition contained the following information:

All the dogs lived outside with small wood structures for shelter. Some of the dogs were tethered on chains 6 (six) to 8 (eight) foot in length. Other dogs were confined inside the structures.

The wood structures were in a state of disrepair with broken, splintered wood floors, rusted broken wire floors and sides. Some shelters lacked a solid roof thus exposing the dogs to the elements.

Many of these shelters housed 3 (three) to 4 (four) dogs, clearly more than could comfortably fit causing the dogs to not have the ability to easily move about. Most of the shelters also had more than a few days worth of waste accumulated causing the dogs to have to continually walk and stay in the waste leading to soiled and urine soaked feet and bodies. Many of these shelters also had weeks of stool accumulated between the wire floors rising up several feet from the ground ...


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