APHIS to Step Up Enforcement of Horse Protection Act?

waling horseA federal appeals court has upheld a ruling by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) that Herbert and Jill Derickson violated the Horse Protection Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 1824(1) and 1824(2)(B). The couple was found to have transported and entered a "sore" horse, Just American Magic, in a show.

"A sore’ horse is a horse on which chemicals or other implements have been used on its front feet to make the horse highly sensitive to pain" causing the horse "to lift its feet quickly, reproducing the distinctive, high-stepping gait that show judges look for in Tennessee Walking Horses." McConnell v. United States Dep’t of Agric., 198 F. App’x 417, 418 (6th Cir. 2006) (unpublished opinion).

On March 21, 2002, Herbert Derickson presented a horse, Just American Magic, for preshow inspection by the National Horse Show Commission at the Thirty-Fourth Annual National Walking Horse Trainers Show. The inspectors determined that Just American Magic was sore because he had bilateral scarring and did not comply with the Scar Rule.  The Scar Rule provides that a horse is deemed sore if that horse suffers from certain physical conditions indicative of soring. See Rowland v. United States Dep’t of Agric., 43 F.3d 1112, 1115 (6th Cir. 1995).

Just American Magic was disqualified from showing. Two veterinary medical officers employed by the Department of Agriculture later confirmed the inspectors’ finding.

Less than a year earlier, the Dericksons had received an eight-month suspension and a $600 fine for a bilateral soring violation involving Just American Magic. For this violation issued by the National Horse Show Commission under an operating plan with USDA through its Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), the Dericksons received a two-year suspension (effective dates December 16, 2002 to December 15, 2004) and a $700 fine.

Then despite the operating plan that basically allowed the NHSC to enforce these regulations, APHIS filed a complaint against the Dericksons, alleging that they violated §§ 1824(1) and 1824(2)(B) of the Act by:  (1) "transporting Just American Magic’ to the . . . Trainers Show in Shelbyville, Tennessee, while the horse was sore, . . . with reason to believe that the horse, while sore, may be entered for the purpose of its being shown in that horse show" and (2) entering Just American Magic in said show while sore.

For these violations the Dericksons were disqualified from showing, exhibiting, or entering horses in shows for two years and each assessed $4,400 in sanctions.

In its opinion on Derickson’s appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit found substantial evidence supported the finding the Dericksons transported the horse in violation of the Act.  Also, the court announced:

We are persuaded … that liability for entering a horse must rest with any individual who completes any one of the various steps of entry-paying the entry fee, registering the horse, or presenting the horse for inspection. Congress intended the Act to "make it impossible for persons to show sored horses in nearly all horse shows." H.R. Rep. No. 91-1597 (1970), reprinted in 1970 U.S.C.C.A.N. 4870, 4872. Because entry is a multi-step process, the intent of Congress can be achieved only by a rule that provides that any individual who performs any step of entry maybe held liable for a violation. A contrary rule would easily allow trainers and owners to circumvent the Act by delegating each step of the entry process to different individuals, preventing effective enforcement. Therefore, we hold that an individual can be held liable for entering a sore horse if she performs any one of the various acts of entry.

Significantly, the court further concluded that APHIS retained authority to pursue violations of the Horse Protection Act even if an operating plan was in place with a private agency such as  here with the National Horse Show Commission.