Court: State ‘downer’ law applies to auctions

A California appeals court has ruled that livestock auctions can be criminally prosecuted for mishandling downer animals.
Mateusz Perkowski

Capital Press

Published on May 5, 2014 2:06PM

Livestock auctions can be criminally prosecuted for violating a California ban against mishandling downer animals, according to a state appeals court.

The ruling relates to charges filed against a livestock auction owner, Horacio Santorsola, accused of breaking a California law that prohibits dragging non-ambulatory animals and requires them to be euthanized immediately.

A state judge threw out the charges against Santorsola last year, ruling that the California law was pre-empted by a federal statute that governs livestock slaughter, the Federal Meat Inspection Act.

The decision relied on a U.S. Supreme Court precedent from 2012 that invalidated the California law as it applied to slaughterhouses.

However, a California appeals court has now reinstated the criminal case against Santorsola, finding that the FMIA doesn’t apply to livestock auctions.

Federal regulations aren’t mean to encompass facilities beyond those “where animals are killed and their carcasses processed,” the appellate ruling said.

The ruling effectively means that Santorsola can again be prosecuted for allegedly dragging downer livestock, in addition to the animal abuse charges that are pending against him.

An attorney for Santorsola did not respond to a request for comment.

The opinion may have broader implications, as it could convince prosecutors to enforce the law against other livestock auctions, said Vandhana Bala, general counsel for the Mercy for Animals non-profit group.

The animal rights group filmed the undercover video that led to criminal charges against Santorsola and several of his employees.

“We hope other states follow California’s lead and adopt similar measures,” Bala said.

While Santorsola and his workers would still face animal abuse charges regardless of the ban against dragging downer animals, Bala said the appeals court has set an important precedent.

Under the law, livestock auctions can be prosecuted and fined even if the owner doesn’t participate or know about the violations, she said.

“The auction itself will be held accountable for the inhumane treatment of the non-ambulatory animals,” Bala said.


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