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In re Tennessee Walking Horse Forfeiture Litigation

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

April 8, 2015

IN RE TENNESSEE WALKING HORSE FORFEITURE LITIGATION

Session July 23, 2014

Appeal from the Circuit Court for Fayette County No. 13CV61 J. Weber McCraw, Judge

Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter; Joseph F. Whalen, Acting Solicitor General; Scott C. Sutherland, Assistant Attorney General; and Linda D. Kirklen, Assistant Attorney General, for the appellant, State of Tennessee.

J. Houston Gordon, Covington, Tennessee, for the appellees, Beverly Sherman and Kelly Sherman.

W.J. Michael Cody and Shea B. Oliver, Memphis, Tennessee, for the Amicus Curiae, Animal Legal Defense Fund.

Robert L. Childers, Sp.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which David R. Farmer, Sp.J., and J. Steven Stafford, J., joined.

OPINION

ROBERT L. CHILDERS, SPECIAL JUDGE

Facts

On March 1, 2012, officials from the Fayette County Sheriff's Office and the United States Department of Agriculture seized two Tennessee Walking Horses, named "Paroled in the Night" and "Mucho Bueno, " incident to the arrests of the horses' trainers, employees of Whitter Stables, for animal cruelty. The officials placed the horses into the custody of the Humane Society of the United States ("HSUS"). HSUS is not chartered with the State of Tennessee.

On May 16, 2012, Beverly Sherman and Kelly Sherman ("Appellees"), the purported owners of the horses at issue, filed a Complaint for Possession or in the Nature of Replevin, seeking to recover the horses. The State of Tennessee ("State") filed an answer, denying that the Appellees were entitled to the return of the property.

On May 22, 2012, the horse trainers pleaded guilty in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee to soring[1] the horses at issue in violation of the Federal Horse Protection Act. The trainers also pleaded guilty to State animal cruelty charges involving the subject horses on July 10, 2013. According to the State, the trainers admitted, as part of their state-law guilty pleas, to having sored and abused the subject horses.

The State filed an ex parte application for a forfeiture warrant for the horses on July 10, 2013. On the same day, the Fayette County Circuit court issued an ex parte Forfeiture Warrant and Order placing the horses in the custody of the HSUS pending a final forfeiture determination.

On August 9, 2013, the State filed a forfeiture complaint. The forfeiture complaint indicated that the State had information to believe that the Appellees were the owners of two of the horses.[2] However, the forfeiture complaint specifically reserved the issue of the Appellee's standing to contest the forfeiture. On September 2, 2013, the Appellees filed a motion to dismiss the forfeiture complaint or in the alternative, to consolidate the forfeiture litigation with the previously filed Replevin Lawsuit. The motion to dismiss was based upon the assertion that both the Replevin and the State's Forfeiture lawsuits dealt with identical issues, namely, the custody of the horses. The Appellees also argued that the forfeiture warrant was not properly issued because the State failed to obtain it within five (5) working days of March 1, 2012, as required by Tennessee Code Annotated Section 39-11-707(c). On the same day, the Appellees' filed a motion to dismiss the forfeiture warrant, arguing generally the same basis as the motion to dismiss the forfeiture complaint.

On November 4, 2013, the trial court held a hearing on the Appellees' motions and determined that the State violated certain procedural requirements contained in the forfeiture statutory scheme in taking possession of the subject horses. Consequently, the trial court granted the Appellees' motions to dismiss on December 11, 2013. The trial court subsequently granted ...


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