Monday, November 26, 2012

Dog Breeding Disputes are Ruff!

I watched the National Dog Show this weekend, and it reminded me of one of my favorite cases from my law clerk days. The parties in the case disputed ownership over a litter of "purebred" puppies. The case presented interesting questions concerning whether animals are property or something else, whether national organizations' breeding rules should be persuasive or binding authority in a case, and how to value purebred dogs in light of the limited prize money available at national dog shows. The plaintiffs' case relied in part on ownership conventions among dog breeders that the owners of the male dog are simply compensated for services rendered rather than having any claim to the litter (though compensation could include one or more puppies from the litter). And of course, the parties had not signed a contract.

It was a particularly interesting case because there was not much law on the subject. Instead, it seems these cases fall in the realm of those that either settle or are not appealed, leaving practitioners with a paucity of information for making convincing arguments in court.

What's the solution? You have a couple of research options. First, try looking for cases with analogous fact patterns---maybe cat, horse, or livestock breeding cases. Second, you might try looking for cases with an analogous legal question---where two parties make some mutual investment and fail to execute a contract, how are those cases decided? Third, if you are left with directing a judge to "official" breeding rules and mores, try searching for other cases where courts relied on the standards of practice of other private clubs (like other sports organizations). You may even find dispute resolution mechanisms among the private clubs that could have bearing on your case.

Fourth, do not forget to look at municipal and state laws. If your state has an active lobby or interest in animal breeding or husbandry (like Kentucky's stake in horses), consider seeing whether there are laws on the books and legislative history that might provide guidance.

Finally, look for blog posts and local bar association articles on the subject where practitioners may provide additional strategies and suggestions for litigants.