Stuart Goldman, the former chief humane law enforcement officer for the Monmouth County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to animals, filed a qui tam complaint against Critter Control of New Jersey, Kewin, Inc. d/b/a Critter Control of New Jersey, Robert McDonough and Evan Windholz (Critter Control defendants), “seeking ‘damages and civil penalties’ for violations of N.J.S.A. 4:22–26 for ‘animal cruelty, animal abuse, negligence, recklessness, [and] negligent infliction of emotional distress, 454 N.J.Super. 418, 421 (N.J.A.D. 2018). Goldman alleged that the Critter Control defendants violated the animal cruelty statute when they removed a raccoon from a client’s roof and did not see baby raccoons that were allegedly present and “had gone without sustenance for a week.”
The court granted the Critter Control defendants’ motion to dismiss the case, with prejudice, because the animal cruelty statute does not authorize private citizens to sue, and Plaintiff Goldman therefore lacked standing. The court denied Goldman’s motion for reconsideration and he thereafter appealed. The appeal was consolidated with another appeal based on a case Goldman filed against Carlstrom, Hill, and Simplicity Farms alleging the farm mistreated horses violating the state animal cruelty statute. The court granted defendants’ unopposed motion to dismiss which was later vacated when Goldman filed a motion for reconsideration, before finally dismissing the case for lack of standing.
Plaintiff-Appellant argues that his qui tam lawsuits were authorized by N.J.S.A. 4:22-26 which states ‘“any person in the name of the New Jersey [SPCA]’ or county SPCA can sue for civil penalties.” Goldman v. Critter Control of New Jersey, 454 N.J. Super. at 425.
The appellate court carefully reviewed the history of the statute and other relevant statutes governing penalties and fines, including the Penalty Enforcement Law (PEL), N.J.S.A. 2A:58-10, to determine whether this clause Goldman relied upon provides legal standing for his qui tam-styled actions..
The Court held:
The PCAA authorized enforcement of the animal cruelty laws by the New Jersey or county SPCAs; authorized the SPCA to promulgate uniform bylaws and guidelines; required humane officers to be trained in these “mandatory uniform standards, guidelines and procedures”; authorized the imposition of civil penalties; dedicated all of the penalties to the SPCAs; allowed collection of the penalties pursuant a law that allows administrative agencies to collect penalties; and long ago, removed language referencing qui tam actions or informers. Given the many amendments of this legislation, we decline to interpret the PCAA as authorizing qui tam lawsuits. Goldman v. Critter Control of New Jersey, 454 N.J. Super. at 429.
Notably, although the Court rightfully analyzed the appeal in light of the law existing at the time the civil actions were filed, the noted the most recent amendments to the animal cruelty statute which “shift[s] enforcement responsibilities to the county prosecutor task forces and militate against plaintiff’s contention that the law allows for private enforcement actions.” Id. at 431.
This opinion provides an interesting analysis of the history of the penalty and enforcement provisions of State’s animal cruelty statute.