A civil lawsuit, pitting the Oklahoma Alliance for Animals (OAA) against a rural Jay couple, was filed Thursday, Feb. 16, in Delaware County District Court.
The suit, filed on behalf of the OAA by attorney Ken Crump with Barber and Bartz in Tulsa, and Tommy Dyer Jr., with Davis and Thompson in Jay, against Chris and Claire White, asks for a jury trial and attorney fees, with actual damages of “over $25,000 but likely to be less than $75,000, in an amount to be proven at trial.”
The lawsuit comes after criminal charges against the Whites for more than 44 counts each of animal cruelty and neglect, were dismissed by Delaware County Special District Judge Alicia Littlefield, on Monday, Jan. 30, after she ruled on Friday Jan. 20, the search warrant affidavit filed by the same deputy in another animal abuse case, inadmissible. That ruling ultimately led to the charges against the Whites to be dropped.
At the time of Littlefleid’s decision regarding the second case, Dana Gray, spokesperson for the OAA, expressed her disappointment.
“We continue to stand in firm support and praise the Delaware County Sheriff’s Office, commending them for doing a stellar job in fighting animal cruelty,” Gray said in January.
When contacted by The Grove Sun regarding the lawsuit and the subsequent petitions, Gray referred all questions to Crump, the OAA’s main lawyer.
Crump indicated in a telephone interview that the suit was not solely about the money, but rather, for the care of the animals in question.
“The OAA believes there is evidence of abuse and neglect on this property,” Crump said, adding that the lawsuit is designed to “bring about remedy” to stop the abuse.
Crump said the group’s request for an injunction and temporary custody of the animals comes through the mission of the OAA.
“The OAA is in the business of ensuring animals are humanely treated,” Crump said. “If the animals need care, the OAA has the resources to provide it…until this court makes a determination in what can be done legally [with the animals].”
While Crump is unaware of another civil lawsuit of this exact nature, he said other animal groups “around this country” have taken action when the care of animals was at risk.
When contacted, the White’s criminal attorney, Winston Connor II, said he did not know if he would represent the Whites in the civil suit. Messages left with Connor for the Whites were not returned as of presstime.
About the lawsuit
The lawsuit asks the court to find that the Whites, whom OAA officials believe “are in excess of 100 animals” are operating a public nuisance in that they have “created a nuisance that annoys, injures or endangers the comfort, repose, health or safety of others or offends decency.”
The suit also alleges that the Whites’ failure to comply with Oklahoma animal cruelty and neglect laws “are a violation against public interest and should be considered a nuisance against society.”
The lawsuit alleges the OAA has spent more than $25,000 to care for the animals from the time they were seized on July 2, to when the judge ordered their return to the Whites at the end of October.
The lawsuit contends OAA officials have diverted monies from other “animal rescue projects and humane activities,” in order to care for the Whites’ animals.
The lawsuit also contends that the Whites “knew or should have known” that the food, water, shelter and veterinary care provided by the OAA was not “being provided as a free service to them” and that the Whites have been “unjustly enriched” by the more than $25,000 the OAA used to care for the animals after their seizure by members of the Delaware County Sheriff’s Office.
The lawsuit also ask the court to grant an order for both a temporary and permanent injunction “removing all affected animals from The Whites’ property and allowing the Oklahoma Alliance for Animals to take custody of, provide health examinations of, and provide care for the animals until the resolution in the manner.”
The lawsuit also asks that the court provide actual damages to the OAA, in excess of $25,000 but likely less than $75,000, as well as attorney fees as provided by law.
This is the second civil complaint filed within Delaware County District Court connected to this case.
On Friday, Jan. 27, Connor filed a complaint of “civil indirect contempt of court” against Delaware County Sheriff Harlan Moore alleging the sheriff failed to return animals to his clients as ordered by the court.
Court documents filled by Connor indicate Moore “willfully and contumaciously disobeyed” a court order, issued by Littlefield on Sept. 6, 2016.
In that order, Littlefield ordered Moore to cease and desist the disbursement of animals seized from Connor’s clients, Chris and Claire White in July 2016, during a search of their residence in rural Jay.
Littlefield’s order also contends that the sheriff was required to retrieve and return any animals “given away or sold” back to the location at which they were being held.
In October 2016, Littlefield ruled the state was required to “immediately retrieve and return to the defendants all living animals, cages, heat lamps, equipment, and all other items taken” in July 2016, and return the animals to the couple.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Criminal Resource Manual, section 754, the difference between civil and criminal contempt of court charges are distinct.
While criminal contempt of court is considered a crime, “civil contempt sanctions–which are designed to compel future compliance with a court order–are coercive and avoidable through obedience,” the statute reads. “‘Thus may be imposed in an ordinary civil proceeding upon notice and an opportunity to be heard. Neither a jury trial nor proof beyond a reasonable doubt is required.'”
In this case, the charges are civil, rather than criminal, and filed by Connor on behalf of his clients.
Moore was initially scheduled to return to court on Feb. 13, for arrangement on the charges. The court date has been changed to Monday, March 6.