SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. (CN) - California can go after an auctioneer who allegedly dealt in sick livestock because, unlike slaughterhouses, such businesses are not subject to federal inspections, an appeals court ruled.
"The videotape evidence of the treatment of animals at the auction presented some of the most disturbing and egregious cases of neglect of suffering animals, and California's right to prohibit that kind of violence and abuse has now been confirmed," said Schiff Hardin attorney Bruce Wagman, who argued for the Humane Society of the United States as a amicus curiae.
Horacio Roque Santorsola had hoped to duck nine charges under Section 599F of the California penal code based on the 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision in National Meat Association v. Harris.
California had adopted the law to protect "downer" animals - those unable to walk or stand - after the Humane Society of the United States in January 2008 released a video that showed nonambulatory cows being kicked, electrocuted, dragged with chains and rammed with forklifts at the Westland Meat and Hallmark Meat Packing slaughterhouse in Chino, Calif.
Section 599f required slaughterhouses to humanely euthanize such animals as soon as possible, but a federal judge deemed the new law pre-empted by the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA), which allows nonambulatory animals to be sold for food if they pass additional inspection.
The U.S. Supreme Court agreed that the requirements on slaughterhouses under California's humane-slaughter law went beyond those laid out in the FMIA.
Judge Stephan Saleson in Rancho Cucamonga in turn tossed the nine Section 599f charges against Santorsola, but the San Bernardino County Superior Court's Appellate Division revived the charges in a reversal published Monday.
Wagman, the Humane Society's lawyer, noted that Saleson's "ruling was a complete error and misreading of the preemption issue with respect to this law."
The three-judge appellate panel agreed with California that the FMIA pre-emption applies only to slaughterhouses and not to livestock auctions like those Santorsola conducted.
"Respondent does not identify any part of the FMIA that would require inspection of an auction where cattle are bought and sold, but are not killed, canned, salted, packed, or rendered and this court has not found any such provision," the unsigned appellate ruling states.
"Nor do the federal regulations governing the inspections under the FMIA show an intent to extend the scope of inspections beyond those at the places where animals are killed and their carcasses processed."
The finding came as a relief to the Humane Society's attorney.
"We are very happy that the appellate court recognized that the California law, which promotes the humane treatment of animals too sick or injured to stand or walk, is still enforceable, and hope that the trial court will now find the defendants guilty as charged," Wagman said in an interview.
The appellate ruling notes that FMIA inspections are required only at "official establishments" that kill animals for food and process their carcasses. Federal regulations show no intent to "extend the scope of inspections beyond those" places, the court found.
San Bernardino District Attorney Michael Ramos represented the state, and Rancho Cucamonga attorney Kirk Tarman represented Santorsola.
Tarman's office did not return a request for comment.
Santorsola also faces an additional nine counts under separate California animal-cruelty laws.
Peter Brandt represented Mercy for Animals as amicus curiae.
Westland, the slaughterhouse at the heart of the downer-cow revelation, entered into a $155 million consent judgment with the Justice Department last year as a supplier of ground for the National School Lunch Program, administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which has rules against the inhumane treatment of animals.
The appellate division filed its ruling on April 2, certified it on April 18 and published it Monday.
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