Congressman’s Kennel-|Owning Mom Wins in Court

     (CN) – The Humane Society must face defamation and invasion-of-privacy claims after ranking a kennel “among the worst puppy mills in Missouri,” a state appeals court ruled.
     Mary Ann Smith, the mother of a Republican U.S. congressman, sued the Humane Society of the United States in 2011 over the inclusion of Smith’s Kennel on a list called “Missouri’s Dirty Dozen.”
     The October 2010 list identified “some of the worst licensed kennels in the state, based on the number and severity of state and/or federal animal welfare violations.”
     In press release, the Humane Society explained that the “puppy mills” represented in its list had their dogs “crammed into small and filthy cages, denied veterinary care, exposed to extremes of heat and cold, and given no exercise or human affection.”
     Smith’s lawsuit in Dent County called the society’s statements “false, scandalous and defamatory,” and said they deprived her business “of public confidence and social and business associations.”
     Using the list to promote the Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act, known as Proposition B, the Humane Society complained that Smith’s politician son, Jason, was an outspoken opponent of animal-welfare bills, according to the complaint.
     Jason Smith has been a member of the U.S. House of Representatives since 2013 but he was majority whip of the Missouri House during the election in question.
     After the voter initiative passed in November 2010, the Humane Society issued an update in 2011 about the Missouri Senate’s passage of “sweeping legislation that repeals every core provision of Proposition B, the Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act, and reverts back to the weak laws that allowed the inhumane treatment of thousands of dogs in Missouri’s puppy mills,” according to the complaint.
     Though the circuit court dismissed Smith’s claims against the Humane Society last year, the Southern District Missouri Court of Appeals reversed on June 29.
     “In a press release, it was stated that ‘the licensed puppy mills identified in this report have an undeniable record of flagrant disregard for even the most minimal humane care standards for dogs,'” Judge Nancy Steffen Rahmeyer wrote for a three-member panel. “These statements imply verifiable factual information, not statements of opinion.”
     As for Smith’s invasion-of-privacy claim, the court found that the Humane Society’s “public statements allegedly attributed to her conduct and beliefs associated with irresponsible and disreputable dog breeders that she did not engage in, share or approve,” according to the ruling.
     “Even if being a ‘puppy mill’ is not a defamatory term, these statements allegedly placed plaintiff before the public in a false light and caused injury to her right to be let alone,” Rahmeyer wrote.
     Smith’s case also names Missourians for the Protection of Dogs as a defendant, but the trial court did not decide that group’s separate motion to dismiss, according to the ruling.

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