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Feds Immune in Deadly Mountain Goat Attack

SEATTLE (CN) - The National Park Service is not responsible for a mountain-goat attack that killed a hiker in Olympic National Park, the Ninth Circuit ruled.

A divided three-judge panel on Monday found the Park Service had no duty to destroy the animal despite numerous complaints about its aggressive behavior.

Robert Boardman was hiking with his wife, Susan Chadd, and a friend in Washington state's Olympic National Park when they encountered the goat in October 2010. They were on a popular trail near Klahhane Ridge when they encountered the goat, known as "Klahhane Billy."

The goat was well-known to park staff and visitors and frequently harassed hikers, according to a federal complaint filed by Chadd after the attack.

Klahhane Billy began following the group after they stopped for lunch.

"Susan Chadd and the friend went on ahead and suddenly heard a scream. They rushed back to where Boardman and the goat were and saw Boardman lying on the ground and the goat standing over him. Apparently Klahhane Billy had lowered his head, charged Robert Boardman and gored him through one thigh," Chadd's complaint said.

"The goat then remained over Robert Boardman and refused to move, preventing anyone from rendering aid, even after several bystanders and an off-duty National Park staffer appeared on the scene. They were only able to get Klahhane Billy to back off after the off-duty park staffer got advice on his radio to wave a space blanket at the goat.

"By the time anyone was able to get to Boardman, he had been lying still for more than 30 minutes, and the rescuers' attempts to resuscitate him met with no success," according to the complaint.

Chadd said the Park Service "responded very slowly, given the gravity of the situation," and that it took more than an hour for a Coast Guard helicopter to dispatch an emergency medical technician.

Boardman bled to death after Klahhane Billy severed the man's femoral artery. Park rangers later shot and killed the goat.

Chadd sued the Park Service for breaching reasonable duty of care by failing to destroy the goat in the years leading up to the attack.

U.S. District Judge Robert Bryan dismissed the case for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction in 2012, finding the government had sovereign immunity from Chadd's suit.

On Monday, a panel of the Ninth Circuit agreed, finding the Park Service had discretion in dealing with the goat and is exempt from prosecution.

Writing for the majority, Circuit Judge Diarmuid O'Scannlain said the Park Service reasonably considered other alternatives to killing the goat, which was not native to Olympic National Park.

"Chadd counters that preservation of the goats is contrary to their status as an exotic species and violates the service's policy of prioritizing human safety over all other considerations. But from the premise that the goats are not entitled to special protection as a matter of policy, it does not follow that park officials ought to exterminate them. Native species in the park have a default level of protection that mountain goats do not enjoy, but Chadd has pointed to nothing that forbids park officials from protecting the goats to facilitate the public's enjoyment of the species. There is no contradiction between the goat's status as an exotic species and Olympic's desire to implement safety measures short of destruction," O'Scannlain wrote.

The panel found that because the decision to use nonlethal methods to manage the goat was subject to policy analysis, discretionary-function exception applies under the Federal Tort Claims Act, a federal law governing how and when the United States waives sovereign immunity in tort cases.

In a lengthy dissent, Circuit Judge Andrew Kleinfeld disagreed, saying the Park Service came up with a "rationalization for their inaction" only after Boardman was killed.

"The park staff shot and killed the goat immediately after it killed Mr. Boardman. The discretionary-function exception should be construed as limited to decisions where a government policy decision guided the exercise of discretion, and not expanded to situations where it did not, even when a policy judgment can subsequently be imagined and articulated," Kleinfeld wrote.

"Letting an identified aggressive 370-pound goat threaten park visitors and rangers for years until it killed one amounted to a failure to implement the formally established park policy for managing dangerous animals," the dissenting judge continued. "Written park policy provided a series of steps for dealing with animals dangerous to park visitors, from frightening the animal away to removing or killing it. The park had used the earlier steps, including repeatedly shooting the goat with nonlethal loads such as beanbags, but they did not work. Yet the superintendent left the animal free to terrorize tourists for another summer season instead of following the next step of the written policy, removing or killing it.

"This was 'ordinary garden-variety negligence,' like keeping a dog that has already bitten a child, and subsequently bites another. Official park policy for Olympic National Park put protection of human life ahead of protection of animal life, and did not protect nonindigenous animals such as this goat. Failure to implement this policy was not another policy, just ordinary negligence."

John Messina with Messina Bulzomi Christensen represented Chadd and did not immediately return a request for comment.

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