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AHPA v. USDA Heats Up



Posted March 14, 2001

by Flannery Davis

copyright 2001

On Feb. 28, 2001, the USDA filed its reply to the American Horse Protection Association’s latest memorandum, which opposed the USDA’s motion to dismiss and for summary judgment. AHPA filed its original suit against the USDA on January 8, 2001. The suit is an attempt to stop the USDA from implementing the 2001-2003 operating plan.

In its latest memorandum the USDA attempts to show that its interpretation of the Horse Protection Act and Regulations is accurate and that AHPA’s is not. In addition to the language of the law, one of the critical components of the case is the intent of Congress when it passed the law. AHPA argues that Congress clearly intended that enforcement of the HPA be made stronger when it passed the 1978 regulations that strengthen the original act, but that USDA’s use of HIOs and DQPs weakens enforcement. The USDA, however, argues that: “Plaintiff’s selective and distorted version of the statute [HPA] and Operating Plan are insufficient to demonstrate that the agency’s [USDA’s] action is inconsistent with the plain language and intent of Congress.” The USDA memorandum also states: “(AHPA) presents an interpretation of the Horse Protection Act that is unrelated to the actual langage and intent of the statute as a whole...”.

According to its previously filed briefs in the case, AHPA believes that the HPA gave show management the ability to hire designated qualified persons for the sole purpose of inspecting and disqualifying horses from showing or being presented for sale or at auction. AHPA insists that only the Secretary of Agriculture can enforce the law through punitive measures. .

However, the USDA states that AHPA has ignored a key phrase in the statute and cites the following language from it: “...or to otherwise inspect horses for the purpose of enforcing this Act.” USDA believes that the words “for the purpose of enforcing this Act” is in fact a Congressional mandate, expressed in plain language..

Regarding AHPA’s contention that the USDA has abdicated its enforcement authority, USDA insists that it has “expressly retained its authority.” The agency points out that it initiated numerous enforcement penalty proceedings between 1999 and 2000. It refers to an HIO’s role as that of “initial enforcement” and states that it does not eliminate the USDA’s ability to enforce as well..

USDA admits that while the operating plan is “an imperfect solution to the problem of eliminating a cruel and inhumane practice,” it is not “arbitrary and capricious” as the AHPA has argued. Quoting from American Horse Protection Association v. Lyng, USDA reports that the act itself is “a sort of compromise between industry proponents of soring and persons who regarded the practice as barbarous.” The department states: “Given the compromise struck by Congress in the statute, together with the limited funds Congress appropriates each year to the horse protection enforcement program, the agency cannot be faulted for attempting to increase the number of violations detected and punished under the Act. Plaintiff’s real issue is with Congress, not with the agency charged with enforcing a flawed statute.” The USDA admits that it cannot afford to send veterinary medical officers to roughly 90 percent of horse shows and that without DQPs many violations would go undetected..

Subsequent to the Feb. 28 filing by the USDA, the AHPA filed a motion requesting that it be allowed to present its arguments orally. The court will decide whether to allow oral arguments by both sides or whether to decide the case based on the briefs that have been filed.

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