[Kenneth M. Phillips, an attorney since 1976, is the senior specialist in dog bite cases in the U.S. and very likely the world.]
ANIMALS 24-7 readers will be interested to know that a major development recently occurred in the Argelia Alvarado pit bull attack case, now widely known as the “Pit Bull Meat Grinder case” because the injuries to Argelia Alvarado’s right forearm were reportedly described by one of the first responders, a Los Angeles police officer, as “looking like it went through a meat grinder and the bones were broken.”
That case, Argelia Alvarado, et al. vs. City of Los Angeles, originated when a son of Argelia Alvarado and her husband Jose Alvarado on June 18, 2020 adopted a pit bull named O’Gee from the Los Angeles Animal Services’ East Valley shelter on June 18, 2020.
Not advised of pit bull’s attack history
The Alvarado son was not advised that O’Gee had mauled both arms of a 30-year-old jogger on May 25, 2020 before being impounded, though California state law AB 588 (2019), taking effect in January 2020, requires shelters to disclose dogs’ bite history to prospective adopters in writing.
O’Gee on September 26, 2020 mauled both of Argelia Alvarado’s arms, leaving her in critical condition. Days later, her right arm had to be amputated. Her left arm is permanently disabled.
On August 5, 2021, I filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court on behalf of Angelia Alvarado (photo above) and her husband, Jose Alvarado.
After I started taking depositions in the “Pit Bull Meat Grinder Case,” the City of Los Angeles filed a motion to throw it out.
Truth is not optional!
One of the purported grounds for the motion was that, according to the City, compliance with the “Truth in Pet Adoption Law” (my label for it) was optional.
To put it another way, the City contended shelter employees had the option to decide whether they wanted to tell the truth or not!
The City of Los Angeles relied on a prior California appellate case against the Los Angeles County animal control department.
The Los Angeles County Animal Control Department had failed to impound dangerous dogs who eventually mauled a young boy.
The boy’s injury lawsuit was based on two ordinances which, when read together, required the Director of the County Department of Animal Care and Control to capture and take into custody any animal who “constitute[s] or cause[s] a hazard, or [is] a menace to the health, peace or safety of the community.”
“Nothing clear-cut about dogs being a ‘hazard’ or ‘menace'”
The County said there was nothing clear-cut about dogs being a “hazard” or “menace,” so the animal control officials had to make a subjective evaluation. The court agreed and threw out the case because of “discretionary immunity.”
(The case is County of Los Angeles v Sup. Court (Faten) (2012) 209 Cal.App.4th 543.)
Of note is that Los Angeles County itself did not try to stand behind this precedent after Pamela Devitt, 63, was on May 9, 2013 fatally mauled by four pit bulls who had often run at large for as long as eight years, despite repeated complaints from neighbors about the pit bulls’ dangerous behavior.
The owner of the pit bulls who killed Devitt, Alex Donald Jackson, was in 2014 convicted of second degree murder for allowing them to run at large, and is now serving 15 years to life in state prison.
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors in September 2019 approved a $1.1 million payout to Devitt’s husband and two adult children for contributing to Devitt’s death by repeatedly failing to impound the pit bulls.
L.A. Superior Court ruled that the City of Los Angeles can be sued
After five continuances of the hearing the City of Los Angeles’ motion to dismiss in the “Pit Bull Meat Grinder Case,” the Los Angeles Superior Court ruled the City of Los Angeles can be sued for violating the “Truth in Pet Adoption” law.
I successfully contended that the Faten case was not applicable for two reasons.
First, the “Truth in Pet Adoption” law was drafted in such a way that animal control authorities have no decisions to make and therefore no discretion to exercise.
Second, the government is always obligated to tell the truth to us when the matter involves public safety, so there is never an option to deceive the public.
California Supreme Court precedent
I based my argument on a prior California Supreme Court case in which a literally homicidal teenager was paroled to a foster family without any warning of the boy’s homicidal tendencies.
After the lady of the house was assaulted by the teen, she sued the State of California.
The State of California made the same argument, that the parole officer did no wrong by using his discretion to conceal the boy’s homicidal tendencies from the foster family.
The California Supreme Court rejected that argument. (Johnson v. State of California (1968) 69 Cal.2d 782.)
The truth is good for both people & dogs
Another of my arguments was that telling the truth to adopters is not only good for people but also good for dogs. Some people want a gentle, cuddly dog, while others need an aggressive dog who might bite an intruder if necessary.
Taking home the wrong dog never ends well for the dog.
In the best case, the dog is returned to the pound with complaints that could condemn the dog to euthanasia.
In the worst case, the dog is abandoned in an alley.
Disclosing the truth about a dog helps people pick the dog who is just right for their family and situation. This makes for a win-win situation that can prevent dog bites, allow victims to recover compensation for medical bills and other damages resulting from a dog attack, and help dogs find their forever home.
“Every state should enact a ‘Truth in Adoption Law.'”
The court’s ruling in the Alvarado case has national importance.
Only two states have a “Truth in Pet Adoption Law,” namely California and Virginia.
The Alvarado case is the first to establish that these laws (a) are enforceable and (b) can be used as the basis for a personal injury lawsuit by people exposed to danger because of violations.
Now that we have accomplished this, every state should enact a “Truth in Adoption Law.”
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