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Question of the Week — Do Animals Need Whistleblowers?

Posted  September 26, 2018

A variety of whistleblower reward programs assist the U.S. government in identifying wrongdoing, holding bad actors accountable, and, often, compensating whistleblowers for the great risks they take to expose fraud and other misconduct. The False Claims Act (FCA) is by far the most widely used vehicle through which whistleblowers report fraud against the government. In fiscal year 2017, the government paid out $392 million to whistleblowers who, by filing an FCA complaint, exposed fraud or false claims against the government. But the FCA isn’t the only law under which whistleblowers are encouraged to come forward with information about wrongdoing. Whistleblower programs also exist to incentivize individuals to shine a light on such disparate malfeasance as financial frauds, ocean pollution, exploitation of endangered species, trafficking in products made from illegally logged wood, and auto safety problems.

But not every legal wrong can be made right by a private whistleblower suit. A recent case in New Jersey state court illustrates one limit on private actions to punish public wrongs. The case hinged on whether a law in that state prohibiting and punishing animal cruelty includes whistleblower provisions—in other words, whether the law authorizes private citizens to bring a civil suit alleging animal cruelty. The case in question was a consolidation of two cases brought by Stuart Goldman, former chief humane law enforcement officer for the Monmouth County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA). The first case involved alleged violations of the NJ animal cruelty statute related to a private company’s removal of raccoons from an individual’s roof; the second involved allegations that a farm mistreated horses. Despite the NJ law’s text, which states that “any person in the name of the New Jersey [SPCA] or county SPCA can sue for civil penalties,” the court concluded that the statute does not authorize private whistleblower suits.

Opinions differ widely (and often vehemently) on what role certain animals should play in human society—e.g. whether pigs are friends or food, whether humane slaughter laws should apply to chickens, turkeys, ducks and other birds, and whether fur is fashionable or so unethical as to be deserving of a city-wide ban. But almost everyone seems to agree that animal cruelty, as contemplated by laws like the one at issue in the New Jersey case, is abhorrent. At the same time, state SPCAs and animal control agencies, like many nonprofits and government entities, have finite resources and large missions, and simply can’t address every instance of unlawful cruelty, neglect, or mistreatment.

What do you think? Should state animal cruelty laws include whistleblower provisions?

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