Citizen Suits and Cruelty Laws

One would not expect to find a progressive animal cruelty law in a state that leads the (un)civilized world in the factory farming of hogs.  Yet, North Carolina’s animal protection statute contains a citizen suit provision — which means that private citizens can bring suit against violators of the law.  This private right of action (a rarity in the world of animal law) has yielded some noteworthy successes.

Private rights of action do not solve the problem of cruelty nor address the inequalities underlying the human/nonhuman dynamic.  But this is true throughout environmental law.  Most of the major environmental statutes contain citizen suit provisions even as the laws fail to resolve or even address many of the most urgent issues regarding our relationship with our surroundings.  Ultimately, though, there is no question (in my mind, anyway) that it is better to have laws than to not and that it is better to enforce those laws than to not.  Citizen suits help enforce laws and thus, despite the imperfections of the current legal regime, it would be nice if we had more of them.

David Cassuto

One Response

  1. Interesting to compare the situation in the US and UK. Over here virtually all cruelty prosecutions are brought by private organisations (mainly the RSPCA, but sometimes other groups e.g. see http://www.huntingact.org ).

    I suppose the difference is that we’re an “opt-out” system where all laws can be enforced by private prosecution unless the act specifically forbids it and you’re an “opt-in” system.

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