Riverside County

Animal Rights Group's Lawsuit Alleging Abuse at San Jacinto Family Dairy Farm Dismissed

The complaint claimed cows were poked in the eye, kicked and punched at the family farm that's been located on Cottonwood Avenue since the early 1960s, but the family's attorney says the lawsuit was a "publicity stunt."

NBC Connecticut

An animal rights' group's lawsuit alleging abuse of dairy cows at a decades-old San Jacinto farm was thrown out Thursday by a Riverside County Superior Court judge, who determined the claims were groundless.

"Today's ruling confirmed what we already knew -- that the lawsuit was baseless, manufactured and false,'' defense attorney Stephen Larson said in response to Judge Irma Asberry's decision in the case against his client, Van Dam Family Farm. "The Animal Legal Defense Fund had no grounds to persecute the Van Dam Family and their farm, which is one of the cleanest, safest and best-run dairy operations in California.''

The Animal Legal Defense Fund issued a statement saying it was "disappointed that the court refused'' to permit the suit to proceed in the interest of stopping "egregious abuse and neglect of cows and calves.''

"This dismissal of this case is in direct opposition to the will of the public and the Legislature, who instituted these laws,'' the plaintiffs stated.

Asberry ruled in favor of the defendant's motion to dismiss determining there was no "cognizable claim'' at issue, Larson said.

In September, the nonprofit CARU Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals filed a civil complaint against the dairy, located on Cottonwood Avenue since the early 1960s, listing dozens of alleged acts of inhumane treatment. The suit sought an injunction against further operation of the farm.

"The abuse and neglect towards cows and calves exposed through the investigation demonstrate this is not just a single employee or incident, but company-wide practices condoned by management,'' CARU spokesman Stephen Wells said.

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An unidentified volunteer with the nonprofit Animal Outlook got a job at the farm as a milker in September 2019, with the specific intent of documenting alleged abuse of the cows. In the ensuing two months, the woman took photos and video while on the job. She turned the material over to CARU and provided statements that were used to initiate the legal action, according to court papers.

None of the photographs submitted in the suit depicted cows being hit, bloodied or otherwise tormented. However, the complaint narrative conveyed as much.

The plaintiffs alleged the farm operators were concerned only with milk production, and anything that slowed that down -- including a sick newborn calf -- was ignored.

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The thrust of the civil action was oriented to the treatment of the milk cows.

"Employees of Dick Van Dam Dairy twist cows' tails, kick and punch them, stick their fingers in the cows' eyes, and find other ways to inflict pain on a daily basis for the purpose of causing the cows to move in and out of the narrow passageways and crowded metal gates of the milking parlor,'' the complaint alleged.

Larson told City News Service in October the allegations were "manufactured and completely false.''

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"This lawsuit is a publicity stunt, and I can promise you, the suit and the sentiments behind it will be thoroughly discredited,'' the attorney said.

He said the Van Dam family has always been transparent and voluntarily participates in audits and inspections conducted under the National Dairy FARM Program.

"This is a wonderful family. Their house is right there on the farm. It's not some distant corporation,'' he said.

Larson addressed several of the allegations directly, saying the calves and cows are checked every few hours, whether they're in the pasture or a pen.

"Everything that happens is part of life on the farm. Do they have stillborn calves? Yes. But people who don't live on a farm can easily misinterpret what is happening,'' Larson said. "There are 1,500 to 1,600 cows in different stages of life. And every single one of them is inspected.''

He suggested the investigation and complaint were part of a smear campaign and said his clients were being "dragged through the mud.''

"The duplicitous way this is being done is an outrage,'' Larson said. "It's really wrong.''

The suit was permitted under a provision of the California Corporations Code which allows a nonprofit organization to represent the rights of animals.

Copyright CNS - City News Service
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