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Gerofsky v. Passaic County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

April 14, 2005

CHARLES F. GEROFSKY, AS PRESIDENT, OFFICER, DIRECTOR AND MEMBER OF THE NEW JERSEY SOCIETY FOR THE PREVENTION OF CRUELTY TO ANIMALS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
PASSAIC COUNTY SOCIETY FOR THE PREVENTION OF CRUELTY TO ANIMALS, DEFENDANT/THIRD-PARTY PLAINTIFF, AND BERGEN COUNTY SOCIETY FOR THE PREVENTION OF CRUELTY TO ANIMALS, DEFENDANT/THIRD-PARTY PLAINTIFF/INTERVENOR-APPELLANT, AND HUNTERDON COUNTY SOCIETY FOR THE PREVENTION OF CRUELTY TO ANIMALS, MIDDLESEX COUNTY SOCIETY FOR THE PREVENTION OF CRUELTY TO ANIMALS, MORRIS COUNTY SOCIETY FOR THE PREVENTION OF CRUELTY TO ANIMALS, UNION COUNTY SOCIETY FOR THE PREVENTION OF CRUELTY TO ANIMALS, AND WARREN COUNTY SOCIETY FOR THE PREVENTION OF CRUELTY TO ANIMALS, DEFENDANTS/THIRD-PARTY PLAINTIFFS/INTERVENORS,
v.
NEW JERSEY SOCIETY FOR THE PREVENTION OF CRUELTY TO ANIMALS, THIRD-PARTY DEFENDANT/ RESPONDENT.
BERGEN COUNTY PROSECUTOR'S OFFICE, RESPONDENT.



On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Middlesex County, Docket No. C-11-02.

Before Judges Skillman, Parrillo and Grall.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Skillman, P.J.A.D.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Argued January 19, 2005

In the middle of the nineteenth century, at a time when New Jersey had only limited state law enforcement agencies and law enforcement was frequently entrusted to private citizens, the Legislature enacted laws that created the New Jersey and county Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCAs) and delegated extensive law enforcement powers relating to the prevention of cruelty to animals to these private groups. Since that time, the people of New Jersey have adopted constitutional provisions and the Legislature has enacted statutes that assign comprehensive responsibility to the Attorney General and county prosecutors for the enforcement of all laws. The issue presented by this appeal is whether the SPCAs' exercise of law enforcement powers is subject to the supervision and control of the county prosecutors. We conclude that a county prosecutor's constitutional and statutory authority to supervise all law enforcement in the county includes the authority to supervise and control SPCA members who exercise law enforcement powers.

Before outlining the procedural history of this case and discussing the constitutional and statutory provisions that govern our decision, we note that both the State Commission of Investigation (SCI) and a Task Force appointed by the Governor have issued reports that criticize the current operations of the SPCAs and recommend either repeal or substantial modification of the statutes that confer law enforcement authority upon these private groups.

In a report issued in December 2000, the SCI concluded that the statutes that "place[] the enforcement of animal cruelty laws in the hands of unsupervised, volunteer groups of private citizens" constitute an "archaic legislative scheme" that should be repealed:

[T]he SPCAs represent a rudimentary system that has not kept pace with the state's advancements in law enforcement or its interest in the welfare of animals. Against the backdrop of a highly stratified and professional law enforcement system, it is an anomaly that the state continues to empower organizations of private citizens to carry weapons, investigate criminal and civil conduct, enforce laws, issue summonses, effect arrests and obtain and execute search warrants. The issue is no longer whether or how to fix this errant group of self-appointed, self-directed and uncontrolled entities, but whether to eliminate the archaic system entirely. The Commission concludes that the time has come to repeal the government authority vested in the SPCAs and place the function of enforcing the cruelty laws within the government's stratified hierarchy of law enforcement.

[State of N.J. Comm'n of Investigation, Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals 1 (2000).]

In a report issued in November 2004, the Governor's Task Force declined to endorse the SCI's recommendation that the SPCAs' enforcement powers should be repealed in their entirety. However, the Task Force recommended repeal of the statutes that confer authority upon SPCA officers to carry deadly weapons and exercise arrest powers and enactment of new statutes that would require SPCA officers to obtain State certification and subject their exercise of law enforcement powers to the supervision and control of sworn law enforcement officers:

The Task Force, after careful consideration of the findings and recommendations of the SCI Report, recommends retention of the SPCA's humane officers in the enforcement structure, but subject to State oversight and certification and with certain limitations on their prior authority to affect arrests and carry firearms. That is, rather than eliminate the SPCA as an animal cruelty law enforcement mechanism, the Task Force offers recommendations to provide appropriate uniformity, standards, training, oversight and accountability for the SPCA, utilizing the resources and manpower available to promote animal welfare, while appropriately limiting the authority accorded to such private, volunteer entities engaged in law enforcement activities (such as the authority to carry and use firearms and arrest powers).

A requisite element for SPCA officers to perform in an enforcement capacity would be State certification, which would require the applicant to demonstrate that he or she has met appropriate minimum qualifications in areas such as training . . ., education . . ., relevant experience, good health . . ., good moral character and other criteria deemed relevant to the performance of such enforcement duties.

[Animal Welfare Task Force, Report 38-39, 47 (2004).]*fn1

The case that brings the issue of the county prosecutors' authority to supervise the SPCAs' law enforcement activities before this court has a convoluted procedural history. Subsequent to issuance of the SCI report criticizing the SPCAs' operations, the then President of the State SPCA, Charles F. Gerofsky,*fn2 brought an action in the Chancery Division that sought revocation of the certificate of authority of the Passaic County SPCA. The complaint referred to the SCI's criticism of the Passaic SPCA's record-keeping and other problems with its operations. The complaint alleged that the Passaic SPCA had failed to comply with new record-keeping and reporting requirements the State SPCA had imposed on the county SPCAs after issuance of the SCI report. The complaint also alleged that the Passaic SPCA had continually failed to investigate and prosecute animal cruelty complaints. In addition, the complaint stated that the State SPCA had revoked the Passaic SPCA's certificate ...


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