Federal Judge Dismisses Defamation Lawsuit Against Racetrack, Horse Welfare Advocate Over Slaughter Ban

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed in 2013 by a family-operated racing stable against Thistledown racetrack, the Ohio State Racing Commission, various officials and an animal welfare advocate in connection with a Thoroughbred purchased at a livestock auction known to be frequented by buyers of horses who sell them for slaughter.

The suit was filed by Benjamin Mumaw, his son Joshua Mumaw (both trainers) and the Eyes of a Child Stables that Benjamin Mumaw operates with Valerie Zavodny as a breeding and racing entity. Original defendants in the case were the Ohio State Racing Commission and its executive director, William Crawford; stewards Richard Kinsey, Joel McCullar, Phillip Gore Jr., Joseph DeLuca, Richard Garrison and Darryl Parker; Thistledown racetrack near Cleveland; and California resident Deborah Jones, who is well known in the horse welfare community. Claims against the Ohio State Racing Commission, Crawford, Kinsey, McCullar and Garrison were dismissed during the course of the litigation and motion practice.

The plaintiffs allege their United States and Ohio constitutional rights were violated when they were prohibited from entering races at Thistledown and other tracks after Thistledown officials received information from Jones that High Success, a gelding who had raced at Thistledown for the Mumaws on Oct. 5, 2012, was purchased by an acquaintance of Jones a few weeks later at the Sugarcreek livestock auction in Sugarcreek, Ohio. The auction is believed to be frequented by so-called “kill buyers” who then sell the horses to slaughterhouses.

In addition, the Mumaws claim they were defamed, libeled and put in false light by the various parties and that Jones attempted to extort money from them by threatening to damage their reputations. They also claimed Thistledown breached a contract with them in the form of a stall agreement.

The Mumaws and Zavodny sought a jury trial, injunctive relief, compensatory and punitive damages.

Prior to his Sept. 29, 2017, opinion and order granting motions by the remaining defendants for summary judgment to dismiss the case, Christopher A. Boyko, United States District Judge for the Northern District of Ohio’s Eastern Division, had dismissed extortion claims against Jones because “Ohio does not recognize a civil cause of action for extortion.”

Boyko wrote in his final order that Benjamin Mumaw claimed High Success had been given to “a woman by the name of ‘Janet’ or ‘Janice’ that he met at the Damascus Livestock Auction” because the woman “had been asking him for months for a horse for her children.” Boyko wrote that Josh Mumaw said when the woman picked the horse up in late October “he was in a hurry and did not get a bill of sale from the new owner or transfer the horse’s paperwork.”

According to the complaint, Joshua Mumaw said he was contacted by Jones and that she threatened to “damage his reputation and ruin his career” if he did not pay her $1,000 to help care for the horse that had been purchased at Sugarcreek. Mumaw did write a check for $500, according to Boyko’s order, but Jones notified officials at Thistledown, which had a stall application agreement that “prohibits parties who stable horses at Thistledown from transporting race horses either directly or indirectly to a slaughterhouse or an auction house that sells horses for slaughter.”

After receiving the call from Jones, a horse from the Mumaw stable, Officer Moo La Moo, was ordered scratched from a Nov. 9, 2012 race at Thistledown. The Mumaws allege they were banned for the remainder of the 2012 season, which they claim was a violation of their rights under the U.S. and Ohio constitutions. They also allege Thistledown “advertised to all the world (they) were engaged in improper or unlawful activity by selling or attempting to sell a horse for slaughter and human consumption.” They claim they were wrongly banned by the track the following year and then suspended by the Ohio State Racing Commission for “utilizing a third party” to race their horses at Thistledown despite a suspension.

Boyko found the claims of constitutional rights violations “unsubstantiated” and that the Mumaws did not establish “that any right to having a horse run in a particular race was a clearly established constitutional right.”

The breach of contract allegations were dismissed by Boyko, who said the stall agreement does not guarantee “plaintiffs are entitled to anything more than accommodations to race” at Thistledown. The Mumaws were not ordered to vacate their stalls before the end of the 2012 race meeting, according to the order.

Defamation and false light allegations against Thistledown also were dismissed because “plaintiffs provided nothing but conclusory allegations of defamation” and that the “statements made by Thistledown are substantially true.”

The allegations of defamation and false light against Jones – who was the subject of a New York Times article on horse welfare and rescues – also were dismissed by Boyko, who wrote that “plaintiffs have not presented any evidence that Jones provided false or misleading information to Thistledown.” Jones had posted information about the matter on Facebook, but Boyko wrote that the Mumaws “have not provided sufficient evidence to establish a genuine issue of material fact that plaintiffs suffered an injury as a result of Jones’ Facebook posts.” In addition, he wrote, “What is more, at no point in the Facebook posts or in the New York Times article did Jones assign blame to plaintiffs. Jones cannot be held accountable for readers reactions to this information, just as she cannot be held accountable for Thistledown’s conclusions based on her information.”

Robert N. Farinacci, attorney for the Mumaws, has filed a notice of appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

The post Federal Judge Dismisses Defamation Lawsuit Against Racetrack, Horse Welfare Advocate Over Slaughter Ban appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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