(January 28, 2019) We were in federal court in Reno today for a hearing on our lawsuit over the illegal roundup of wild horses conducted by the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe and Cattoor Livestock Roundups from private lands in Palomino Valley, a rural community northeast of the city.
At issue was our motion for a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) to prevent the sale of the nearly 300 horses rounded up and sold by the Tribe to Dennis Chavez, a notorious kill buyer in New Mexico. Among those horses was Lady, a small bay mare owned by Nevada resident Colleen Westlake. On January 17, U.S. District Court Judge Miranda Du issued a TRO to prevent the slaughter or transport to slaughter of Lady, and today’s hearing examined our request for a TRO to prevent the slaughter or transport to slaughter of the rest of the horses as well as other technical legal issues related to the lawsuit.
The overall goal of our lawsuit is to recover the horses and to hold the Tribe and the Nevada Department of Agriculture accountable for violating Nevada law, including trespass on private property and failure to notify residents of the pending roundup of the horses, who qualify as feral under state law.
Unfortunately, the court dismissed the Tribe and the Nevada Department of Agriculture as defendants, finding that each had sovereign immunity from lawsuits according to 42 U.S.C. Section 1983. However, the court is taking the other issues under advisement and will issue a written decision on the remaining questions of standing and individual plaintiffs in the case. On the upside, the court ordered a status report on the horses due by next Wednesday, leaving the TRO on Lady in place at least until the written decision is in place. Further, the court directed our attorneys to confer with the defendants’ attorneys to come up with a plan to ensure that the TRO is upheld and we that the horses have been adequately inspected to determine whether Lady is among them.
It’s important to note that this hearing focused on technical legal issues and not the merits and facts of the case, which are clear. Our witnesses did not have the opportunity to tell the judge about what they witnessed and the crimes -- including criminal trespass, assault, and the roundup of horses who had lived on private lands for years and were beloved by the community.
While this outcome is not what we’d hoped for, this federal action has succeeded in securing a TRO, something that is rarely achieved in federal court, and which we hope has so far blocked the sale of the horses for slaughter.
We are awaiting the court’s written ruling and evaluating all our options for seeking justice for Lady, the other horses and the property owners whose rights were violated. Meanwhile, we expect to learn more about the horses’ whereabouts in the status report and through our conversations with defendants’ attorneys.