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Dancy v. State

Supreme Court of Mississippi, En Banc

January 16, 2020

MICHAEL DANCY
v.
STATE OF MISSISSIPPI

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 09/06/2018

          UNION COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT HON. ANDREW K. HOWORTH TRIAL JUDGE.

          TRIAL COURT ATTORNEYS: W. BRENT McBRIDE JOE MARSHALL DAVIS

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: JIM WAIDE

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL BY: JEFFREY A. KLINGFUSS

          DISTRICT ATTORNEY: BENJAMIN F. CREEKMORE

          CHAMBERLIN, JUSTICE.

         ¶1. This case arises out of the seizure of Michael Dancy's six horses, four cats and three dogs. The Justice Court of Union County found Dancy guilty of three counts of animal cruelty and ordered the permanent forfeiture of Dancy's animals. Dancy appealed to the Circuit Court of Union County, where a bench trial was held de novo. The circuit court ordered that the animals be permanently forfeited and found Dancy guilty of three counts of animal cruelty. The circuit court further ordered Dancy to reimburse the temporary custodian of the horses $39, 225 for care and boarding costs incurred during the pendency of the forfeiture and animal-cruelty proceedings. Aggrieved, Dancy appeals to this Court.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶2. In June and July of 2017, the Union County Sheriff's Department received five or six telephone complaints from soybean farmer Brian Camp reporting that Dancy's horses were getting out and eating Camp's soybeans. Deputies with the Union County Sheriff's Department responded each time and instructed Dancy to keep his horses on his property. Camp also contacted Union County Animal Control Officer Curt Clayton to address the issue. Officer Clayton and Union County Sheriff Jimmy Edwards responded to the complaint and witnessed the horses in Camp's soybeans. Sheriff Edwards spoke to Dancy on the phone that day and told him he needed to keep his horses on his property.

         ¶3. In July 2017, approximately a week before the seizure of Dancy's animals, Camp also contacted Keith Settlemires with the Mississippi Department of Agriculture to report the destruction of his soybeans by Dancy's horses. Settlemires then contacted Sheriff Edwards, and the two went to investigate the damage to the soybeans and the condition of the horses. Sheriff Edwards spoke with Dancy at Dancy's residence that afternoon and again asked Dancy to keep his horses on his property. Sheriff Edwards and Settlemires became concerned about the animals' welfare after observing that the horses, dogs and cats did not have adequate water and appeared to be malnourished. Camp's last complaint to the Union County Sheriff's Department occurred on July 23, 2017.

         ¶4. Under Mississippi Code Section 97-41-2 (Rev. 2014), the Union County Justice Court signed an animal-seizure order on July 24, 2017, authorizing the Union County Sheriff's Department to seize Dancy's animals. In that order, the justice court found that

probable cause exists to believe that the animal(s) is/are being cruelly treated, neglected and/or abandoned; that [Dancy] has failed to properly care for the animal(s) and that, as a result of the actions and/or inactions of [Dancy], the animal(s) is/are in immediate need of protection, medical care and the attention of a veterinarian; that the animal(s) should be temporarily seized by the Petitioner; and that the medical care and costs of boarding and treatment of the animal(s) should be taxed to [Dancy].

         ¶5. On July 26, 2017, the sheriff's department, accompanied by veterinarian Davis Hunt and representatives from animal-protection organizations seized six horses, three dogs and four cats from Dancy's property. On that same day, investigator Chris Chapel with the Union County Sheriff's Department executed three affidavits charging Dancy with the misdemeanor offenses of cruelty to animals because of Dancy's treatment of the six horses, four cats and three dogs.

         ¶6. One affidavit charged Dancy with violating Section 97-41-7 for "willfully and unlawfully confin[ing] . . . 6 horses without supplying adequate shelter or a sufficient quantity of good wholesome food or water." As to the dogs and cats, Dancy was charged with two separate violations of Section 97-41-16(2)(a) for "willfully and unlawfully and intentionally or with criminal negligence . . . depriv[ing three dogs and four cats of] . . . adequate shelter and food and water."

         ¶7. After the animals were seized, they were placed in the custody of two animal- protection organizations pending a final determination of whether the animals should be permanently forfeited. The horses were placed with Redemption Road Rescue, and the cats and dogs were placed with Animal Rescue Corps.

         ¶8. On August 1, 2017, the justice court held a hearing at which Dancy was represented by counsel. The justice court entered an order on August 4, 2017, finding Dancy guilty on all three cruelty-to-animals charges and finding that "the six horses should be forfeited, and three dogs and four cats as well." The justice court did not order Dancy to reimburse the temporary custodians of the animals.

         ¶9. On September 1, 2017, Dancy appealed to the Circuit Court of Union County. The circuit court set the matter for a hearing on the merits to be held on March 7, 2018. The hearing was continued from March 7, 2018, to June 18, 2018.[1] On April 13, 2018, Dancy filed a motion for discovery requesting the name and contact information of "all veterinarians, or others, who inspected the animals . . . after they were seized." The State did not respond to the discovery request, and Dancy did not move the circuit court to compel a response.

         ¶10. The circuit court held a de novo bench trial on June 18, 2018. The parties agreed to the circuit court's presiding over the animal-forfeiture claim and the misdemeanor animal-cruelty charges during the same proceeding. The State, in its case-in-chief, called eight witnesses: Brian Camp, veterinarian Davis Hunt, Union County Animal Control Officer Curt Clayton, Keith Settlemires with the Mississippi Department of Agriculture, Union County Sheriff Jimmy Edwards, Union County Investigator Chris Chapel, Amy Halverstick with Animal Rescue Corps and Lori Collins with Redemption Road Rescue. Other than Camp, all the witnesses were present the day of the seizure and had personal knowledge about the condition of the animals and the manner in which they were being kept.

         ¶11. Nearly all of the State's witnesses testified that the horses, dogs and cats were kept without adequate food, water or shelter. Veterinarian Dr. Davis Hunt testified that some of the horses had "rain rot, or dermatophilosis" and that a few of the horses had some "fly strike." Hunt further testified that most of the dogs "had fly strike on their ears, some facial swelling. . . . were a little bit thin [and] a lot of parasites, ticks, [and] fleas[.]" On cross-examination, Hunt explained how pictures of the horses showed a "distended abdomen, poor muscle mass over the scapula, and poor muscle mass over the pelvis." Amy Halverstick from Animal Rescue Corps testified that all three of the dogs tested positive for ehrlichiosis (a tick-borne blood disease) and that one dog tested positive for heartworms. Officer Curt Clayton described how the cats were covered with fleas and how he witnessed fleas leaving the cats and getting on people that handled the cats the day of the seizure. By stipulation of the parties, several dozen pictures of the animals and Dancy's property were admitted into evidence. Two photographs showed empty water troughs inside the horses' pens.

         ¶12. After the bench trial, the circuit court found Dancy guilty of animal cruelty for not caring for six horses, four cats and three dogs, and on de novo review, it ordered that the animals be permanently forfeited. The circuit court imposed but immediately suspended the maximum fine for each of Dancy's misdemeanor criminal convictions. Additionally, the circuit court ordered Dancy to reimburse Redemption Road Rescue for the costs incurred in caring for and boarding the horses during the pendency of the forfeiture and animal-cruelty proceedings. An order reflecting the circuit court's judgment was entered on August 30, 2018. Dancy moved for a new trial under Rule 25.1 of the Mississippi Rules of Criminal Procedure, but that motion was denied on September 5, 2018.

         ¶13. Dancy appealed to this Court on September 25, 2018, and contends that the circuit court erred by (1) ordering that his animals be permanently forfeited, (2) awarding a judgment for the costs of boarding incurred between the date of seizure and the circuit court trial and (3) allowing veterinarian Dr. Davis Hunt to testify at trial after the State failed to furnish Hunt's name and proposed testimony in discovery.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         ¶14. "The interpretation of a statute is a question of law, and the standard of review on appeal is de novo." Rex Distrib. Co., Inc. v. Anheuser-Busch, LLC, 271 So.3d 445, 449 (Miss. 2019) (citing Natchez Hosp. Co. v. Adams Cty. Bd. of Supervisors, 238 So.3d 1162, 1163 (Miss. 2018)). "On appeal, we give a circuit-court judge presiding in a bench trial 'the same deference with regard to his findings as a chancellor.'" Falkner v. Stubbs, 121 So.3d 899, 902 (Miss. 2013) (quoting City of Jackson v. Perry, 764 So.2d 373, 376 (Miss. 2000)). "Therefore, we review the circuit court's interpretation and application of the law de novo, and its findings of fact will not be reversed if supported by substantial evidence." Id. (citing Davis v. Smith (In re Estate of Smith), 69 So.3d 1, 4 (Miss. 2011)). The standard for "reviewing rulings of a trial court regarding matters of evidence, ...


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