Submitted: June 5, 2017
Motion to Dismiss. GRANTED.
Charles E. Butler Judge.
14th day of September, 2017, upon consideration of the Motion
to Dismiss filed by Loretta Jackson ("Plaintiff), it
appears to the Court that:
According to the pro se Amended Complaint, on or
about June 22, 2016, Defendant Joseph Barla, an employee of
the Delaware Office of Animal Welfare, arrived at Plaintiffs
home to perform a home inspection. Plaintiff claims that it was
during this home inspection that Defendant Barla tied a rope
around the neck of Plaintiffs pet Rottweiler and then tied
that rope to a storm drain.
Exactly what happened after that is not detailed. It is said
only that "[d]uring this time the treasured pet of the
Plaintiff suffered irreparable injuries from Defendant Barla,
causing Plaintiffs pet to become deceased due to the
negligent behavior of Defendant Barla."
While one might read the Amended Complaint to mean that
Barla's actions caused the animal's demise, elsewhere
in the Amended Complaint, we are told that the animal was
examined at the ASPCA and had broken toe nails and was
bleeding from the mouth. This all suggests that the pet
survived, at least as far as the ASPCA. In response to the
Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, Plaintiff claims that
Officer Barla committed "murder" of the dog and
elsewhere that he "strangled" it, but again,
details are lacking.
Plaintiff claims that Defendant "failed to exercise the
reasonable care that a reasonable person would have in his
handling of the animal, " and that this negligent
behavior caused the dog's death. In other words, classic
allegations of ordinary negligence. And importantly for our
purposes, Plaintiff alleges that all of Officer Barla's
actions were taken pursuant to his duties as an animal
control officer for the Delaware Office of Animal Welfare.
Plaintiff also claims that her 81 -year-old mother suffered a
heart attack and died from the stress of losing the dog.
Plaintiff finally claims that as a result of losing her dog,
she herself now suffers from insomnia, depression, and has
lost trust and respect for animal control officers. For all
of these injuries, Plaintiff seeks compensation from Officer
Barla and the Delaware Office of Animal Welfare.
State has moved to dismiss the Amended Complaint, arguing
that Officer Barla and the Delaware Office of Animal Welfare
are both immune from suit.
reviewing a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), the
Court must determine whether the claimant "may recover
under any reasonably conceivable set of circumstances
susceptible of proof." When applying this standard, the
Court will accept as true all non-conclusory, well-pled
allegations. In addition, any reasonable factual inferences
are made in favor of the non-moving party.
the absence of the State's consent, the doctrine of
sovereign immunity bars suit against the State. This doctrine
applies not only to the State itself, but also to its
agencies and public officials sued in their official
capacity. In the absence of insurance coverage or a
legislative act, the doctrine acts as an absolute bar to
Delaware Office of Animal Welfare is a subdivision of the
Department of Health and Social Services and is an agency of
the state. It operates within a detailed statutory
milieu. Animal Control Officers likewise are state
employees, trained pursuant to statute. They are immune
from suit unless some exception waives the immunity.
route away from the bar of sovereign immunity in cases
involving government actors who act within the scope of their
authority is quite limited. For these purposes, the only
limitation on sovereign immunity that could conceivably be
met here is that "[t]he act or ...