I'm in a situation where the Stanislaus County Animal Services is attempting to collect a fine for an esoteric ordinance.
My father is a Vietnam War refugee. His English is, to say the least, broken. He's lived her for more than twenty years, and he is a legal resident.
About half a year ago, two dogs ruined my garden. I contacted both Modesto Police Department (MPD) Animal Control and Stanislaus County Animal Services to report the stray dogs. MPD told me they had no one on staff and referred me to County Animal Services. Animal Services forwarded me to a voice mail. I didn't leave a voice message, since I didn't see a reason to.
Since I've already made an attempt to contact both city and county agencies to deal with the problem, but to no avail, I took it upon myself to capture the dogs and wait for the city and/or county to come retrieve the dogs when I come across them in my neighborhood.
Yes, I fed the dogs. No, I was no affectionate with the dogs. I never considered myself an owner of the dogs. I know that dogs are to be licensed if I want to own dogs. Since I have no intention to be an owner of the dogs, I have no reason to obtain licenses.
On August 17th, my father was approached by an Field Service Officer Ernest of Stan. County Animal Services. Officer Ernest told my father it is illegal to own dogs without licenses.
My father told the officer that the dogs are not his. The dogs were captured because they ruined our garden. My father told the officer to take the dogs away; the officer refused.
The officer told my father to sign a citation ticket. According to my father, he was given the option to either sign the citation or be arrested. My father signed the citation.
Ever since the signing of the citation, Animal Services did not return to harass my father. He never mentioned about the encounter with the Animal Services officer since he didn't think much of it.
I never knew about the citation until last week, when we received a letter from the County Animal Services, informing us that we had to pay a $1,004 fine for failure to license and failure to vaccinate the dogs.
I called the Animal Services and was told:
(1) I have had the dogs for more than 14 days; therefore, I am the owners of the dogs.
(2) If I want to contest the $1,004 fine, I would have to place a deposit of $1,004 to be allowed to present my case in "Animal Court".
(3) If I am experiencing financial hardship and I am unable to make the $1,004 deposit, I can discuss the matter with the Director of Animal Services and see if the deposit amount can be reduced.
I tried to contact with Sergeant Diginio, the head sergeant of Field Service division of County Animal Services, and the Director Patton of Animal Services, but to no avail. I have left voice messages, and only one person, Sergeant Fielders, returned my call.
I was at work at the time when Sergeant Fielders called and I am not allowed to accept personal calls during business hours.
I returned Sergeant Fielders call today and I was told that he will not return 'til Thursday.
The reason why I intend on suing the Stanislaus County Animal Services:
Stan. County Animal Services is violating my constitutional right (14th amendment) by prohibiting me an opportunity to defend myself and/or my father in court. My right and my father's right to due process is protected by the 14th amendment of the Constitution.
Furthermore, this "Animal Court" is not the people's court. It is a biased hearing that adheres to an esoteric law.
I am not requesting for a free hearing. I am requesting for a reduction of the deposit to a reasonable amount, i.e an equivalent cost of a small claims court filing fee. However, only the Director of Animal Services is able to adjust the "hearing deposit" and he/she has not returned my call.
If my family or I harmed the dogs in any way, I can understand why Animal Services would impose a fine. But the citation does not state anything about animal cruelty or endangerment.
By paying the fine, we will admit to ownership. We refuse to pay the fine because we will not admit to any ownership of stray dogs.
On December 3rd, 2009, the unpaid fine will go to County Collection. My father built the home we currently live in and, if the fine goes to collection, it will later become a lien on the property, and the county will attempt to seize our home.
This is an abuse of government power and it must be stopped.
I just want to know which people's court I would have to go to (i.e. small claims, county court, federal court) and get an injunction on the fine, and/or sue the county for violating my 14th amendment to due process.
We are a low-income family. We cannot afford an attorney. Our only option is to self-represent. We believe our case has merit.4 AnswersLaw & Ethics1 decade ago
My family and I presently reside in the city of Modesto, which is located in Stanislaus County, California.
Several months ago, two stray dogs were utterly ruining my garden. I called Modesto Police Department (MPD) Animal Control and requested for them to capture the dogs. The person who answered the phone at MPD informed me that they had no one on staff to handle the problem. They told me to call Stanislaus County Animal Services.
I called Animal Services, and since it was after business hours, I was transferred to a voice mail. I don't recall leaving a voice mail.
Since MPD and Animal Services were unable to assist me in stopping these dogs from destroying my garden, I took it upon myself to capture the dogs and store them until someone from either MPD or Animal Services arrives to transport the strays to their facility.
Now, this is where the discrimination begins. An Animal Service officer, by the name of Ernest, came to my home and spoke to my father. My father, being a Vietnam War refugee, does not speak good English.
My father explained to me that he was intimidated by this Animal Services officer, and was told to sign a "citation ticket" because the officer told him to do so. In his broken English, my father asked the officer to take the dogs away. The officer refused to do so.
Today, I received a letter from Stanislaus County Animal Services, with a bill amounting to $1,004.00. I called Animal Services and inquired on why we are being fined $1,004.00.
According to the memo on the citation (and this is the memo composed by officer Ernest), my father admitted to owning the dogs for more than a year. And, based on my father's "admission," my father is required to pay for a vaccination and license fee for the dogs.
My father NEVER EVER admitted to owning any dogs. These stray dogs were captured by me because Modesto Police Department Animal Control and Stanislaus County Animal Services would not capture these dogs. If I let them roam freely, the dogs will continue ravaging my garden.
Earlier today, I spoke with an employee at Animal Services. The Animal Services employee told me that they cannot catch the dogs because it is out of their jurisdiction.
That's strange.... It is out of their jurisdiction (strangely enough, I live in Modesto, located in Stanislaus County, California), so they can't catch the dogs. BUT it is within their jurisdiction to fine my father $1,004.00.
What's discriminating is that Officer Ernest, the field service officer, does not speak Vietnamese. And my father does not speak proper English. And if the Animal Services agency wants to fine my father for some ordinance or law, they need to explain to him, in detail, why he is being fined the exorbitant amount of $1,004.00. But no explanation was given before nor after the signing of the citation ticket.
Field Service Officer Ernest chose to interpret bits-and-pieces of my father's words, and, with her uniform and badge, coerced my father into signing the ticket, which is entirely in English.
Now they are trying to send this $1,004.00 bill to Stanislaus County collections, and we are more than likely to lose our home because collections will then put a lien on our home. My father refuses to pay this bill since we do not own the dogs nor did he ever admit to owning the dogs.
My neighborhood is heavily populated with immigrants, mostly Hispanic. There is a possible class action lawsuit against Stanislaus County Animal Services at hand, considering that their officers intimidated my father, an immigrant, into signing a ticket, and now extorting him into paying this fine or lose his home. I believe that my father is not the only person targeted with such unethical tactics by the Stanislaus County Animal Services.
I believe that I can handle this case in small claims court, but I wonder if a class action lawsuit is more appropriate. Are there any legal experts out there who can contribute their two-cents on this issue?8 AnswersLaw & Ethics1 decade ago