Documents Legal, Laws, and Regs

Bad Dentists and Open Libraries

The newest addition to the document collection is an opinion by Judge Paul Crotty related to the case Robert Allen Lee vs. Stacey Makhnevich et al. The case is a class action lawsuit against a dentist who forces patients into signing a confidentiality document before treatment, and her attempts to intimidate the dental patient, Lee, who wrote uncomplimentary comments about her practice in Yelp and other online sites.

The opinion I snagged rejects the defendants attempts to have the case thrown out in court. It’s a lovely piece of legal writing. Don’t let anyone tell you that legal documents are dry and uninteresting. The best legal documents don’t just quote relevant law—they tell a story. They paint pictures, break new pathways, shape history.

I also wanted to point out the source of the document: the Santa Clara Law Digital Commons. This site is a rich pool of legal articles and opinions that are freely and openly available to everyone—the way such writings should be. The site is well organized, cleanly designed, and very accessible: a prince among sites. From its About page:

This digital repository is a project conducted by the Heafey Law Library located at Santa Clara University’s School of Law. This archive contains scholarly materials published by our faculty and other archival collections. The purpose of this digital repository is to preserve the scholarship of Santa Clara Law and enable wider access to these materials. (emph. added)

You can read more about our copyright-claiming dentist in the ABA Journal.

Critters Documents Legal, Laws, and Regs

The Dollarhite Rabbitry FOIA Results

A few years back I came across an article about the Dollarhites in Missouri and their little bunny business. According to the article, the Dollarhites only started raising bunnies to teach their son responsibility. It was, at most, a small, casual business.

In 2011, the Dollarhites were outraged to receive a notice of violation from the USDA, with a fine of $90,643. There was a lot of huffing and puffing about government overreach in the article, but I had enough experience with the USDA APHIS to know there had to be more to the story than was being told. I decided to file a FOIA request for all documents related to the case.

The USDA informed me that the investigation was still ongoing and they couldn’t provide me most of the documentation. They did, however, provide me a few documents, one of which I had already discovered for myself: that the Wayback machine had archives of the Dollarhite bunny selling operation as far back as 2006, not 2008, as the Dollarhites claimed.

Eventually the Dollarhites got Missouri politicians, including Claire McCaskill, to intervene on their behalf—something I wish politicians would not do, because this just leads to inconsistent applications of the law (a law created by Congress, I want to note). Especially when a little research on McCaskill’s part would have demonstrated other interesting documents associated with the case:

  • Rather than a casual operation, the Dollarhites were selling bunnies to a petting zoo in Branson, as well as a pet store. In one year, they sold over 4000.
  • An early investigative report notes Dollarhite was aware of AWA licensing, and gave the investigator the impression he was going to continue breeding and selling pet rabbits without a license (doc)
  • An investigator noted Dollarhite’s seeming hostility to regulation, as well as her safety concerns (doc)
  • An internal USDA memo expressing concern about enforcement in the case, considering the circumstances, in this case, most likely the publicity and Congressional interference (doc)
  • Another frank, interesting look at the USDA’s view of discussions with Dollarhite’s attorney, who seemed to be less than aware of how the government operates (doc)
  • A disturbing note sent by Dollarhite to the USDA (doc)
  • A very disturbing note sent to the USDA with an implicit threat (doc)

Among all of the more colorful documents are investigative reports, documented proof, as well as several settlement offers extended to Dollarhite that would have let him off without a fine as long as he agreed to stop selling bunnies as pets without a license—something Dollarhite didn’t note as frequently as he noted that $90,000 fine.

When the Dollarhites settled with the USDA, the USDA was free to fulfill my FOIA request, and I’m listing the documents here for others to access.

As I said earlier: there’s always more to these stories than what you see on the surface. Thankfully, the FOIA allows us to discover the missing pieces.

I wrote three articles on the Dollarhites:

John Dollarhite and his $90,000 fine

The Dollarhite Saga

Dollarhites: A saga that should end

Access a listing of the Dollarhite FOIA documents, individually, or as one document.

Critters Legal, Laws, and Regs

The benefits of publicly accessible records

It is not difficult to make a digital copy of an inspection report. Most modern printers that make copies now have the ability to scan the copies into a PDF just as quickly as you can make the paper copy.

There is no reason for any agency, Missourian or otherwise, to not have digital copies of all their records. Not only does having digital copies of inspection reports decrease the need for paper, but it also ensures reasonable access of the records, as well as backup in case of fire, flood, and other disaster.

I have no idea what kind of information system the Department of Agriculture in Missouri has in place. I do know that, considering the interest people have in inspection records, the organization could more effectively deal with requests if it just provided the information via a simple to use online system. The USDA caught on to the advantages of such a system a few years back, which is why we can access so much USDA information online.

In fact, it’s easier to access information about Missouri agriculture at the USDA then it is to access information at the Missouri Department of Agriculture.

One major reason to allow better access to inspection records and other data online is that this is probably one of the most effective ways of shutting down bad commercial dog breeders.

Since the USDA simplified the process of accessing inspection records, several breeders have given up their USDA licenses. Frankly, they didn’t like the fact that everyone they knew could see that they’re too lazy to clean up the piles of feces, or that their dogs are sick or injured and not given care. You can see their hostility to the new public exposure in their recent treatment of USDA inspectors.

In December, 2010, when inspectors arrived at the infamous Mar-Don Kennels, they were not met with openness:

We began the inspection and, after finding non-compliant items in the first section of the outdoor housing, the licensee became upset.

The licensee stated, “I’m done with this crap, I’m giving up, I’m surrendering my license”, and stormed away entering the house. We followed the licensee and waited for her to come out of the house at which time she said could not find it (her license). At that point, ACI Jan Feldman asked her to write a statement stating that she no longer wanted to be licensed and she stated, “I am not signing or writing anything without my lawyer, I am done with you.” ACI Jan Feldman then informed the licensee that we would have to consider this as a refusal and that we would send her a copy of the report by certified mail. The licensee walked away. At 10:42 am we left the facility in an expeditious manner.

Marsha Cox wasn’t “done with this crap” because she was tired of getting written up for violations. She’s been written up for violations for years. However, thanks to the USDA making her inspection records public, and HSUS listing her operation in Missouri’s Dirty Dozen, all the dirty little secrets about her organization have been made public, for the world to see.

When Inspector Feldman visited David and Gloria Still’s business in Purdy, Missouri, David Stills actually became verbally abusive:

As we began the inspection of the third building exterior, the licensee (husband) became angry and challenging. When a non-compliant item (holes dug by the dog under a ramp) was pointed out, Mr. Still made the comment dogs dig. I agreed with him and asked Mrs. Still if she had some gravel around to address the problem. I mentioned that due to the location and deepness of the hole by the ramp, it was possible for the dogs to become injured. Mr. Still became immediately indignant and challenged my statement. His tone and body stance became more aggressive and angry.

I turned to Mrs. Still and told her if he continued in this manner I would consider it interference of the inspection and we would leave. Mr. Still then said angrily, You can just leave. He yelled that he did not need us to sell their puppies. Mrs. Still just stood there. He made a couple of other comments with a tone and manner that were very angry. I explained to Mrs. Still that since Mr. Still was on the license we would be leaving and would consider this interference and a refusal to allow inspection. I told her I would send her the report with the refusal and interference and our findings up to this point by certified mail. Mr Still made several very angry comments during my conversation with Mrs. Still such as You don’t own these dogs and You don’t own this property. We left the facility at that point in time. We were unable to complete the inspection due to interference of the licensee and the potential risk to our safety.

Both Marsha Cox and the Stills are still licensed with the state, and I am in the process of pulling state records for both. I will be curious to compare state records with federal records.

Though Cox and the Stills are still licensed with the state, James Holtkamp is not. On August 24, 2010, during a USDA inspection:

The licensee was verbally abusive and threatening to the inspectors. The licensee refused to allow an inspection. The licensee was uncooperative and used profanity when yelling at the inspectors. The licensee physically grabbed at the inspector’s arm and the state highway patrol officer had to intervene.

I’ll still submit a Sunshine Law request for past records for Holtkamp, to ensure that he’s no longer an operating kennel.

There is a simple option if people don’t want to be inspected by the USDA or the state: don’t go into a business that requires these inspections. The problem is for the last several years, there’s been little or no exposure of these large scale commercial breeders. In the past, the inspectors have been too close to the people inspected, and the breeders got away with numerous violations and inadequate care of the dogs. Now, the USDA at least, and hopefully the MDA are becoming stricter about enforcement. More importantly, though, is the fact that the bad operations are being exposed.

The breeders are angry—no more dirty little secrets. Hopefully, angry enough to quit, and save the state and the federal government the time and expense of closing them down.