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Farmer v. Pike County Agricultural Society

May 24, 2006

JAMES FARMER, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
PIKE COUNTY AGRICULTURAL SOCIETY, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Smith

Magistrate Judge King

ORDER

Plaintiffs assert claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state law, alleging that defendants violated their due process rights by banning them from participating or assisting in livestock exhibitions at the Pike County Fair. Defendants move for summary judgment (Doc. 27). For the reasons that follow the Court grants defendants' summary judgment motion.

I. Background

Plaintiffs are individual citizens of Ohio. Plaintiff James Farmer is the father of plaintiffs Terri Farmer and Brooke Farmer Walls. Defendant Pike County Agricultural Society ("Society") is an agricultural society organized pursuant to Ohio Rev. Code Chapter 1711. The individual defendants are members of the Society's Board.

On August 1, 2002, plaintiff Terri Farmer participated in the Pike County Fair by entering a steer in the livestock competition. Terri Farmer's steer was selected as the Reserve Market Champion.

Following the competition, urine and hair samples were taken from the steer and were tested at the Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine by an employee of the Ohio Department of Agriculture ("ODA"). The tests revealed the presence of the drug Lasix in the steer. Lasix, or furosemide, is a diuretic which, when given to an animal, reduces the amount of water in the animal's body. With less water retention, the animal's muscle tissue feels firmer to the judge. Ohio Rev. Code § 901.76 makes it unlawful to tamper with livestock. It specifically prohibits the use of diuretics for cosmetic purposes. Ohio Rev. Code § 901.76(E)(1)(f).

The ODA conducted a hearing on March 26, 2003. At the hearing, Terri Farmer asserted that she did not treat the steer with Lasix, and that if Lasix was found in the steer it was the result of third-party tampering. Ms. Farmer testified that the steer was within her care and control throughout the fair, but that she and her family left the steer unattended for extended periods of time. Ms. Farmer maintained that her uncle, Brian Farmer, had made unspecified threats against her father, James Farmer, and that Brian Farmer had said that he was going to the Pike County Fair. An internal ODA memorandum indicated that Brian Farmer had approached the Pike County Fair board with a letter of protest alleging that the subject steer had not been in possession of the "owner" for the required period of time because the animal had been moved back and forth from Iowa. The protest was dropped, however, because Brian Farmer refused to pay the $100 complaint fee.

The ODA hearing officer issued his findings of fact, conclusions of law and recommendation on August 1, 2003. Based on the expert testimony offered at the hearing, the ODA found that Lasix had been administered to the subject steer. The ODA rejected Terri Farmer's suggestion that her uncle Brian Farmer sabotaged the steer. The ODA concluded, however, that the evidence submitted at the hearing was insufficient to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that Terri Farmer was the person who tampered with her steer in violation of Ohio Rev. Code § 901.76. Nonetheless, the ODA found that Ms. Farmer violated Ohio Admin. Code 901-19-04, which provides in relevant part:

No person shall:

(A) Administer or cause or permit to be administered a prescription drug to livestock either immediately before an exhibition or during an exhibition unless the prescription drug is administered:

(1) By or under the supervision and direction of a veterinarian; and,

(2) Only in accordance with label directions; and,

(3) In conjunction with a valid veterinarian-client-patient relationship; and,

(4) For a valid medical purpose; and,

(5) A drug use notification form is completed and filed in accordance with the applicable requirements of rule 901-19-06 of the Administrative Code. . . . .

(D) Show, sell, or offer for sale any livestock which contains an unlawful substance or has been subjected to unacceptable practices. . . . .

(H) Make a false statement on a drug use notification form.

Ohio Admin. Code 901-19-06(A),(D), and (H). The ODA further found that Ms. Farmer violated Ohio Admin. Code 901-19-06, which provides in relevant part:

(A) The exhibitor and the owner of an animal are jointly and severally responsible for completing and filing the drug use notification form in the manner required by this rule. . . . .

(H) No person shall submit an incomplete, illegible or unsigned drug use notification form.

Ohio Admin. Code 901-19-06(A), (H). The ODA reasoned, in essence, that Terri Farmer had custody and control over the steer, and was therefore responsible for preventing others from administering Lasix to it. The ODA recommended that Terri Farmer be disqualified and required to ...


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