Monday, June 16, 2008

Man Sues After 60+ of His Snakes Died in State Custody

Article from The Salt Lake Tribune
A Utah man convicted of importing snakes without a permit says authorities let 62 of his rubber boas die in state custody. Only three others survived.

Ryan Hoyer is suing the Division of Wildlife Resources for failing to take care of his snakes. He says they are picky eaters, sensitive to temperature changes and need to bathe constantly in water. ''If these snakes had simply been provided water and shelter for a year, the vast majority would have been fine. Instead, within eight or nine months, half were dead,'' Hoyer said. ''It is easy to overheat reptiles.''

"Suppose that your property was stolen by a thief ... then the state seized it and held it as evidence for trial, then destroyed it due to negligence. ... Regardless of whether that's jewelry, cash, rare paintings, family heirlooms, musical instruments, snakes, whatever -- (the state) is saying 'We don't owe you any duty of care for your property.' " It's precisely that legal concept that sunk Hoyer's civil suit at the district level, attorney Stephen Spencer admits. The courts have found that a state agency is usually immune from negligence suits if the damaged property in question was taken as a part of a judicial action like a search warrant.

Hoyer and Spencer have appealed that decision, hoping to convince the courts that this type of situation should be viewed differently.

The wildlife division referred all questions to Attorney General Mark Shurtleff's Office, which says citizens can't sue government for ordinary negligence. Assistant Attorney General Matthew Bates confirmed Sunday that about 60 of the snakes died in state captivity over the years. He said they were difficult to care for. Bates wanted millions of dollars for the research value of the dead snakes, rejecting the state's offer of paying street value, Bates said. The state eventually got the lawsuit dismissed, but Bates is appealing to the Utah Supreme Court.

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