Friday, June 2, 2017

Jones v. Fransen: The Reasonable Dog Standard

Although not an EEO case, I couldn't resist doing a post on Jones v. Fransen, in which the Eleventh Circuit dismissed a negligence claim against Draco, a police dog. Here are some highlights:
In history and literature, the name "Draco" has been associated with some notorious characters. Draco of ancient Greece is perhaps best known for the harsh legal code he composed, which inspired the word "draconian." Draco Lucius Malfoy, of course, is Harry Potter's perpetually maleficent rival in the Harry Potter literary series.
And to the list of infamous Dracos, add Defendant-Appellant Draco. Draco is a police canine who was involved in the apprehension of Plaintiff Randall Kevin Jones. Unfortunately, Draco inflicted some serious damage on Jones when Draco refused to release his bite. Jones sued Draco, among others, for negligence. Georgia law by its terms, however, does not provide for negligence actions directly against dogs. We therefore hold as much today and reverse the district court's denial of Defendant-Appellants' motion to dismiss Draco.
. . .
Jones . . . alleged in his complaint that "Officer K-9 Draco of the Gwinnett County Police Department" was liable for negligence in his individual capacity. We are not persuaded.
Georgia has codified the tort of negligence. And under the express terms of Georgia law, only a person may be held liable for breaching a legal duty . . . . 
Not surprisingly, [the Georgia law] we use to determine the meaning of words used in Georgia's tort statutes[] does not define the word "person" to include dogs. 
Quoting the Seventh Circuit, the court noted the numerous imponderables that would arise if it allowed a suit against a dog:
Was [the dog] served with process? Did he retain as his lawyer [the same attorney] who purports to represent all . . . defendants? Was [the dog] offered the right of self-representation ? What relief does [the plaintiff] seek from a dog -- [the dog's] awards, perhaps?
And my favorite: would it be necessary to ask how a reasonable dog would have acted in Draco's position?

Sometimes "the law is a ass" because it gets things woefully wrong. Here, I can't complain about the court's conclusion. Draco will get to keep his pension. And sure, this is an entertaining case. But c'mon, did it really require three full pages for the court to make light of the situation and explain what any five-year-old (human) would know -- that you can't sue a dog?

So my verdict in this case, if the court were on trial: ass.

This blog reflects the views solely of its author. It is not intended, and should not be regarded, as legal advice on how to analyze any particular set of facts.