SANTA FE – A judge on Tuesday refused to dismiss a lawsuit filed in 2013 by the Attorney General’s Office against a Roswell company that wanted to open a horse slaughterhouse, rejecting an argument that the lawsuit is no longer relevant.
State District Judge Francis Mathew also expanded a previously issued preliminary injunction to prevent a second, successor company from opening a slaughterhouse at the site.
A trial to decide whether the horse slaughter operation should be permanently barred was tentatively scheduled for August 2016.
Valley Meat Co. argued in a hearing that the case is moot because it has dropped its plan to slaughter horses and because Congress didn’t fund the required federal inspection services in the current budget year.
“This is, for lack of a better term, beating a dead horse,” company attorney A. Blair Dunn told the court. His clients “could not operate if they wanted to,” he said.
He accused the Attorney General’s Office of “an endless stream of harassment” against Valley Meat, saying the AG is pursuing a legislative goal – outlawing horse slaughter – through court action.
But Assistant Attorney General Ari Biernoff said the congressional ban on funding for inspectors ends soon – the new federal budget year begins Oct. 1 – and advocates on both sides of the horse slaughter issue are lobbying Congress, which has “seesawed” on funding inspections.
Biernoff also contended that D’Allende Meats – formed by two men with business relationships to Valley Meat – is a “shell company” and that it’s clear to the state the firms are trying to position themselves for horse slaughter.
He said there were no legal grounds for dismissing the lawsuit.
D’Allende Meats has a pending request with the state Environment Department for a permit to discharge wastewater. Dunn said that’s because the company is trying to sell the Roswell facility, and prospective buyers may want to process dairy cattle there.
Dunn, who represents both companies, told the judge none of his clients intends to slaughter horses at the Roswell plant.
“All they are trying to do is get out of this mess,” Dunn said.
The judge didn’t go as far as the AG’s Office wanted him to. The AG also had asked that the companies be barred from pursuing regulatory approval from federal and state agencies for horse slaughter or wastewater discharge, but Mathew didn’t do that.
Dunn said he plans to ask Mathew, who is new to the case, to reconsider the preliminary injunction issued last year by Judge Matthew Wilson. Dunn claims Wilson may have had questionable communications while considering the preliminary injunction. Dunn has sued Wilson separately under the state’s public records law and that case is pending in the state Supreme Court, although the court has ordered Wilson removed as a defendant.