JEFFERSON CITY — The operator of a kennel in Salem, Mo. who claimed she was defamed by a report used in connection to an anti-puppy mill campaign, has lost her appeal in the Missouri Supreme Court.
In a ruling issued on April 25, the high court found that none of the allegedly defamatory statements made about Mary Ann Smith were actionable as a matter of law.
The court affirmed a ruling of Circuit Judge Ronald White of Dent County in dismissing Smith's suit against the Humane Society of the United States and Missourians for the Protection of Dogs.
Smith's suit arose from the 2010 ballot initiative Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act, which appeared to voters as Proposition B. The measure passed by a margin of 52 to 48 percent.
According to the Supreme Court opinion, the Humane Society in 2010 produced a 27-page report titled "Missouri's Dirty Dozen," in which it described Smith's Kennel:
"Smith's Kennel has a history of repeat USDA violations stretching back more than a decade, including citations for unsanitary conditions; dogs exposed to below-freezing temperatures or excessive heat without adequate shelter from the weather; dogs without enough cage space to turn and move around freely; pest and rodent infestations; injured and bleeding dogs, dogs with loose, bloody stools who had not been treated by a vet, and much more,” according to the court's opinion.
Smith alleged the statements placed her in a false light by misrepresenting the activities and conduct of her and her kennel and by associating her kennel "with those that had more severe animal welfare violations," the ruling states.
In its motion to dismiss, which the Dent County court adopted, HSUS argued that Smith could not maintain her defamation claims because the statements made in its report were “absolutely privileged opinions,” because “ratings, rankings and grades are inherently subjective,” the ruling states.