A local authority “acted precipitously” when it wrongfully seized a man’s horse and later destroyed the animal over a €3,000 impounding debt, the High Court has ruled.
Edward McDonagh, of Bothar an Coiste, Headford Road, Galway, sued Galway County Council over a stallion owned by him, called Chief of Colours. It was seized on February 11th, 2018 after the council claimed it was found wandering on the Headford Road.
Mr Justice Garrett Simons found it was disproportionate of the council to destroy the animal in the circumstances of an ongoing dispute over ownership.
The council should “at least have considered the option of disposing of the horse by way of sale rather than destruction”.
The judge said he would determine later the amount of compensation for Mr McDonagh if agreement is not reached in the meantime about it between the parties. The value of the horse was given variously at between €1,500 and €35,000.
In his action, Mr McDonagh had queried whether it had been removed from private land but Mr Justice Simons found it was in a public place when seized.
The court heard fees of €3,129, including €589 unspecified administration fees, had built up after the horse was seized.
A dispute about these fees, and ownership, ensued with the council insisting the fees be paid or the animal would be destroyed.
Mr McDonagh’s solicitor wrote he would discharge the fees but complained about the manner in which the council was seeking to recover the fees. The solicitor said it was an abuse of power by the council and if the horse was destroyed, legal proceedings would issue.
The horse was destroyed on April 13th 2018.
Mr Justice Simons said the principal factor informing that decision was the failure to pay the fees requested.
The judge said that decision was made against a background whereby there was an ongoing dispute between the parties and Mr McDonagh said the council should have dealt with it as a simple contract debt.
The judge found the council was authorised to recover the fees under its bye-laws although those laws did not authorise the charging of the €589 administration fee. The council acted precipitously in destroying the animal, he said.