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Jurisdiction: Oklahoma, U.S.

Alleged facts:

  1. Alice can no longer afford to keep her old horse and gives it to Joe.
  2. In exchange for the horse, Joe promises Alice he will treat it well and give it a good life.
  3. Immediately after Alice leaves the horse with Joe, Joe shoots the horse in the head and feeds the corpse to some tigers Joe owns.

Does Alice or the state (or any other party) have any cause/s of action against Joe for his conduct? Either civil or criminal? If so, what are they?

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Alice has a breach of contract claim

Assuming that the slaughter of the horse was humane and legally allowed, there are no criminal violations here so the state is not interested.

Joe has breached his contract with Alice because he did not do what he promised to do. Alice can sue for damages - possibly the market value of the horse (because she could have sold it to someone else) or the expected value of the care Joe should have provided.

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    Not disagreeing with your answer (+1), but given that the horse is "old", and stipulating that your assumption that the method and manner of slaughter is considered humane, how long would Joe have have to wait to clear his obligation of a "good life", noting that horses are often euthanized? – sharur Apr 15 '20 at 23:36
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    The vagueness of the terms of the contract make it impossible to determine damages. Or even whether the contract was or was not, indeed, breached. Correct? – Alexanne Senger Apr 15 '20 at 23:51
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    Saying the slaughter was not a criminal violation "assuming the slaughter was ... legally allowed" seems to explicitly beg the question. – bdb484 Apr 16 '20 at 0:13
  • @AlexanneSenger difficult but not impossible - courts determine difficult damages everyday – Dale M Apr 16 '20 at 0:27
  • @sharur no doubt that would be a matter in dispute in the litigation – Dale M Apr 16 '20 at 0:27
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Joe Exotic may have committed a crime.

It is possible that Joe Exotic is guilty of cruelty to animals.

Under Oklahoma Statutes Title 21, Chapter 67, Section 1685, "Any person who shall willfully or maliciously ... destroy or kill ... any animal in subjugation or captivity, whether wild or tame, and whether belonging to himself or to another ... shall be guilty of a felony."

It's not clear to me whether this constitutes a willful or malicious killing. If I were his attorney, I'd argue that killing that horse was no different than killing any of the other animals that are fed to his tigers. Killing the horse was not done with malice to the horse, but simply to ensure the preservation of the tigers.

Joe Exotic has not committed any civil wrong.

Joe has not breached his contract with Alice. He may never have had a contract to begin with, as a promise to "treat it well and give it a good life" may not be specific enough to have given rise to a binding agreement to do anything in particular. Even if you were to construe it using trade customs, it's not clear that Joe would have had any duty to preserve the life of an already aged and infirm horse.

And even if there were a breach, Alice needs to prove damages, which she probably cannot do. Any emotional distress she endured would not be recoverable as damages, which, in contract cases, are typically limited to economic loss.

She may try instead for infliction of emotional distress, but Oklahoma law would bar that claim, as awards for emotional damages are limited to cases in which they are accompanied by physical injury. See, e.g., Wilson v. Muckala, 303 F.3d 1207, 1213 (10th Cir. 2002) ("Oklahoma law obligated [the plaintiff] to provide proof of some physical injury, whether incurred contemporaneously with her emotional injury, or whether as a direct consequence of her emotional injury.")

Because Alice suffered no physical injury, she cannot collect for emotion injury. Without cognizable damages, she has no viable cause of action against Joe Exotic.

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