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Judge rules no malice in goat sale case

March 27, 1998

By MARLO BARNHART

Staff Writer

A Washington County Circuit Court judge ruled Friday that the late Jesse Shoemaker was not the victim of an illegal or malicious act, when he thought he had to sell his pet goats for $100 in February 1997.

Judge John H. McDowell granted a motion for summary judgment filed by the Washington County SPCA and Robert Boden, who bought the goats.

The action means the lawsuit filed by Jesse Shoemaker's estate has been reduced to the question of the goats' value.

Originally the suit had sought $4,950 for the value of the 30 goats and punitive damages of $100,000 for "intentional, reckless and in deliberate disregard of a high probability that emotional distress would result."

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But McDowell pointed out over and over in court Friday that the only evidence of any kind of distress was a statement that Shoemaker once broke down in tears.

"A deal was consumated and $100 was offered for the goats," McDowell said, ruling it was purely Shoemaker's mistake that he believed the SPCA officers were law enforcement officers and that he had to sell the animals, the judge said.

The lawsuit was filed last September by Donald Shoemaker, acting as administrator of his late father's estate. Jesse Shoemaker died in a fire at his Clear Spring area residence on April 3, 1997.

In the lawsuit, Donald Shoemaker said Boden showed up at Jesse Shoemaker's home in February 1997 with SPCA agents. They gathered up the goats, which Shoemaker kept as pets, and took them away to be sold.

Shelly Moore, executive director of the SPCA, said last fall the agency investigated nuisance complaints at the Jesse Shoemaker residence and gave him a list of conditions to improve. They included a lack of running water and no fence for the animals.

"He said he took these goats to church on Sunday. They were his pets," said attorney Martin Palmer who was representing the Shoemaker estate.

Palmer suggested that the SPCA could have waited for Jesse Shoemaker to put a fence up to contain the goats.

In his ruling, McDowell said the appellate courts of Maryland have made it clear there must be actual malice, ill will or an effort to defraud for such an action as Shoemaker's lawsuit to proceed.

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