Federal Judge Tosses Out Animal Cruelty-Related $25 Million Lawsuit After Settlement

Categories: Court, Crime-iny
christopher rayburn.jpg
A complaint seeking at least $25 million from Orange County and numerous employees at the Orange County Heathcare Agency's Animal Care Services for illegally seizing hundreds of exotic animals from a Stanton specialty pet shop has been tossed out of federal court after a settlement. 

Jerry L. Steering--the Newport Beach-based attorney for Christopher Louis Rayburn, owner of Radical Reptiles--had argued in the lawsuit that county employees violated Rayburn's constitutional right against illegal search and seizure by concocting false claims that the animals had been denied adequate food, water and shelter. 

According to Steering, county employees were clueless about the needs of the reptiles.

But Norman J. Watkins, a lawyer for the county, argued that Rayburn was brazenly seeking a financial windfall because county employees appropriately seized the animals in what they believed was an emergency situation. 

Watkins' chief exhibit to back up his argument was a September 2012 plea bargain Rayburn signed with a prosecutor in the Orange County District Attorney's office. 

In that plea deal that won him a reduction in charges, Rayburn admitted that he was guilty of nine misdemeanor counts relating to animal cruelty.

At a September 2012 sentencing hearing, a judge punished him with three years of probation.  

This month, U.S. District Court Judge Jesus G. Bernal dismissed the lawsuit after Steering negotiated a February settlement that requires county officials to stop demanding more than $150,000 in fees they sought for housing the reptiles after the seizure.

Radical Reptiles, which closed, sold exotic reptiles, arachnids, scorpions, snakes and fish.

[UPDATE, March 7, 2013: The original version of this article did not mention the settlement because it was not referenced by the judge when he closed the case nor was the deal posted as part of the public record.]

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The Rayburn federal lawsuit was settled between the parties on February 13, 2013, pending approval of the Orange County Board of Supervisors. A stipulation showing the settlement (pending Board approval) was filed with The District Court prior to its Dismissal of the case on February 21, 2013. On March 5, 2013, the Orange County Board of Supervisors still approved the same settlement of the case, that included the waiver of an assessment by the County against Mr. Rayburn for the caring for the animals, in the amount of $158,435.94 (the assessment plus accrued interest.) OC Weekly might consider calling both sides when writing articles about cases in the future, to make sure that their readers know what actually happened.

Jerry L. Steering, Esq.

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