Jim Dey | Not every dog has its day in court — but Moxie did

Jim Dey | Not every dog has its day in court — but Moxie did

Moxie wasn't even asking for a belly rub.

All the friendly Johnson County pooch was soliciting was a scratch on the back or behind the ear, preferably both ears at the same time.

Instead, Moxie's sensual preferences became the subject of scurrilous allegations in a lawsuit filed against her owners, Bob and Pam Ruzich.

Cast as the villainous force behind a fall taken by Paulette Crosson — a friend of the Ruzichs — Moxie sought absolution in the courts.

In the end, justice triumphed — Moxie was characterized by a state appeals court as a "passive casual force" whose canine conduct did not constitute wrongdoing.

"The fact that Moxie was benignly moving while standing near (Crosson) does not translate into a finding that Moxie's movement caused (Crosson's) injury," Justice Judy Cates wrote for a unanimous three-judge panel on the 5th District Appellate Court.

Although Moxie beat the rap, dog owners should pay heed to the appellate court's discussion of doggie wrongdoing because Illinois law makes them liable for injuries caused by their pets' enthusiastic displays of affection or interest.

Cat owners need not be concerned because their pets' disdainful lack of interest in people is pretty much a matter of record.

Moxie's not-so-great, really-really bad, extremely terrible day took place on March 19, 2013, when Crosson stopped by the Ruzich residence.

The appeals court takes up the narrative from there:

Crosson "stayed for a while and then exited the house. When (Crosson) exited the house, while standing on the top steps of the porch stairs, (Ruzich's) dog, Moxie, approached (Crosson) and stood to (Crosson's) left. (Crosson) then began petting Moxie. In her deposition, (Crosson) described what happened next as follows:

Q. Moxie didn't push you off the porch, did she?

A. She did not push me. No.

Q. So while you were petting Moxie, looking away from the house, what happened?

A. Well, I just moved my foot over. I mean I don't know. I was on the edge just to get my balance a little more and it started to go off the edge."

There was no disputing that Crosson injured her right foot in the fall. The appellate court said "the sole issue in dispute is whether (Crosson's) injury was the result of (Moxie's) conduct."

Q. ....The only thing that might have contributed to your fall is Moxie was enjoying being petted and was nuzzling up to you and in the course of doing that you stepped off the edge of the step; is that correct?

A. Yeah. My foot went over a little bit off the edge.

Illinois law encourages people to maintain tight control over their pets and establishes legal liability if their pets "without provocation, attack(s), attempt(s )to attack or injure(s) any person who is peaceably conducting himself or herself in any place where he or she may lawfully be ..."

But the law "does not impose strict liability on animal owners," meaning they are not automatically liable if a pet is somehow involved in a mishap.

"An animal is the proximate cause of an injury only when the injury was caused by the conduct of the animal and not by the plaintiff's independent act. The dog must make some overt act toward the plaintiff in order for liability to attach. Not every overt act is sufficient to establish liability," Cates wrote.

In this case, Moxie "simply inched closer to encourage (Crosson) to continue petting her" and Crosson "readjusted her position, and, in doing so, stepped over the edge of the top stair and lost her balance."

In other words, Moxie was just lookin' for a little lovin', and the law says that's A-OK.

"...nothing in the record supports a finding that Moxie was out of control or that her actions were startling, irregular or erratic," the court said.

After concluding that Moxie was a good dog — yes, she is — the justices dismissed the lawsuit.

Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached by email at jdey@news-gazette.com or by phone at 217-351-5369.

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