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Hearing set for Monday in cloning case

AQHA LogoTwo area horse breeders who won a jury verdict last month in a federal antitrust lawsuit against the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) will square off again with the AQHA Monday in an Amarillo court hearing on the future of horse cloning.

Last month, an Amarillo federal court jury found the AQHA and one of its committees violated two sections of the Sherman Antitrust Act and Texas statutes by barring cloned horses from the organization’s registry. Jurors also found that the AQHA’s actions harmed the plaintiffs’ business, but the jury awarded no damages in the case.

Rancher Jason Abraham of Canadian and Amarillo veterinarian Gregg Veneklasen sued the 280,000-member organization last year, seeking to overturn Rule 227a, which has barred cloned horses from the AQHA registry since 2004.

On Monday, attorneys for the plaintiffs and the AQHA will meet again in court over a proposed judgment in the case. Both sides said Friday they didn’t wish to comment on proposed court orders the parties submitted to U.S. District Judge Mary Lou Robinson.

The plaintiffs, citing the jury’s unanimous verdict, argued in legal briefs filed Friday that they are entitled to an injunction ordering the AQHA to register clones and are seeking more than $600,000 in attorneys’ fees from the association.

The plaintiffs, who have about 20 cloned horses or clone offspring, said in court documents that they cannot effectively compete in the Quarter Horse market without having their animals registered by the AQHA.

“The harm to plaintiffs is obvious and was well-established by proof at trial. The trial record is replete with evidence that plaintiffs have been harmed by the AQHA’s naked restraint on supply and complete barrier to entry. AQHA has completely excluded plaintiffs’ horses from the elite quarter horse market, thus totally preventing plaintiffs from competing in the relevant market,” the plaintiffs said in court filings. “The only viable means of disabling AQHA’s ongoing antitrust violation is a permanent injunction prohibiting such conduct in the future.”

The association would not be harmed by ordering it to register the clones because the AQHA has already drafted revised rules needed to allow the registration of clones and their offspring, the plaintiffs argued.

In its brief, the AQHA said the jury’s verdict in the case was not supported by evidence presented at trial. The plaintiffs, the AQHA argued, failed to introduce evidence that a conspiracy existed between or among two or more people and failed to show that the AQHA’s Rule 227a has caused any harm to the horse market by constraining the supply of elite quarter horses.

The AQHA claimed plaintiffs failed to show that the rule constituted an unreasonable restraint on trade or that the association possesses monopoly control over the quarter horse market. The AQHA also cited concerns about establishing parentage of clones if Robinson orders it to register them and asked that clone registration be limited to animals free of several genetic diseases.

“This court can alleviate AQHA’s concern while still addressing the alleged harm to the market by narrowly tailing the injunction to allow for the registration of cloned mares with a different mitochondrial DNA profile than the original mare and other clones of the same mare. With this limitation, cloned mares can be registered, addressing AQHA’s concern,” the association said in its brief.

Mitochondria are structures within cells that convert the energy from food into a form that cells can use. Although most DNA is packaged in chromosomes within the nucleus, mitochondria also have a small amount of their own DNA. This genetic material is known as mitochondrial DNA, according to information from Genetics Home Reference, a web site that provides information on genetics.

The association also asked Robinson not to award attorneys’ fees to the plaintiffs.

If Robinson grants the plaintiffs’ request for an injunction,  the AQHA asked that any legal remedy to limited to a court order requiring the association to revise its rules to allow for the following:

  •  Subject to other legal registration rules, cloned quarter horse mares must be registered, although the association could list clones in a Clone Supplement.
  • Cloned mares listed in the Clone Supplement must be listed for breeding purposes only.
  • The mare being cloned, or the cell donor, must be a mare registered in the AQHA’s numbered registry.
  • The clone must be produced by somatic cell  nuclear transfer, a cloning technique.
  • The nonmitochondrial DNA profile of the clone must match the nonmitorchondrial DNA profile of the cell donor.
  • The mitochondrial DNA profile of the clone must be different than the mitochondrial DNA profile of the cell donor.
  •  The mitochondrial DNA profile of the clone must be different that the mitochondrial DNA profile of all other previously registered clones of the same mare.
  • The registration of the clone must be authorized by the record owner of the cell donor.
  •  Neither the clone nor the cell donor may carry any of the following genetic diseases: hyperkalemic periodic paralysis, polysaccharide storage myopathy, glycogen branching enzyme disease, hereditary equine regional dermal asthenia and malignant hyperthermia.

Jackie Payne, a spokeswoman for AQHA, said the association had no comment beyond its legal briefs and is awaiting the outcome of Monday’s hearing.

Article originally published in the Amarillo Gobe-News.