Court Rules In The AQHA’s Favor In Cloning Appeal

cloneoffspringThe AQHA does not have to register clones or their offspring, according to a Jan. 14 appellate court ruling.In a ruling of international significance in the horse industry, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday, Jan. 14, overturned an earlier court decision that found the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) violated antitrust laws by barring cloned quarter horses from its registry. The ruling means that the AQHA will not have to register cloned quarter horses.

In 2012, Jason Abraham, a rancher from Canadian, Texas, and Gregg Veneklasen, a veterinarian from Canyon, Texas, sued the 280,000-member AQHA, seeking to overturn Rule 227a, which has barred cloned horses from the registry since 2004.

In July 2013, U.S. District Judge Mary Lou Robinson determined an AQHA committee and top AQHA officials violated state antitrust law and the federal Sherman Anti-Trust Act by conspiring to bar cloned horses from its horse registry. Jurors, however, awarded no damages to Abraham and Veneklasen, who sought to register their cloned horses.

The AQHA later appealed the decision to the 5th Circuit court, and Robinson granted the AQHA’s motion to halt horse cloning registration requirements until the 5th Circuit ruled. On Wednesday, they ruled in the AQHA’s favor.

“Plaintiffs (Abraham and Veneklasen) here contend that AQHA monopolized the relevant market for elite quarter horses. …Nothing in the record, however, shows that AQHA competes in the elite quarter horse market. AQHA is a member organization; it is not engaged in breeding, racing, selling or showing elite quarter horses,” the high court wrote in Wednesday’s ruling.

The 5th Circuit said in its ruling that the plaintiff’s claim under Section 2 of the Sherman Anti-Trust law was invalid “because AQHA is not a competitor in the allegedly relevant market for elite quarter horses.”

AQHA Executive Vice President Don Treadway said in a statement Wednesday that the association believed that “our case was sound” and was pleased with the ruling.

“Obviously, this decision lifts a huge burden from the shoulders of our Association, and we are relieved to finally have a judgment in our favor,” Treadway said. “We have not yet had time to fully absorb the written opinion of the appellate court, but we are grateful for our legal system and for the tremendous support we continue to receive from our valued members and, of course, our employees.”

Reactions varied across the horse industry as the news of Wednesday’s ruling spread. National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA) Hall of Fame Rider Winston Hansma, of Weatherford, Texas, said, “I’m not for cloning anyway, but I think an association should be able to make rules that they think protect the integrity of the breed. I’m glad to see that the courts believe that as well.

“I think there will still be people that clone, just because I don’t think they were doing it from a marketability standpoint,” Hansma continued. “They knew going into it that they weren’t going to be able to register them, so I don’t think that was even a consideration. They were just trying to capture the magic again.”

“I think it’s just such a personal opinion for some people,” said Shelly Mowery, who, along with her husband, Rick Mowery, owns Royal Blue Boon Too, a clone of all-time leading cutting dam Royal Blue Boon. “We bought her for bloodlines, and I have a filly and a colt that are absolutely gorgeous. I’m certain that this ruling, for a few out there, will be devastating, because they just, come hell or high water, wanted that registration. But it’s just a piece of paper at the end of the day for us. It would be a whole different deal if the NCHA’s rules required papers. But they don’t.”

Calls to Abraham and Nancy Stone, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, for comment on the ruling were not immediately returned. Veneklasen declined to comment.