Day At The Track

Monica Thors files federal lawsuit in New Jersey

02:21 AM 16 Jan 2016 NZDT
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Monica Thors, harness racing
Monica Thors has filed a federal lawsuit against the New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

A South Jersey harness racing horse trainer and cinematographer has filed a federal lawsuit against the New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. It is the latest legal action brought by Monica Thors in various courts. This story was reported by Lillian Shupe to NJ.com. 

In June, Thors, 55, of Mullica Hill, was indicted on nine counts of animal cruelty, six months after officers from the NJSPCA seized several horses and a goat from a South Harrison Township farm where she was shooting a documentary about the care of harness racing horses. The project, started in 2011, has yet to be completed.

She has pleaded "not guilty" to the animal cruelty charges in state Superior Court in Gloucester County. She was to appear in court on Dec. 11, but proceedings were adjourned, according to court documents. Thors appeared in court on Jan. 8 for a status conference and a hearing regarding a motion for discovery. According to the Gloucester County Prosecutor's office, the motion is moot since the prosecution is already turning over everything it has.

A trial date has not been set. A motion regarding the suppression of evidence will be heard on March 4.

Hearings on several motions in two civil lawsuits were also scheduled for Dec. 2, but according to court documents, Thors was ill and asked to have them adjourned. On Dec. 18 a request by Thors to visit her animals on Christmas was denied, but no decisions were made on the other motions. The hearings were rescheduled to Dec. 21, but later Thors was told the motions would be "decided on the papers" rather than including oral arguments.

In response to that, Thors filed a suit in federal court on Jan. 5 asking that oral arguments be granted. She also requested that all motions in the state court be stayed until the federal court issues a ruling.

The pending motions pertain to two civil suits. Thors filed a suit against the NJSPCA and several individuals shortly after her animals were removed. She claims the "pre-planned" seizure of her animals was illegal and she is the victim of a conspiracy. She said health records prove that her horses and goat were not abused. She also accused the NJSPCA and certain individuals of intentionally starving and making her horses sick. She claims more would have been dead by now if not for a March court order preventing euthanasia of the animals without input from a veterinarian of Thors choosing.

Thors said she has filed "severe animal cruelty and murder charges and attempted murder charges," against the NJSPCA et al, both in the Gloucester County Prosecutor's Office and in the state Attorney General's office in Trenton.

The second suit regards her eviction from the farm where she kept the horses. According to various documents submitted to the court, Thors entered into an agreement with a couple that owns the farm. Under the agreement, Thors paid for the construction of a modular barn and other improvements. Instead of paying monthly stall rent, she gets credit based on the cost of construction. Thors claims the agreement was for 99 years although a copy submitted to the courts does not have a term listed.

The farm owners, Richard and Grace Allen, have been trying to evict Thors, who claims that the agreement does not allow the Allens to evict her for any reason. The agreement also says no lawsuits can be filed for any reason. Thors filed suit against the Allens in 2013.

Despite the contract, on April 1 the court ordered Thors to vacate the premises by April 30. Although she has no horses there, she told the court she goes there everyday to maintain the barn and feed several cats that live there.

Thors then filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy on April 24. Bankruptcy filings typically come with automatic stays on proceedings like evictions. The state Superior Court later vacated the April 1 order so Thors could have more time to seek further review.

In a complaint Thors claims that the Allens have violated the automatic stay in bankruptcy proceedings by refusing to accept her track rent payments, then seeking to lift the stay for non-payment of rent. Thors accuses the Allens of causing her emotional distress, which contributed to her recent illness and led to hospitalization in early December. Thors is seeking monetary damages for "willful misconduct causing emotional distress."

A hearing in that matter is scheduled for Jan. 19.

Thors, who has worked for decades in harness racing and horse photography, had to euthanize at least two horses in 2013 for chronic foot infections. Thors said a third died after a stable accident. Neighbors who complained to the NJSPCA said she had been excessively filing the animals' hooves — a claim Thors later denied when she contacted the South Jersey Times to discuss her case last spring.

Thors previously acknowledged that her horses had chronic laminitis — an inflammatory condition of the connective tissue inside the hoof that causes lameness — beginning in the fall of 2013, but said that she had been compassionately caring for them with some success when her seven horses and goat were seized in December 2014. She has said the problem was caused by glue used to attach their shoes.

Officials with the SPCA also claimed her horses were overweight, and that Thors had failed to comply with recommendations to change their diet.

Thors contends she has done nothing wrong.

Thors is charged with third-degree animal cruelty the deaths of four horses that had to be euthanized: According To Prince, a 7-year-old standardbred stallion; According To Hoyle, a 14-year-old standardbred stallion; Aspiration, a 7-year-old standardbred mare; and Princess Grey, a 13-year-old standardbred mare. All of the horses were allegedly overweight and suffered from chronic laminitis.

Thors also faces five counts of fourth-degree animal charges for allegedly "causing serious bodily injury, also by failure to provide care" to four more horses and a goat, all of which were also said to be overweight and suffering from hoof problems.

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