A humane society is not a government agency subject to freedom of access laws, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court has ruled.
Gina Turcotte sought to get access to records regarding her cat from the Humane Society Waterville Area under Maine’s Freedom of Access Act, arguing that the society is the functional equivalent of a public agency and provides animal-shelter services to the city.
In a ruling earlier this month, Justice Warren M. Silver said the society does not perform a governmental function, is not governmentally funded, is not under significant governmental involvement nor was created by statute.
In other jurisdictions, humane societies have been determined to undertaken governmental functions “primarily where the societies and their employees are authorized by statute to take actions such as enforcing animal welfare laws and confiscating abused or neglected animals,” according to the opinion. However, in Maine, Waterville has to have a shelter for stray animals, but the shelter operators don’t have the authority to enforce animal welfare laws, Silver said.
“That an entity provides services under a contract with a public agency is insufficient, on its own, to establish that it performs a governmental function,” Silver said.
The society also obtains the majority of its funding from private donations, Silver said.