|Abandoned Animals - Establishing a Lien to Pursue Payment|
Legal advice contained within this summary of the law is provided by NYSVMS Board Counsel Barbara Ahern, Esq.
A veterinarian who has rendered veterinary services to an animal, and has not been paid, can use provisions established in the Lien Law to establish a lien on the animal and then to sell the animal for payment of the debt owed.
Section 183 of the New York Lien Law allows a veterinarian to establish a lien on animals placed in the veterinarian's care for the amount of veterinary services rendered and for boarding such animals:
New York Lien Law Sec. 183. Lien of bailee of animals.
Any veterinarian, duly licensed to practice under the laws of this state, who in connection with such practice renders professional services in the treatment of any dog, cat or other domestic animal or boards any such animal on his premises, or a person keeping a livery stable, or boarding stable for animals, or pasturing or boarding one or more animals, or who in connection therewith keeps or stores any wagon, truck, cart, carriage, vehicle or harness, has a lien dependent upon the possession upon each dog, cat or other animal kept, pastured or boarded by him, and upon any wagon, truck, cart, carriage, vehicle or harness, of any kind or description, stored or kept provided an express or implied agreement is made with the owners thereof, whether such owner be a mortgagor remaining in possession or otherwise, for the sum due him for the professional service rendered, care, keeping, boarding or pasturing of the animal, or for the keeping or storing of any wagon, truck, cart, carriage, vehicle or harness, under the agreement, and may detain the dog, cat or other animal or wagon, truck, cart, carriage, vehicle and harness accordingly, until such sum is paid.
However, you are not entitled to simply hold the animals for payment, and you must follow the procedures outlined in the Lien Law to establish and perfect this lien before you can sell the animals upon which the lien is established to satisfy your bill. The Lien Law is very specific about those procedures, as well as the procedures that must be followed for the subsequent sale of the liened property, and courts have repeatedly held that lienholders who did not follow them exactly did not properly establish a lien, and were not entitled to sell the property to satisfy a financial obligation.
The procedures outlined by the Lien Law are as follows:
Notice of Lien and Intent to Sell Liened Property
The lienholder must serve notice on the owner of the property of his intent to sell the property in order to satisfy the debt. Notice can be served by mailing it by first class mail, but you must obtain proof of mailing by obtaining a certificate of first class mailing from the post office when you deliver the envelope to them. The notice should be entitled as a notice of lien and intent to sell, and in addition to prominently stating the name and address of the owner and the purpose of the notice, must under Section 201 of the Lien Law contain the following information:
The nature of the debt owed, with an itemized statement of the amount owed and the date when it was due;
A brief description of the personal property against which the lien exists;
The estimated value of the property;
The amount of the lien on the day the notice is sent and additional amounts that continue to accrue; if the underlying agreement on which the lien is based provides for the continuous care (boarding) of the liened property, you are entitled to receive all additional boarding fees that accrue up until the time that you sell the property, but only if you include an additional statement in this notice that states that "boarding fees of (amount) accrue daily and will be charged daily up to and including the day on which the property is sold," and that you demand full payment of these sums as well as your costs in establishing and enforcing the lien;
A demand that the owner pay the amount of the lien no later than a specific day that you name in the letter; that day cannot be earlier than 10 days from the date the debtor receives notice of the lien and intended sale (for notices that are mailed, it is deemed to be received five days after you mail it, so the date you use in the letter cannot be any sooner than 15 days after you mail the notice; counting of days always starts on the day after you mail the notice);
The time when and place where the property will be sold, if the amount owed is not paid; and
A statement that the owner is entitled, under section 201-a of the Lien Law, to bring a proceeding in court within 10 days of the service of the notice if he disputes the validity of the lien or the amount claimed.The law requires that this statement be verified by the lienholder to the effect that the lien upon such property is valid, that the debt upon which such lien is founded is due and has not been paid and that the facts stated in such notice are true to the best of his knowledge and belief, which means that you must include a statement affirming that all the information in the notice is true. You must attach copies of the bill and the owner’s original authorization to provide treatment to his animals.
Owner's Right to Contest Debt, Lien or Sale
The Lien Law specifically provides an owner of property which will be sold to satisfy a debt with the opportunity to bring a special proceeding to challenge the validity of the lien. This action would be brought in city, village or town court, and must be brought within 10 days of the owner’s receipt of the notice of lien that you have sent to him. In this special proceeding, the owner can attempt to show that you are not entitled to claim a lien on the property, or that all or part of the amount claimed has not been properly charged to the account of the owner, or that all or part of the claimed amount exceeds the fair and reasonable value of the services performed by you.
Publication of Notice of Sale
After the time period has expired for the owner to redeem the liened property after receiving your notice of lien (15 days after mailing), you must publish a notice of sale in a newspaper published in the town or city where the sale is to be held. The notice must be published twice, once a week for two consecutive weeks. The notice must describe the property to be sold, must state the name of the owner and the time and place of the sale.
Sale of the Property
At the time and place of the sale as you have listed it in the notice to the owner and subsequently published in the newspaper, the sale shall be held. Although the law says that the sale shall be by public auction, you yourself can conduct the public auction, provided the sale is held in a place accessible to the public. It must be held in an auction format, allowing any person who has come to the sale an opportunity to inspect the property and to bid on it for purchase. If your intention is to purchase the property yourself (by bidding on it), then you should not also conduct the sale, but ask someone else to act in that capacity. Alternatively, you can contact an auctioneer and ask them to conduct the sale. They will likely include your animals in one of their regular general merchandise auctions. They may be willing to publish the notices of sale you are required to publish, since they often sell liened property and are usually familiar with the legal requirements for such sales.
If your intention is to acquire the animals in order to satisfy your outstanding bill, then you should pay a price for them that is exactly equal to the amount of your total bill. This amount is then paid to you as the proceeds of the sale. If the animals are sold to you or to someone else for an amount greater than your bill, the excess proceeds must be kept by you for the owner of the property for a period of thirty days, and you must send the owner notice that you have in your possession proceeds of the sale that rightfully belong to him. If unclaimed within thirty days, the excess proceeds must be given to the city, village or town where the sale was held, which must hold it for the owner for a period of five years, after which time the money reverts to the general funds of the city, village or town. If you purchase the animals at the public sale, however conducted, you are then free to keep them or to resell them if you so choose.
You should keep clear records of your compliance with these sections of the Lien Law, including a copy of the notice of lien, the certificate of mailing, and copies of the notice of sale published in the newspaper. You also need a statement of your final bill at the time of the sale, which should include all your costs of compliance with Lien Law procedures, in order to justify the full amount that should be paid to you. If you conduct the sale yourself, you should include a description of the sale on the bill of sale that you deliver to yourself (or another purchaser).
Compliance with the specific provisions of the Lien Law is no simple matter, and liens are not usually established on any property unless the property has significant value that justifies the time and expense of establishing and perfecting the lien.
Forms related to the practice of veterinary medicine: Pet Lemon law, DEA registration, consent form, hospital admission form
Articles related to the business of owning/managing a veterinary hospital/clinic