Justia Animal / Dog Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Rights
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The Hopkinses kept cattle on their Marshall County, Tennessee farm. Detective Nichols received a complaint about the treatment of those cattle, drove by, and observed one dead cow and others that did not appear to be in good health. Nichols returned with Tennessee Department of Agriculture Veterinarian Johnson. Wearing his gun and badge, Nichols knocked and. according to Mrs. Hopkins, “demanded that [she] escort them to see the cattle,” refusing to wait until Mr. Hopkins returned or until she fed her children. Johnson completed a Livestock Welfare Examination, as required by law, noting that the cattle were not in reasonable health, that they lacked access to appropriate water, food, or shelter, and that major disease issues were present; she determined that probable cause for animal cruelty existed. Nichols returned to the Hopkins’s farm several times and discovered a sinkhole containing the remains of multiple cattle. Nichols and Sheriff Lamb eventually seized the cattle without a warrant and initiated criminal proceedings. The cattle were sold.The Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of a motion for qualified immunity in a suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983. Forced compliance with orders is a Fourth Amendment seizure; words that compel compliance with orders to exit a house constitute a seizure. While the open fields doctrine allowed the officers to lawfully search the farm, it did not give them lawful access to seize the cattle; they lacked exigent circumstances when they seized the cattle. View "Hopkins v. Nichols" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit vacated the district court's judgment in favor of defendant in an action brought by plaintiff, seeking injunctive relief under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Plaintiff, who survived years of abuse, obtained Aspen as a service dog to help her cope with her post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), dissociative identity disorder (DID), anxiety, and depression. Because enrolling in a full training course to provide Aspen with formal certification was not a viable option for plaintiff, she began self-training Aspen to perform specific tasks she thought would ameliorate her disability and decrease her isolation. In the underlying suit, plaintiff challenged Del Amo's practice of denying admission to Aspen as a violation of Title III of the ADA and California's Unruh Civil Rights Act.The panel held that the district court erred by effectively imposing a certification requirement for plaintiff's dog to be qualified as a service animal under the ADA. The panel held that the ADA prohibits certification requirements for qualifying service dogs for three reasons: (1) the ADA defines a service dog functionally, without reference to specific training requirements; (2) Department of Justice regulations, rulemaking commentary, and guidance have consistently rejected a formal certification requirement; and (3) allowing a person with a disability to self-train a service animal furthers the stated goals of the ADA, for other training could be prohibitively expensive. The panel remanded for the district court to reconsider whether Aspen was a qualified service dog at the time of trial, and if Aspen is a service dog, whether Del Amo has proved its affirmative defense of fundamental alteration. View "C. L. v. Del Amo Hospital, Inc." on Justia Law

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Jeffrey was at home in York County, Pennsylvania with his daughter, young grandson, and their pet dog, Ace, a seven-year-old Rottweiler/Labrador Retriever mix. Jeffrey opened the door to let Ace outside, unaware that Trooper Corrie and other officers were swarming his property to serve an arrest warrant on an armed robbery suspect believed to be living there. Corrie heard Trooper Drum yell “whoa” several times, prompting Corrie “to turn around.” He saw a large dog coming toward him, “already mid-leap, within an arm’s reach.” Ace “was showing teeth, and growling in an aggressive manner.” Corrie says he “backpedaled to create distance,” and Ace circled around him, “attempt[ing] to attack.” Corrie “believe[s] there was another snarl,” and he fired a shot. Ace “began to come after [him] again.” Corrie fired a second shot and then a third. The dog yelped, ran to Jeffrey, and died within minutes. Trooper Drum stated that Ace had behaved aggressively. The family did not witness the incident.The family sued Corrie, claiming unlawful seizure under the Fourth Amendment and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The Third Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Corrie. The use of deadly force against a household pet is reasonable if the pet poses an imminent threat to the officer’s safety, viewed from the perspective of an objectively reasonable officer. Unrebutted testimony established that Act aggressively charged at Corrie, growled, and showed his teeth, as though about to attack. View "Bletz v. Corrie" on Justia Law

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In 144 years of the Kentucky Derby, only one horse to cross the finish line first had been disqualified. No winning horse had ever been disqualified for misconduct during the race itself. In 2019, at the 145th Derby, “Maximum Security,” the horse that finished first, was not declared the winner. He would come in last, based on the stewards’ call that Maximum Security committed fouls by impeding the progress of other horses. His owners, the Wests, were not awarded the Derby Trophy, an approximate $1.5 million purse, and potentially far greater financial benefits from owning a stallion that won the Derby.They filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against the individual stewards, the individual members of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, an independent state agency, and the Commission, claiming that the regulation that gave the stewards authority to disqualify Maximum Security is unconstitutionally vague.The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. The decision to disqualify Maximum Security was not a “final order[] of an agency” under KRS 13B.140(1) and is not subject to judicial review. The owners had no constitutionally-protected right. Kentucky law provides that “the conduct of horse racing, or the participation in any way in horse racing, . . . is a privilege and not a personal right; and ... may be granted or denied by the racing commission or its duly approved representatives.” View "West v. Kentucky Horse Racing Commission" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed an amended complaint seeking damages under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that each individual defendant violated his constitutional right to procedural due process under the Fourteenth Amendment when the local animal shelter, after a five-day holding period, put a stray dog up for adoption and spayed the dog before delivering it to the adopting family. Defendants did not know that the stray dog was plaintiff's young German Shepherd, which boasts world champion lineage and had escaped from plaintiff's back yard two weeks earlier.The Eighth Circuit held that the district court failed to devote sufficient attention to whether plaintiff had a protected procedural due process property interest and if so, the nature and extent of that interest. The court agreed with the Supreme Court of Arkansas that affirmative pre-deprivation notice is not constitutionally required in this situation, when an animal shelter holds a stray dog for more than five days and then adopts out and spays the dog after the owner fails to file a claim. The court also held that plaintiff failed to prove that each individual defendant's conduct violated his right to procedural due process. Therefore, the court reversed the district court's order insofar as it denied summary judgment to the individual defendants acting in their individual capacities, remanding with directions. View "Lunon v. Botsford" on Justia Law

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The Swartzes acquired horses, goats, and a donkey on their Washington County, Indiana hobby farm. In 2013, the county’s animal control officer, Lee, contacted Dr. Lovejoy, an Indiana State Board of Animal Health veterinarian, for help evaluating a thin horse he observed on the Swartzes’ property. Lee and Lovejoy visited the Swartzes’ farm to evaluate the animals four times. Lovejoy reported a significant decline in the animals’ welfare and expressed concerns about the conditions in which they were kept. Lee sought, in a standard, ex parte proceeding, a finding of probable cause to seize the animals. The Superior Court of Washington County determined that there was probable cause to believe animal neglect or abandonment was occurring and entered an order to seize the animals (IC 35-46-3-6). The animals were seized and the state filed animal cruelty charges against the Swartzes. The court eventually ordered permanent placement of the animals for adoption. The state deferred prosecuting the Swartzes with a pretrial diversion agreement. The Swartzes filed a federal suit, alleging a conspiracy to deprive them of their property. The Seventh Circuit vacated the district court’s rulings (in favor of the defendants) and remanded for dismissal due to a lack of federal subject matter jurisdiction. The Swartzes’ claims are inextricably intertwined with state court judgments, requiring dismissal under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. View "Swartz v. Heartland Equine Rescue" on Justia Law

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As many as 50,000 stray dogs roam Detroit’s streets, sometimes in packs. An ordinance allows animal control officers to capture and impound stray dogs owned in violation of licensing and vaccination provisions and to euthanize them under some circumstances. It makes it unlawful to refuse to surrender an animal that has attacked or bitten a person or other animal. It allows officers to enter “real property ... for the purpose of capturing, collecting, or restraining any animal,” without a warrant. Violations are misdemeanors. Detroit Animal Control officers seized each of the plaintiff’s dogs because the dogs were running loose off of the owners’ property, attacked a person or other animal, or during evictions. In their suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, the district court granted the plaintiffs an injunction with respect to the warrantless search-and-seizure claim but granted the defendants judgment as a matter of law as to other claims because the plaintiffs could not show any constitutional violations. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the rejection of the Fourteenth Amendment and several Fourth Amendment claims but reversed rejection of two Fourth Amendment claims. Most of the plaintiffs cannot show that a Detroit policy or custom directly caused the alleged search-and-seizure violations, and all of them cannot show a cognizable due-process violation. View "Hardrick v. City of Detroit" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of qualified immunity against a trooper who shot and killed plaintiff's dog when the dog ran onto a highway and obstructed traffic. The court held that the issue was not whether the trooper had the authority to seize the dog, but whether the degree of force he employed was reasonable to accomplish the necessary seizure. In this case, the trooper's actions were objectively reasonable under the circumstances and he was entitled to qualified immunity. Even assuming a constitutional violation, the trooper was entitled to qualified immunity because his conduct did not violate a clearly established Fourth Amendment right. Plaintiff has not cited, and the court has not found, any case concluding that an officer violated the Fourth Amendment when he shot and killed an unrestrained, unsupervised dog creating a serious risk to public safety and avoiding numerous attempts to control him without force. View "Hansen v. Black" on Justia Law

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The Unruh Civil Rights Act prohibits arbitrary discrimination in public accommodations with respect to trained service dogs, but not to service-dogs-in-training. The Court of Appeal affirmed summary judgment in favor of defendants in an action alleging violation of the Unruh Act, violation of the Disabled Persons Act, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Plaintiff claimed that Fortune, the owner and operator of a chain of Seafood City markets, illegally denied him service when he tried to enter two different stores with his service dog. The court held that defendants were entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the Unruh Act claim because plaintiff did not offer any evidence, let alone substantial evidence, that his dog was a fully trained service animal at the time. The court also held that "persons authorized to train service dogs" under the DPA means any person who is credentialed to do so by virtue of their education or experience, and plaintiff failed to make this showing. Finally, defendants were entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the emotional distress claims because there was no evidence that defendants intended to cause plaintiff any emotional distress. View "Miller v. Fortune Commercial Corp." on Justia Law

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Defendant, a corporal in the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC), appealed the denial of his motion to dismiss claims related to the search of a residence. The district court determined that defendant was not entitled to qualified immunity because a reasonable officer would have known that a warrant should not have issued based on the information he provided to the issuing court. The Eighth Circuit reversed, holding that it was not entirely unreasonable for defendant to believe that his affidavit established sufficient indicia of probable cause for the search and seizure of the items listed in the warrant. In this case, the affidavit provided probable cause to seize a deer, based on an anonymous tip and a recorded jailhouse call. Furthermore, the items described in the warrant were relevant to the criminal offense under investigation, as they directly related to the existence, capture, and maintaining of a pet deer. View "Kiesling v. Spurlock" on Justia Law