Important Win for Dog Breeders –
Louisville Bulldog Owners Win in Federal Appeals Court
In November, the United States Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals published its decision in the case of O’Neill v. Louisville/Jefferson County Metro Government. The court’s decision in favor of the O’Neills signals an important win for both the O’Neills and for dog owners across the country. (Click here to read the court’s opinion.)
In 2008, James and Angela O’Neill bred their Bulldogs for the first and only time, and advertised some of their 11 puppies for sale in the local newspaper. Posing as potential puppy buyers, two undercover agents of Louisville Metro Animal Services answered the ad and were invited into the O’Neill’s home to see the puppies. They left the home, but returned almost immediately with several uniformed Animal Services officers and demanded to see their breeders’ license. Without a warrant or the O’Neill’s permission—in fact, over their specific objection—the officers immediately entered the O’Neill’s home and took all of the dogs to the Animal Services facility, claiming they were operating an unlicensed kennel. The following day, the O’Neills were able to recover their dogs after paying over $1,000, and only after each dog was microchipped and the adult dogs were neutered and spayed. The O’Neills sued in federal court, but all of their claims were dismissed. They appealed their case to the Federal Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which decided several important issues in their favor.
In writing for the court, Judge Ronald Lee Gilman, who was joined by Judge Raymond Kethledge and Judge Thomas Ludington in the opinion, made several key decisions in favor of the O’Neills. First, Judge Gilman found that the O’Neills were not operating a “Class A” kennel out of their home, as the lower court ruled, and were therefore not required to obtain a breeder’s license to sell their litter of puppies. (Additionally, because it found that the district court wrongly determined that the O’Neills were operating an unlicensed kennel, the appellate court held that the state law claims for trespass, conversion, and outrage were erroneously dismissed.) Second, the court noted that Metro Animal Services was not able to rely on the consent initially given to the undercover agents for the later entry into the O’Neill’s home. To enter a person’s home, government agencies usually need to secure a warrant or receive the homeowner’s consent to enter. The court therefore deemed the action a violation of the O’Neill’s Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure. Third, Judge Gilman wrote that Metro Animal Services never gave the O’Neills proper notice during the invasion and seizure as to what provisions of the animal control ordinance they reportedly violated. Proper notice, usually in the form of a citation along with a chance to contest the citation, is required by both federal and state procedural due process laws. Therefore, the court held that Metro Animal Services violated the O’Neill’s procedural due process rights.
Judge Gilman, however, also affirmed the lower court’s dismissal of several of the O’Neill’s arguments, including their substantive due process and equal protection claims.
The case is far from over. It has been remanded to the District Court for further proceedings in line with the appellate court’s decision, and an appeal can be sought. Additionally, the direct impact of the case as valid law is limited only to the geographic limits of Sixth Circuit of the federal appellate court system, which covers Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee. It may be used only persuasively throughout the rest of the country. However, the importance of this holding cannot be overstated, especially for dog breeders. As reports of overzealous enforcement of animal control laws have become more prevalent, the O’Neill decision should serve as a reminder that it is the right of people to be secure in their private property from illegal law enforcement actions.
The American Kennel Club congratulates the O’Neills and everyone associated with their case on this important victory.
For more information, contact AKC’s Government Relations Department at (919) 816-3720, or e-mail email@example.com.