A dog owner has filed a federal lawsuit challenging the ban on pit bull-type dogs in Richland, Mississippi. The city of Richland passed an ordinance in April 2006 that bans American Pit Bull Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers and any mixes of those breeds.
During an interview, the plaintiff, Arthur Young, relayed that he was walking his dog, Apollo, last year when someone called the police. A Richland animal control officer later contacted Young’s family and said the dog would be seized and possibly put down if he didn’t get it out of the city.
Young, a student enrolled at Jackson State University, moved Apollo to an animal shelter in Madison, MS. The college student also took a job there to offset the cost of boarding Apollo, and so he could spend more time with him.
While Young argues that the city’s law labels all pit bulls as aggressive, Richland Mayor Mark Scarborough says that isn’t true. Mayor Scarborough contends that the law was passed because “when a pit bull or that type breed bites, it doesn’t back away, it continues to attack.”
William Featherston, Jr., the attorney who filed the lawsuit on Young’s behalf, argues that Richland’s ordinance allows animal control officers to make subjective and arbitrary decisions on what constitutes a “pit bull.” He contends that under the ordinance, the animal control officer, in his sole discretion, can have the dog put down if he deems the dog to be a “pit bull.”
The lawsuit argues that the ordinance violates animal owners’ Fourteenth Amendment right to due process. Featherston said in a telephone interview that the Fourteenth Amendment provides that people have the right to a hearing before the seizure of property.
However, Mayor Scarborough said the ordinance does not violate due process because pet owners can go before the board of aldermen to challenge the determination that a dog is a pit bull. He also said the ordinance doesn’t deprive people of their property because they can keep their dogs, just not in the city.
The lawsuit seeks a preliminary injunction to prevent the city from seizing Young’s dog. It also seeks a declaratory judgment that the ordinance is unconstitutionally vague.
The ordinance bans any dog “commonly recognizable and identifiable” as any kind of pit bull. The lawsuit argues that language leaves pet owners to wonder: Commonly identifiable by whom, “by dog wardens, by animal control officers, by the general public, by dog enthusiasts, by dog breeders, etc.”
We will certainly be watching the case it is progresses.