Clay, AL: Preliminary Injunction motion filed against pit bull ordinance

A motion for preliminary injunction was filed on July 30, 2013 in the Jefferson County Circuit Court to stop enforcement of an ordinance passed by the city of Clay, Alabama that bans pit bulls and other ‘vicious dogs.’  The motion was filed on behalf of plaintiffs, Mary and Stephen Schreiner.  The ordinance at issue is set to go into effect on August 3, 2013.

According to counsel for the Schreiners, they hope to work with the city in redrafting a reasonable ordinance that addresses the concerns of all interested parties.  That ordinance should follow the example of those in other cities that set hearings or authorize a specific party to determine whether a dog is or is not vicious.  The recently passed ordinance does not specify who determines whether a dog is subject to the law.

In the prayer for relief, the Complaint asks that a preliminary injunction barring enforcement of the ordinance be granted pending a full hearing, and that a declaratory judgment be entered holding the ordinance in violation of the United States and/or the Alabama Constitution.  The entire Complaint can be found here.

According to the ordinance passed in June, existing pit bull dogs, or any  variations thereof, must be registered with the city, and no new pit bull-type dogs may be brought into the city.  Any newborn pit bull puppies would need to be removed from the city limits within a certain amount of time.  The city manager advises that 15 to 18 pit bulls have been registered with the city since the ordinance was passed.

If you recall, the Clay city attorney introduced a breed-neutral ordinance during a workshop held on Monday, July 29, 2013.  The amended ordinance is to go before the full city council for their consideration.  Prior to the filing of the lawsuit, Mayor Webster stated he felt the amended ordinance wasn’t strong enough.  In fact, he suggested the city add even more breeds to the list of those regulated, and specifically referenced 11 breeds regulated by insurance companies.

The city attorney advised that after reading other cities’ ordinances, talking to attorneys and speaking with veterinarians, he believes a better wording for a section of the ordinance is “all vicious animals,” instead of language that focuses on a specific breed.

I spoke with the city clerk, and she confirmed that as of today, the amended, breed-neutral ordinance presented at Monday’s workshop is not on the agenda for the August 5, 2013 city council meeting.  However, she advised that the last day to add items to the agenda is Thursday afternoon.

The pending legal action will no doubt have an impact on the direction the city council takes on the breed-neutral ordinance proposed by the city attorney.  City officials would be wise to amend the ordinance in order to avoid legal fees,  an expense that will ultimately fall on residents, especially considering their own legal counsel has recommended removing the breed specific language.

We will certainly be monitoring the situation and hoping the city works with the plaintiffs and other residents to craft an ordinance that benefits all members of the community, people and animals alike.

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