Lima, OH: Appeals Court finds city’s breed specific law unconstitutional

The Ohio Third District Court of Appeals reversed a lower court’s ruling, effectively throwing out provisions of the city of Lima’s vicious dog ordinance and declaring them unconstitutional because they conflict with state law.

The ruling comes as the result of a criminal complaint filed in November 2012, charging Lima resident Theodore Stepleton, with the misdemeanor charge of having an unconfined “vicious dog” on his premises.  Stepleton pled not guilty at his arraignment, and was later found guilty of the charge at his trial in the Lima Municipal Court.

After requesting a dismissal of the case, as well as and a hearing to rebut the evidence that Stapleton’s dog was vicious, the magistrate judge in the lower court ruled there was no conflict between the Lima city code and the Ohio Revised Code, and denied the motion to dismiss.  Stepleton filed an objection to the magistrate’s decision, but the municipal court overruled the objection and adopted the magistrate’s decision.

Stepleton then appealed the decision to the Third District Court of Appeals.

In writing the Opinion, District Court Judge Richard Rogers held that the municipal court erred by not dismissing the case due to improper service, and said the lower court erred in not scheduling a hearing to rebut the vicious dog claim.  The Opinion also held that the municipal court should have found the city code conflicted with Ohio laws and, thus, should have dismissed the case.

At issue is whether Stapleton’s dog had been deemed vicious.  In the final assignment of error, the Appeals Court determined Lima’s law ignored Ohio statutes in defining in the city code that an owner could be found guilty of failing to confine a “vicious” dog in a secured pen if “the owner of a pit bull dog whose dog has never previously injured a person or killed another dog or was restrained on three previous occasions in violation of ORC.”

The Opinion went on to say that Ohio state law only defines dogs that “without provocation have caused injury to a person, killed another dog or have been restrained in violation of ORC on three previous occasions as being ‘dangerous’ dogs.”

The current state law makes no mention of breed in relation to a designation of “vicious.”

The city of Lima has the opportunity to appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court or rewrite the city’s law to address legal issues raised by the Appellate Court.  The city’s law director plans to review the various issues and make a recommendation on how the city should proceed.

While the Court’s decision could essentially make the majority of Lima’s vicious dog ordinance useless, it could have even bigger implications for cities in Ohio who have not repealed their breed specific ordinances since the language labeling “pit bulls” as vicious dogs was removed from the State’s vicious dog law in 2012.  

Accordingly, those working to repeal breed specific laws in Ohio cities should arm themselves with the Appeals Court ruling and encourage their city officials to repeal their discriminatory laws on the basis the same are unconstitutional and conflict with Ohio state law.

 

 

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