Lawsuit against pit bull ban in Pawtucket, R.I. moves forward

After a judge ruled on a series of motions last Tuesday, a suit filed by a Pawtucket, Rhode Island resident against the city’s ordinance banning pit bulls is moving forward.

A lawsuit filed in October by Defenders of Animals on behalf of Al Alix asks the court to determine the validity of the city’s ordinance that forbids ownership of pit bull-type dogs in light of a state law passed in 2013 forbidding breed specific ordinances.

Judge Joseph Montalbano rulings last week:

* Denied the city attorneys’ motion to dismiss the case;

* Denied the city’s argument that the Defenders of Animals does not have a right to be involved in the lawsuit because the city has not taken action against the organization or its members; and

* Denied a request by Alix’s attorney Mark Morse to rule in the plaintiff’s favor in the matter.

After the judge’s rulings on the dispositive motions, Alix confirmed he plans to pursue his case to the end because he believes city officials are in the wrong for upholding their ban against pit bulls despite state legislation passed last year prohibiting local bans on dog breeds.

A spokesman for Mayor Donald Grebien advised that the rulings do not change the city’s position on the ordinance, and released the following statement:

“The city’s position remains unchanged, that the law passed last legislative session is prospective in nature and does not apply to Pawtucket’s law. The ordinance remains in effect and we will continue to enforce the law.”

Alix filed the suit after police issued two summonses to him in August 2013 related to his dog “Chubs.”  He was charged with having a prohibited pit bull, failure to muzzle the dog, having a dog at large, having an uninsured dog, and failure to post a sign.

To be clear, if Alix’s dog was running at large, a summons is warranted.  All dog owners MUST be responsible with their dogs…that includes knowing where your dog is, and having him in your control at all times.  However, we agree that the charges related to the breed specific portions of Pawtucket’s ordinance are invalid in light of the new state law.  Moreover, the sponsor of the bill which was ultimately passed into law by the Rhode Island legislature has stated his intention was to prevent future breed specific ordinances and repeal those in existence, and that state law supersedes municipal law .

According to an attorney representing Alix, the suit asks the court to declare that the city ordinance is invalid because it conflicts with a state law that forbids cities and towns from banning or regulating specific breeds of dogs.  Governor Chafee signed this measure into law on July 16, 2013.

Tony Pires, Pawtucket’s director of administration and public safety, argues that since the city’s pit bull ordinance has been in effect since 2004, it is grandfathered in.

In addition, Pires claims the new state law does not specify that it is retroactive in nature and, therefore, the city’s ordinance trumps the state law.

Breed bans like the one in Pawtucket force pit bull owners to either move from their homes or give their dogs up when their dogs have done nothing to warrant the label of “dangerous” or “vicious”.  Mr. Alix considers Chubs to be a member of his family that he isn’t going to let go.

We continue to wish Mr. Alix the best of luck with his suit, with a hope that in the end, a ruling to clarify the state law and prohibit the enforcement of any breed specific ordinance in Rhode Island is issued.

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