We’ve covered “breed-specific” legal limitations on dog ownership, which often take the form of legislated curbs on particular breeds seen as dangerous, but have also cropped up in judicial rulings designating some breeds as inherently dangerous for purposes of strict liability. As we noted in 2013, after Maryland courts established elevated liability for bites by pit bulls, the result was continued pressure by insurers and landlords for families to abandon or relinquish pets “and a resulting flow of related breeds into the animal shelter system.” Now a story from Prince George’s County, Maryland, one of the larger jurisdictions to ban pit bulls: “A pit bull who stood by her injured owner while their house was on fire is now losing her home — not to the fire itself, but to a law prohibiting pit bulls from living in the county. … Back in May, Michigan’s Hazel Park lifted its pit bull ban in the wake of public outcry, after a dog credited with saving her owner from domestic violence was subsequently thrown out of town.” [Arin Greenwood, Huffington Post]
It isn’t really the federal government’s business one way or the other, but the Obama administration is at least lending moral support to the idea that animal control laws should not single out particular dog breeds as inherently ultradangerous. A court decision in Maryland establishing elevated liability for bites by pit bulls has resulted in continued pressure for pet abandonment and a resulting flow of related breeds into the animal shelter system. [Arin Greenwood, HuffPo; earlier here, here, etc.]
North Carolinians should hold on to their long-established right to own whatever dog breed they prefer without having to petition the authorities for permission, argues Patrick at Popehat. The bill, filed by state Rep. Rodney Moore (D-Charlotte), would give police departments discretion to deny permits to would-be owners and would require that owners “submit to a criminal background check and enroll in a four hour course sponsored by the Humane Society on responsible ownership of pit bulls, rottweilers, mastiffs, chows, and similar ‘aggressive dog breeds.'” More: OhMiDog.
In the aftermath of a controversial decision by the state’s highest court (earlier here, here, here, here), etc.) the Maryland legislature is proceeding in its task of devising new rules to govern lawsuits over dog bite injuries:
But the House and Senate versions differ markedly on legal liability for a pet owner when his or her dog bites someone. The House bill would allow an owner to show a “preponderance of the evidence” that a pet did not have a tendency to bite. The Senate version requires a stricter legal standard of “clear and convincing” proof that the dog is not aggressive — making it easier for victims of bites to sue and win.
It does not require a law degree to figure out that without clear rules on what makes a dog safe, lawyers will see bite victims as cash cows. [Sen. Bobby] Zirkin, a Democrat from Baltimore County, [who sits on the Judicial Proceedings Committee that crafted the bill,] apparently already does. A visit to his website, http://www.bobbyzirkinlaw.com/, makes it clear. One of the first images is a white dog that looks like a pit bull, teeth bared, lunging against its leash.
After noting that victims of dog bites should seek medical attention, he suggests they “Call the Law Office of Bobby Zirkin at 410-356-4455 immediately and come in for your free consultation on this important matter.”
The committee’s chair, Sen. Brian Frosh of Montgomery County, also practices with an injury firm, though his own practice tends toward commercial disputes. [Marta Mossburg, Frederick News-Post] Incidentally, the weekly adopt-an-animal feature of the same newspaper is now filled with pictures of ownerless dogs with pit bull lineage.
Last month Maryland’s highest court, adopting what is known as a “breed-specific” standard, declared pit bulls inherently dangerous and subject to strict liability for their owners. Humane and rescue activists were alarmed at the prospect of insurance-rate pressure on pit owners and an influx into animal shelters of surrendered pets who, even if well-behaved, might prove unadoptable and end up euthanized. They should have been careful what they asked for. A panel of the Maryland House of Delegates headed by Del. Curt Anderson (D-Baltimore) has now taken up the issue and apparently plans to address the complained-of breed disparity by proposing to extend strict liability to all breeds of dog, abolishing the longstanding “one-bite” rule that shields owners from responsibility where a pet has not previously been known to cause trouble. Why is it somehow not surprising that in Annapolis the views of attorneys would hold more sway and those of dog-rescue folks less? [AP, Julie Scharper/Baltimore Sun, more background: Miller.
It’s presumably an intended effect of the recent court ruling that landlords will threaten families with eviction unless they stop keeping the dogs as pets, and that skittish insurers will hike rates on such households sharply or refuse to insure them entirely. But there is much uncertainty as to exactly which dogs count as “pit bulls”; will Maryland pet owners need to shell out for DNA testing, at $120 a pop? And is it also an intended effect of the ruling that unoffending, well-trained dogs end up being euthanized in droves? “Ohio recently repealed its statewide breed-specific legislation because it was ineffective and inequitable,” notes my Cato Institute colleague Nita Ghei. [Daily Caller, earlier]
The Gazette (suburban Maryland) on a 4-3 Maryland Court of Appeals decision:
Animal shelters and rescue organizations across Maryland are bracing for an influx of surrendered pit bulls in the wake of a state high court ruling that declared the breed “inherently dangerous.”
The decision strengthened a 1998 ruling that landlords can be held liable for dog attacks.
The Maryland Court of Appeals ruling last week modified the state’s common law of liability, establishing a standard that when owners or landlords have knowledge a pit bull or pit-bull mix is living on their property, it is not necessary to prove they had knowledge the dog was dangerous to be held liable.
The Frederick News-Post:
As a result of the decision, the Frederick County Animal Control shelter has temporarily suspended adoptions of pit bulls and pit bull mixes, director Harold Domer said Tuesday.
Arin Greenwood writes at Huffington Post of her 14-year relationship with a “sweet, spoiled and beloved” family member “who perhaps never knew that she was a pit bull”. More: NBC Washington; opinion in Tracey v. Solesky (PDF).
More: Ron Miller’s view. And from Twitter, @radleybalko (“An opinion as useless as it is ignorant,”) @Popehat (“Mine wants to lick me to death,”) and @sbagen (“Breed bans lack scientific support, hurt persons with disabilities with service dogs.”)
- That’s represent, not resemble: “Lawyer appointed to represent pit bull” [WSJ, NY Times] NJ lawmakers eye idea of doggie seat belts, cont’d [Bloomberg, earlier here, here]
- “Government to Argue That Detention for Carrying Arabic Flashcards Was Justified” [Lowering the Bar]
- Columnist-suing attorney continues to reap lots of lawyer love in her race for Illinois judgeship [Madison County Record]
- Speaking of which, what is it about Madison County, Illinois, anyway? [Radley Balko, more]
- Sense of humor: I wasn’t expecting Values Bus to retweet this of mine;
- Why the SEC keeps losing in court [Eugene Scalia, WSJ; Ed Whelan, NR “Bench Memos,” on Steven Pearlstein’s dyspeptic Washington Post rant about purported activism by D.C. Circuit judges]
- Unintended consequences: “Olive Garden, Others to Cut Worker Hours in Advance of Obamacare” [Washington Free Beacon]
- Md. Access to Justice Commission pushes controversial Civil Gideon, lopsided fee shift rules [report]
- Montgomery County voters will decide on extending police collective bargaining [WaPo]
- “Baltimore: The city that sues the banks” [Fortune]
- “New Pit Bull Dog Bite Law in Maryland? Not So Fast” [Ron Miller, earlier] “Landlords Held Responsible For Pit Bull Injuries; Tenants Face Eviction and Legal Battle” [CBS Baltimore]
- Maryland pays far higher fees to investment managers for its pension fund than most states do. How’d that happen? And should states rely on index investments instead? [Governing]
- Legislature not final word? State’s high court mulls ditching contributory for comparative fault [WaPo]
- Business appalled at Montgomery County Council bill requiring 90 day severance to service contractors’ employees [Washington Examiner, Gazette]
I’ve been writing more lately on policy issues arising in my adopted state, such as the boat tax and Baltimore’s fight with liquor stores, and you can keep up by following my local Twitter account @walterolsonmd:
- If you think the current federal crusade on disparate minority school discipline rates is unreasonable, check out the Maryland state board of education’s even loopier plans for racial quotas in discipline [Hans Bader and letter, Roger Clegg/Center for Equal Opportunity] “However, there’s no plan for gender balance in school discipline.” [Joanne Jacobs]
- After the state’s high court stigmatized pit bulls as distinctively dangerous, the state legislature has (as warned of in this space) reacted by extending liability to owners of all dogs, “first bite” or not [WaPo] “The trial lawyer’s expert just testified he sees dogs as a man or woman’s ego on the end of a leash.” [Mike Smigiel]
- A Washington Post article asks: “Is the ‘nanny state’ in Montgomery working?” (No, but it makes councilors in the affluent liberal redoubt feel good about themselves.) And even in Montgomery, councilman George Leventhal (D-At Large) spots a Laffer Curve [Dan Mitchell, Cato at Liberty]
- Also in Montgomery, county slates vote next month on union-backed bill to require service contractors to take over employment of displaced workers for 90 days [Gazette] Leventhal is caustic: “I do not only work for SEIU 32BJ. My colleagues may feel they do.” [Rachel Baye, Examiner]
- Despite its solicitude for the SEIU, the county’s concern for low-income workers has its limits, as when property owners seek to increase the stock of affordable housing near jobs by dividing one-family residences into two-family [Ben Ross, Greater Greater Washington]
- “Doctors, hospitals concerned about hefty malpractice awards” [Baltimore Sun]
- MD public pension planners whistle through graveyard [Hayley Peterson, Washington Examiner, Tom Coale/HoCoRising, Ivan Osorio, CEI “Open Market”] The state still hasn’t shaken its AAA bond rating, but Annapolis lawmakers are working to change that by unionizing more state workers [Washington Times]