Ohio Supreme Court Upholds Breed Discrimination
|August 21, 2007||Posted by russmead under Breed Bans|
In a 7-0 decision written by Chief Justice Thomas J. Moyer, the Ohio Supreme Court reversed the finding of the Ohio Court of Appeals that Ohio state law R.C. 955.22 and 955.11(A)(4)(a)(iii) and Toledo Municipal Code 505.14(a) are unconstitutional because they define vicious dogs to include pit bulls. A copy of the opinion can be foundin Pending Cases.
Ohio is the only state that has declared dogs known as pit bulls are "vicious" for no reason other than their breeds. Ohio Rev. Code Sec. 955.11(A)(4)(a)(iii). Vicious otherwise refers to a dog that (i) Has killed or caused serious injury to any person; (ii) Has caused injury, other than killing or serious injury, to any person, or has killed another dog. Ohio Rev. Code Sec. 955.11(A)(4)(a)(i), (ii). See also Ohio Rev. Code Sec. 955.22(A)
In the case of in the case of City of Toledo v. Tellings, the following laws were at issue: Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 955.11(A)(4)(a)(iii) which includes in the definition of "vicious dogs" "a breed that is commonly known as a pit bull dog." Toledo, Ohio, Code § 505.14 which limits ownership of pit bulls to only one per household and requires liability insurance and muzzles when they are in public for "vicious dogs" which by definition include pit bulls.
The Ohio Supreme Court found, "Despite the special relationships that exist among many individuals and their dogs, dogs are personal property, and the state or the city has the right to control those that are a threat to the safety of the community: [L]egislatures have broad police power to regulate all dogs so as to protect the public against the nuisance posed by a vicious dog."
The trial court cited the substantial evidence supporting its conclusion that pit bulls, compared to other breeds, cause a disproportionate amount of danger to people. The chief dog warden of Lucas County testified that: (1) when pit bulls attack, they are more likely to inflict severe damage to their victim than other breeds of dogs; (2) pit bulls have killed more Ohioans than any other breed of dog; (3) Toledo police officers fire their weapons in the line of duty at pit bulls more often than they fire weapons at people and all other breeds of dogs combined; (4) pit bulls are frequently shot during drug raids because pit bulls are encountered more frequently in drug raids than any other dog breed."
The Court concluded, "[P]it bulls pose a serious danger to the safety of citizens. The state and the city have a legitimate interest in protecting citizens from the danger posed by this breed of domestic dog.The statutes and the city ordinance are rationally related to serve the legitimate interests of protecting Ohio and Toledo citizens." The Court also found "the term ‘pit bull’ is not unconstitutionally void for vagueness." The Court then rejected that pit bull owners should be entitled to notice and a hearing on any determination a dog is a pit bull.
Interestingly, one justice, Justice Maureen O’Connor, agreed with the judgment but said pit bulls are not vicious because of breed. In a separate concurring opinion, the justice wrote, "Almost all domestic animals can cause significant injuries to humans, and it is proper to require that all domestic animals be maintained and controlled. Laws to that effect are eminently reasonable for the safety of citizens and of the animal. Because the danger posed by vicious dogs and pit bulls arises from the owner’s failure to safely control the animal, rational legislation should focus on the owner of the dog rather than the specific breed that is owned. According to the evidence presented at trial, though, [t]he dogs were family pets and had no history of aggressive or unlawful behavior."
The lower court pointed out, "Much of the evidence was presented to show that pit bulls which have not been trained to be aggressive are highly obedient, eager-to-please, good family pets. Jed Mignano, a Toledo Humane Society cruelty investigator, testified that pit bulls had been taken into the shelter, did not require special cages or treatment, and were adopted out without problems. He further stated that he had never been bitten by a pit bull and did not experience them to be ‘vicious’ in comparison to other breeds.
"The state’s expert, Dr. Borchelt, testified that he had never been bitten by a pit bull, that his investigations for housing complaints against pit bulls in New York did not reveal any vicious pit bulls, and that most pit bulls brought to animal shelter were adopted out without hesitation. Karla Hamlin testified that some pit bulls taken into Lucas County Dog Pound exhibited aggressive behavior, [but] she had never been bitten by a pit bull and did not think pit bulls, as a breed, were any more likely to bite or fight than other dogs.
"Dr. Brisbin, along with other experts, testified that pit bulls do not have locking jaws. This information is based on actual dog dissections and measurement of their skulls, concluding that their jaw muscles and bone structure are the same as other similarly sized dogs.
"Recent statistics from reports provided by 44 Ohio county health departments indicated very few bites by pit bulls in 2001-2002, with chows, German shepherds, Rottweilers, and Labrador retrievers at higher overall percentages of bites than pit bulls."
In addition, testimony was presented that the situations and reasons for any dog attacks, information which was not included in the CDC report, were much more important to the purpose of preventing future injuries than bare numbers.
One expert testified that most fatal attacks on children could be attributed to lack of parental supervision, rather than inherently vicious dogs.