Federal Court Rejects More of Breeders’ Challenges to Pa Puppy Mill Law

Pa puppy mill protest sign

Update Oct. 4:  Federal District Court Judge Sylvia H. Rambo has denied yet another wave of challenges by breeders to the 2008 changes that regulate puppy mills under Pennsylvania’s Dog Law.

This time the plaintiffs, Pennsylvania Professional Dog Breeders Association, and Nathan Myer, sought a preliminary injunction ordering the PA Dept. of Agriculture to issue regulations to clarify new 2008 laws relating to increased kennel space, stacking of cages, material used for kennels, and exercise requirements. The plaintiffs also requested the judge then stay enforcement for 290 more days.

These new laws apply to Class C Kennels, commercial breeders that breed and sell or transfer more than 60 dogs each year. 

Judge Rambo found the provisions challenged by the plaintiffs were clear and did not require additional clarification. She denied the plaintiffs’ motion. Plaintiffs have said they will appeal.

For more on Plaintiffs’ suit that was largely dismissed by the court earlier, read Animal Law Coalition’s original report below.

Original report: Federal District Court Judge Sylvia H. Rambo has dismissed on summary judgment all but one of the claims by the Pennsylvania Dog Breeders Advisory Council, Nat Sladkin, Susan Inserra, and Nathan Myer, that the 2008 changes to the state’s Dog Law are unconstitutional.

Plaintiffs claimed the provisions for unannounced inspections  violates their rights under the U.S. Constitution, Amendment 4, to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. The new law authorizes state dog wardens and Dept. of Agriculture employees to inspect licensed kennels at least twice a year.

The judge agreed with the Dept. of Agriculture "that the searches …. are constitutionally valid administrative searches". The judge noted, "the expectation of privacy in commercial settings is much more limited when it comes to ‘closely regulated industries.’…Individuals who ‘choose to engage in such licensed and regulated businesses accept the burdens as well as the benefits of the trade.’… Furthermore, courts should focus on ‘whether the regulatory presence is sufficiently comprehensive and defined that the owner of commercial property cannot help but be aware that his property will be subject to periodic inspections undertaken for specific purposes.’  … Dog breeding is a pervasively regulated activity and has been the subject of federal and state regulation since at least 1976 and 1982 respectively. See 7 U.S.C. §2131, et. seq.; see 9 C.F.R. § 1.1 et. seq. (federal regulations); 3 P.S. § 459-101 et. seq; see 7 Pa. Code § 21.1 et. seq . (state regulations). In Pennsylvania, dog breeders have been on notice since 1982 that their businesses are subject to random inspections….

"The United States Supreme Court has promulgated a three-prong test to determine if a warrantless inspection of a pervasively regulated activity survives constitutional scrutiny….. First, the government must have a substantial interest in regulating the industry of which inspection is sought. Second, the warrantless searches must work to further this government interest. Third, the regulatory statute ‘must advise the owner of the commercial enterprise that the search is being made pursuant to the law and has a properly defined scope, and it must limit the discretion of the inspecting officers.’  This final requirement is satisfied if the statute is ‘sufficiently comprehensive and defined that the owner of commercial property cannot help but be aware that his property will be subject to periodic inspections undertaken for specific purposes.’"

puppy mill The judge found the Pennsylvania law met all three criteria, noting also "warrantless inspections at issue here work to further the statutes regulatory scheme. The purpose of the Pennsylvania Dog Law is to, among other things, protect the health and welfare of dogs kept or raised in commercial kennels. One of the few ways to ensure that this goal is being met is through random government inspections. …Rarely are commercial kennels open to the public, and even more rarely is the ultimate consumer of a dog raised in a commercial kennel aware of the conditions in which the dog was kept. … Administrative searches by properly authorized state officials provides a proper means by which the government can assure that the Dog Law is being complied with."

The judge also rejected the breeders’ claims the new Dog Law authorizes warrantless searches of their homes. The judge was adamant, "Nothing on the face of the Dog Law indicates that …the Department of Agriculture [can allow]… dog wardens or employees of the department enter the home of a dog owner and search the premises without probable cause or a search warrant. Administrative searches of dog kennels to establish that the kennels are in compliance with the statute are authorized as an exception to the general warrant requirement.

"Investigations into suspected violations of the Dog Law do not authorize warrantless searches, such searches much be based on probable cause and a search warrant must be issued."

Dog Breeders Claim Violation of Right to Equal Protection

The Plaintiffs further alleged they have a fundamental right to breed and sell dogs under the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. That would mean that any law pertaining to dog breeders would be subject to strict scrutiny and would most likely be struck down. Laws regulating businesses are typically evaluated under a rational relation standard, meaning whether the law is rationally related to some legitimate government interest. These laws are typically upheld.

pupppy millThe judge in this case found laws regulating dog breeders should be subjected to the rational relation test, not strict scrutiny.  The judge stated, "The state has a legitimate interest in protecting domestic animals, and the statute in question is rationally related to this objective. The Dog Law, as amended by Act 119, sets minimum standards that dog breeders and kennel owners must abide by. These standards relate to such things as dog licenses and tags, kennel conditions, the transportation of dogs, inspections of dogs and the premises in which they are kept, as well as various other tasks not in question here."  The Court specifically rejected plaintiffs’ claim that the state had no interest in they called "worthless" dogs.  The judge said the state would have an interest in making sure these dogs were treated or euthanized humanely.

Dog Law an Unconstitutional Taking?

Plaintiffs also argued that an unconstitutional taking occurs when a kennel is shut down for violations of the Dog Law. An "unconstitutional taking" would typically apply to property the State takes for a road, for example. In that case the State would make the taking legal by compensating the property owner. Plaintiffs believe their illegal activity should be compensated by the state! And, what the plaintiff breeders want is to be able to continue with their puppy mill operations pending  appeals of orders, suspensions, or revocations.

The judge did not bother to address this silly argument.

The judge also rejected plaintiffs’ claims the licensing process violates their rights to due process.

Finally, plaintiffs said the 2009 Kennel License Application violates the Federal Privacy Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552A, by requesting applicant’s Social Security number without disclosing whether providing the number is voluntary or mandatory.  Needless to say, the judge rejected that argument as well.

The only provision of the law struck down by Judge Rambo is the out -of-state licensing fee of $300 not imposed on in state breeders. 

One thought on “Federal Court Rejects More of Breeders’ Challenges to Pa Puppy Mill Law”

  1. This is fantastic news for all states who are working on laws to regulate the dog industry and to rid us of the deplorable conditions found in “puppy mills!” The opposition has been using the “unconstitutional” argument in many states to fight against inspections. This is a victory for the dogs, and will help to ensure humane conditions are adhered to by breeders. Enforceable laws, licensing, and inspections, are the tools needed to stop the abuse. Thank you, Federal District Court Judge Sylvia H. Rambo and congratulations to PA!

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