Tag: court of appeals
A proposal to alter dog bite liability law in Maryland looks to be unraveling, the Washington Post reports.
Last month, the House of Delegates passed a bill to address a Maryland Court of Appeals decision declaring pit bulls “inherently dangerous” and holding their owners — unlike owners of any other dogs — automatically liable if their dog bit someone.
The House passed a bill that didn’t single out any breeds, but shifted the burden of proof in dog-bite cases — proving that a dog was known or should have been known to be dangerous — from the victim to the dog’s owner.
With negotations having taken place beforehand between members of the House and Senate, with its seeming bipartisan support, with it having passed the House unanimously, it appeared smooth sailing was ahead for the bill.
That hasn’t been the case.
The Senate has come up with an amended version of the bill that — while it doesn’t single out pit bulls — makes it “virtually imposible” for a defendant in a dog-bite case to prevail, according to the delegate who negotiated the bill through the House.
Del. Luiz Simmons (D- Montgomery) says his Senate counterpart had assured him the bill, as approved by the House, would have no problem: “He told me he agreed with the compromise, he told me not to worry about it. We had a deal.”
Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Montgomery), who negotiated the bill for the Senate and is chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, said that events had taken an unforeseen turn, leaving him in an “awkward position.”
The new provision — it requires owners to provide “clear and convincing” evidence that their dog was not dangerous before an attack — was proposed last week by Sen. Robert A. Zirkin (D-Montgomery) and approved by a majority of Frosh’s committee.
Frosh voted against it, but says he doesn’t think the amendment hurts the bill.
After the bill arrived on the Senate floor Tuesday, there were attempts to delete Zirkin’s provision, but Zirkin fought them: “I love dogs but if my dog bites a little kid, I should be responsible,” he said.
The feuding could threaten the legislation’s chances of getting passed this session.
Members of the General Assembly failed to pass a similar bill during a special summer session, leaving the appeals court decision that pit bulls are “inherently dangerous” intact.
That court, ruling in a case involving the mauling of a 10-year-old Towson boy mauled by a pit bull in 2007, declared owners of pit bulls (and “third parties,” including landlords) automatically liable in the event that their dog bites or injures someone.
Posted by jwoestendiek March 13th, 2013 under Muttsblog.
Tags: bill, compromise, court of appeals, delegates, dog bites, general assembly, house, inherently dangerous, law, liability, maryland, negotiations, pit bulls, pitbulls, proposal, senate, senators
The Maryland Court of Appeals opinion declaring all pit bulls — and conceivably any dog with any pit bull in it — “inherently dangerous” shouldn’t be interpreted as outlawing the breed.
It applies only to litigation, and law-abiding pit bulls and their owners should have nothing to fear, those who see reason in the opinion will point out.
But there’s a lot to fear. Even though the opinion directly affects only those who get sued, it indirectly affects everyone — in the form of pets being abandoned, overcrowded shelters, difficulty finding rental property and giving Maryland a reputation as a state where beings are judged, discriminated against and persecuted, all based on looks.
It’s definitely a step in the wrong direction, fraught with connotations of racism, or its canine equivalent; and, like most exhibits of intolerance, it shouldn’t be tolerated.
B-More Dog, a group that’s been fighting on behalf of pit bulls for a few years now, is among the organizations offering advice to pit bull owners, aimed at better understanding the opinion, undoing the damage it did and dealing with its after-effects.
The same case that led to the court opinion played a role in B-More dog forming. In 2007, 10-year-old Dominic Solesky was bitten by a pit bull that escaped from its yard. Not long after that, a Baltimore County councilman introduced legislation that would have required pit bulls to be muzzled in public, among other restrictions.
At a rally to protest the proposed law, the founding members of the organization met, went on to fight the legislation and formed B-More Dog to promote responsible dog ownership.
The Solesky family, meanwhile, filed a civil lawsuit in 2008 against the owners of the pit bull and their landlord. In 2009, the Circuit Court for Baltimore County ruled that the landlord, could not be held (monetarily) responsible for the dog bite because there was no way she could have known that the dog was “dangerous”.
The Solesky family appealed this decision to the Court of Special Appeals which found in favor of the Solesky family. Then, the landlord’s insurance company asked the Maryland Court of Appeals to hear the case. Its opinion last week, saying in, effect, that all pit bulls are dangerous and owners and landlords should know that, is the one that has sent some pit bull owners into states of near panic.
“B-More Dog has been in touch the best and the brightest people, both locally and nationally, who fight breed discrimination,” the organization said in a newsletter this week. “We remain confident that breed discrimination laws will be defeated in Maryland and we are preparing for the marathon battle ahead.”
B-more Dog isn’t the only organization that’s working to inform pit bill owners of the court opinion’s implications.
The Animal Farm Foundation put together information for pit bull owners that you can find it here. The Humane Society of the United States has some advice for renters and others that you can find here.
Those organziations and others are also looking at legal options, including the possibility of the Maryland General Assembly passing a law to undo the court decision. More information on this possibility can be found on this HSUS Facebook Page.
B-More Dog is planning a “Rally to Support Dog Owners Across Maryland,” and has scheduled some other events as well.
They’ll be on hand May 12, handing out stickers and more at the Baltimore Humane Society’s Paws on Parade event this Saturday (May 12).
Next Saturday (May 19), they’ll be holding ”Pins for Pits, a family-friendly bowling fundraiser at Country Club Lanes, 9020 Pulaski Highway in Baltimore, from 5-7 p.m.
And on Sunday (May 20), they’ll be holding their regular “Pit Bulls on Parade”
walk at Rash Field at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, starting at 11 a.m.
Posted by jwoestendiek May 11th, 2012 under Muttsblog.
Tags: advice, animal farm foundation, animals, b-more dog, breed-specific, breeds, court, court of appeals, discrimination, dogs, events, general assembly, help, hsus, implications, inherently dangerous, law, litigation, maryland, mixes, opinion, pets, pit bull, pit bulls, pitbull, pitbulls
Concerns over the Maryland Court of Appeals decision declaring that all pit bull-type dogs are ”inherently dangerous” continue to ripple through the state and beyond.
And rightly so.
Humane Society Legislative Fund President Michael Markarian sums it all up nicely in his ”Animals & Politics” blog:
“The misguided and overreaching ruling treats all pit bulls and pit bull mixes as a category, rather than individual animals. It could make owners, landlords, veterinarians, kennels, animal shelters, rescue groups, and anyone in custody of a dog automatically liable, regardless of whether they know a dog actually poses a threat.
“This is a major step backwards for the state of Maryland, and puts both dogs and people at risk. This sweeping decision is a case of canine profiling. It may force law-abiding citizens to face a painful and life-changing decision — move out of Maryland or give up their beloved dogs. It could increase the number of stray pit bull-type dogs on the streets and euthanized in shelters, turning back progress made by animal shelters and rescue groups over the past few decades.
“… Rather than protect public safety, the court’s fiat has the opposite effect: It has the potential to create packs of free-roaming pit bulls roaming Maryland neighborhoods, rather than living safely as beloved family pets. Taxpayers and municipal agencies will bear the financial burden of addressing public health and safety problems caused by feral dog packs.”
Breed alone is not predictive of whether a dog may pose a danger, Markarian notes. Far larger factors are the dog’s living conditions, whether he was properly socialized, owner behavior, and whether he’s chained.
On top of being misguided, the ruling fails to recognize that pit bulls aren’t a breed, but a fuzzy catch-all term, and proving a dog is a pit bull will likely be problematic.
“And who’s to decide whether a dog is a pit bull and therefore unwelcome with a cursory visual exam? According to a recent study by the Maddie’s Fund Shelter Medicine Program at the University of Florida, which looked at a group of 120 dogs at four animal shelters, 55 of those dogs were identified as “pit bulls” by shelter staff, but only 25 were confirmed as pit bulls by DNA analysis. Additionally, the staff missed identifying 20 percent of the dogs who were pit bulls by DNA analysis, while only 8 percent of the “true” pit bulls were identified by all staff members … The National Canine Research Council has a clearinghouse of resources demonstrating that breed labels assigned to dogs of unknown origin are usually inaccurate.
Many dogs merely resembling the pit bull-type look will be swept up and punished by this ruling, and there may be expensive court battles over whether a dog is or isn’t a pit bull. With as many as 75 percent of shelter dogs being mixed breeds, this is not an anti-pit bull decision, but an anti-dog decision.
Markarian encourages readers to show how they feel about the ruling by submitting their favorite pit bull pictures to the “We Love Maryland Pit Bulls” photo album on the HSUS Maryland Facebook page, or by posting them on Twitter with the hashtag #LoveMDpitbulls.
Posted by jwoestendiek May 8th, 2012 under Muttsblog.
Tags: abandoned, animals, breed-specific, breeds, court of appeals, dangerous, decision, dogs, humane society legislative fund, image, inherently dangerous, landlords, law, lawsuits, maryland, michael markarian, opinion, pets, pit bulls, pitbulls, reputation, roaming, ruling, shelters
First came a Court of Appeals ruling, late last week, declaring all pit bulls (and pit bull mixes) “inherently dangerous” — stating, in effect, that breed, or type, or even looks alone, are all that is required to assume a dog is bad.
Then came a newspaper column by the normally level-headed Dan Rodricks, fresh from judging a dog costume contest for the Maryland SPCA, declaring pit bulls “four-legged time bombs” that should not be allowed in public.
It was not prompted by anything that happened at the SPCA’s March for the Animals — other than his seeing some pit bulls there. Instead, it seemed based on a prejudice he apparently holds and, with a court decision to back him up, felt inclined to reveal.
Taken together, the column and court decision (you can read it here) have riled friends of pit bulls, who are fighting back, on Facebook, through website comments and petitions and via letters to the editor at the Baltimore Sun, like this one — my personal favorite:
“… I live in the Pigtown neighborhood of Baltimore. When my suburban friends come visit, they hold their kids close, and they look askance at some of my more ‘unusual’ neighbors. Some of them are only too happy to hop back in their cars and scurry back to the counties. To them it’s “obvious” that Baltimore is a dangerous place, with all the derelict buildings and the homeless people and the occasional addict passed out on the sidewalk …
“I’m also a pit bull owner — an accidental one, because I found mine starving and scared, running down Wicomico Street dragging a leash behind him. I caught him and brought him home because that’s what any decent dog lover would do. Then I found out how incredibly, incredibly difficult it is to rehome these dogs — because of the stigmas, and because there are just so many of them.
“I had only limited experience with the breed before mine chose me, but I have discovered that they are wonderful, wonderful dogs, incredibly smart and ridiculously affectionate. Some of them need more work than others, but anyone who says they’re “inherently” dangerous has obviously never met a good one. And there are lots of good ones.
“But if all you see when you look at them are the cropped ears and the muscular bodies and all the teeth — regardless of whether or not they’re showing off that famous pit bull smile — and because of the way they look decide they’re not worth getting to know, you’re just as ignorant as all the suburbanites who think Baltimore is nothing but vacant houses and drug dealers.”
Written by Erin Harty, the letter makes some excellent points about stereotyping and judging by looks — points that shouldn’t be lost on Rodricks, who has been able to look beneath the gruff exteriors and even bad behavior of convicts and ex-convicts and see some redeeming traits. It’s a shame he can’t bring himself to do the same when it comes to pit bulls, the vast majority of which have not engaged in any bad behavior. And won’t.
The Maryland SPCA’s executive director, Aileen Gabbey, voiced disappointment with Rodrick’s remarks and the court of appeals decision.
“According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), there is no accurate way to measure and determine which breeds are more likely to bite. These legitimate agencies also state that any data collected relating to dog bites has high potential for error,” she wrote in a letter to the editor.
“Mr. Rodricks’ opinions certainly won’t damper the success of the MD SPCA’s 17th March for the Animals. Thousands of dog owners and dog breeds of all kinds safely came together to have fun while helping the homeless dogs in our community.”
Of greater concern to pit bull owners is the court of appeals ruling, and its possible ramifications.
The Humane Society of the United States said in a in a press release that it plans to work with Maryland dog advocates and members of the legislature to develop “rational, science-based dangerous dog policies for the state after the Maryland Court of Appeals issued a decision fundamentally changing longstanding liability rules relating to pit bull and mixed pit bull dogs.”
The court decision focuses on liability. Under previous case law, a victim intending to file a lawsuit after a dog attack had to prove that a dog’s owner, or landlord, knew it had a history of being dangerous. Now, under the new precedent it set, the filer of a lawsuit merely has to show that the owner knew their dog was all or part pit bull. That would be sufficient basis for a claim.
Betsy McFarland, HSUS vice president, said the court overstepped its authority.
“A seismic shift in Maryland law of this nature should be undertaken by the legislature, not judges. The legislature should conduct appropriate fact-finding and hearings, consider the available science, and make a measured, non-emotional decision on this important policy issue.
“We encourage advocates to call their state legislators to respectfully voice their concerns, and urge them to work with advocates on legislation in the next session that provides rational, science-based dangerous dog policies for the state.
“The Humane Society of the United States’ companion animals department is in communication with shelters and rescues, and will be looking for ways to support them as they consider the ramifications of this decision.”
(Photo: Jasmine, one of Michael Vick’s former fighting pit bulls, who ended up in Baltimore, and was featured in a Sports Illustrated cover story about Vick’s dogs overcoming their inhumane treatment at human hands)
Posted by jwoestendiek May 1st, 2012 under Muttsblog.
Tags: anger, animals, baltimore, baltimore sun, banned, bashing, columnist, court, court of appeals, dan rodricks, dangerous, decision, dogs, four legged time bombs, hsus, humane society of the united states, inherently, maryland spca, media, news, newspaper, opinion, petitions, pets, pit bull, pit bull lovers, pit bulls, pitbull, pitbulls, public, response, responses, ruling, vick dogs
Well, maybe some of them aren’t, but for the sake of ease, and without regard to fact, let’s just lump them all together and proclaim them stupid.
That’s what they did, with pit bulls.
A troubling 4-3 decision by the state’s highest court last week deemed pit bulls and pit bull mixes inherently dangerous — a ruling that, on top of being ill-informed, could lead to trouble for pit bull owners everywhere.
One judge who went against the majority, Clayton Greene Jr., noted that how harmless a pit bull might be is no longer relevant when it comes to determining liability — a troublesome precedent, in his view.
“Now, it appears, the issue of whether a dog is harmless, or the owner or landlord has any reason to know that the dog is dangerous, is irrelevant to the standard of strict liability,” Judge Greene wrote.
The majority decision singles out pit bulls and declares them all dangerous. It implies that owners of them, and the landlords who rent to those owners, should ignorantly assume, as the judges did, that they are lethal and unpredictable beasts. And it makes suing their owners much easier.
Under previous case law, a victim intending to file a lawsuit after a dog attack had to prove that a dog’s owner, or landlord, knew it had a history of being dangerous. Now, under this new precedent, they can merely show that the owner knew their dog was all or part pit bull. That would be sufficient basis for a claim.
In other words, it’s no longer necessary to prove that a particular pit bull is dangerous, only that it’s a pit bull, or part of it is.
The ruling last Thursday came in the case of a 2007 attack on a child in Towson. According to the Baltimore Sun, 10-year-old Dominic Solesky was attacked by a neighbor’s pit bill and his family sued the dog owner’s landlord, Dorothy M. Tracey.
The Circuit Court judge threw out the claim, ruling there was no evidence that Tracey had been negligent. The Court of Special Appeals overturned the judge’s decision, and the Court of Appeals affirmed that ruling Thursday. The case will now head back to trial.
At a time when many jurisdictions are becoming more enlightened about pit bulls, the Maryland Court of Appeals decision assures that, in at least one area, they will be treated differently from all other dogs.
Posted by jwoestendiek April 30th, 2012 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, appeal court, attack, breed, court of appeals, dangerous, discrimination, dog, dogs, dominic solesky, judges, laws, lawsuits, liability, maryland, mixed, mixes, pets, pit bull, pit bulls, pitbull, pitbulls, ruling, specific, towson
A state appeals court in Washington has declared Pierce County’s dangerous-dog ordinance unconstitutional — specifically, the part of it that requires $250, or more, to get a hearing.
“You shouldn’t have to purchase justice,” said Bellingham attorney Adam Karp, who represented a Pierce County woman who challenged the law.
The case stems from an April 2009 incident in which a 7-pound Pomeranian named Kayla was allegedly attacked by a Great Pyrenees mix named Blizzard. The Pomeranian was so badly hurt it had to be put down.
A Pierce County animal control officer declared Blizzard dangerous, which meant her owner, Heidi Downey, had to meet a number of stringent requirements if she wanted to keep the dog.
Under county law, animal control officers can deem a dog dangerous without holding a hearing. To get one, dog owners were required to pay $125 for an initial hearing, and another $250 to get a hearing with a member of the Auditor’s Office.
Downey paid for an initial hearing and lost. She paid more for a formal hearing with testimony from witnesses. She lost that one too. Downey appealed to Superior Court, lost again, and then took her case to the Court of Appeals.
In arguments earlier this summer, her attorney, in addition to presenting his client’s side of the story — that Blizzard had been wrongly identified as the perpetrator — argued the fees were unfair.
Last week, a Court of Appeals panel ruled the fees unconstitutional because they deprive people who can’t afford them of the right to challenge the county’s declaration of their dogs as dangerous.
The panel also ruled the county does not have a rigorous enough process for deeming an animal dangerous.
County Auditor Julie Anderson said, pending a planned appeal, she has suspended the practice of collecting fees from people seeking a hearing. The county will also will refund fees to those people who have paid but not yet had their hearing.
“This is a temporary measure until we can settle the law,” she told The News Tribune in Tacoma in an email.
Karp said the ruling could have repercussions for other governments that charge fees for dangerous dog hearings, including Tacoma, Lakewood, Puyallup and Bonney Lake.
Attorneys for the county argued that the policy allows dog owners a choice: They can get a $250 permit and take out a $250,000 insurance policy that allows them to keep a dangerous dog, or they can pay the fees to challenge the designation.
As one justice noted, though, the policy makes dogs guilty until proven innocent — and unable to have their innocence proven without paying up front.
And what about Blizzard? The appeals court ruled there had not been enough evidence presented to declare the dog dangerous. They ordered the designation reversed.
Posted by jwoestendiek December 6th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: adam karp, appeals court, attack, auditor, blizzard, charges, court of appeals, dangerous, declaration, dog, due process, examiner, fees, for sale, great pyrenees, guilt, hearing fees, hearings, heidi downey, innocence, insurance, justice, kayla, ordinance, permits, pierce county, pomeranian, pyrenees, refund, restrictions, unconstitutional, washington