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Ohio Court Rules BSL Unconstitutional

(Tuesday, March 07, 2006)
The Sixth District Court of Appeals in Ohio handed responsible dog owners a monumental victory last week when it ruled that local and state breed-specific "vicious" dog laws were unconstitutional. In a 2-1 decision, the Court held that Toledo Municipal Code 505.14a. (limiting ownership to one "pit bull" per household) and Ohio Revised Code 955.11 and 955.22 (failure of pit bull owner to provide liability insurance) violated several constitutional rights, including the right to due process. The Appellate Court held, just as the Ohio State Supreme Court did in 2004, that such laws do not provide owners with an opportunity to appeal a "vicious" dog finding before being penalized or charged with non-compliance, thereby violating their right to be heard and to defend their property.

The Appellate Court went on to declare these laws unconstitutional for two other reasons, both of which are extremely significant to those who have argued against breed-specific legislation for many years. First, the Court ruled that the laws violated an owner's right to equal protection since there is no rational basis to single out pit bulls as inherently dangerous. It stated that breed-specific laws "have in the past been enacted based on outdated information that perpetuates a stereotypical image of pit bulls." The Court found no new evidence to prove that these breeds are any more dangerous than others. Regulating or limiting pit bull ownership was therefore "arbitrary, unreasonable and discriminatory."

A final important ruling was the Court's determination that these breed-specific laws were unconstitutionally vague due to the fact that there is no accurate way to properly identify a pit bull. "Based on the facts presented," wrote Judge William Skow, "we conclude that the subjective identification of pit bulls may often include both non-pit bulls or dogs which are not vicious, to the extent that an ordinary citizen would not understand that he was breaking the law and which would result in the occurrence of arbitrary arrest and criminal charges."

For years, the American Kennel Club, many animal organizations, and countless responsible dog owners have opposed breed-specific laws in favor of reasonable, enforceable dangerous dog laws that hold all owners responsible for their dogs' behavior, regardless of breed. The Court's ruling last week supports those arguments, and AKC applauds its decision. Although the City of Toledo has indicated it will appeal, this case will hopefully serve as a precedent for legislators in their future efforts to address dangerous dog issues in their communities and states.

Read the full Court's decision.