The federal district court in Arizona recently granted judgment in favor of the City of Phoenix and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) in a lawsuit brought by the owners of a pet store. At question in the suit was whether Phoenix’s ordinance that restricted pet stores to selling dogs and cats obtained only from animal shelters or rescue organizations is constitutional. Regardless of whether an appeal is sought, this development may be viewed as a tacit endorsement of local restrictions on consumers’ ability to choose the best pet for their family.
Over the past several years, there has been a rapid increase in the number of proposals designed to restrict the sales of pets. Most of these proposals have been introduced at the local level, and nearly all have been packaged as “anti-puppy mill” or “anti-pet shop” measures. The same happened in Phoenix, when in December 2013 that city passed an ordinance requiring pet stores to sell animals obtained only from animal shelters and rescue organizations. A local pet store, Puppies ‘N Love, which sold purebred dogs obtained from breeders located outside of Arizona, sued the City, claiming that the ordinance violated several laws, mainly: the commerce clause, the equal protection clause, and Arizona’s constitutional prohibition on special laws. The main point of their argument was that the ordinance unfairly favored local dog breeders at the expense of out-of-state breeders. The HSUS was a chief proponent of the law, and successfully intervened in the suit as a defendant.
The US District Court (District of Arizona) heard oral argument on July 10, 2015, and granted summary judgment motions in favor of the City and HSUS on July 28. Under federal law, summary judgment is appropriate if the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, shows “that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” In granting summary judgment, the court determined that the pet store failed to establish that the ordinance conflicted with the constitutional provisions the plaintiffs had claimed. Specifically, it ruled the pet store failed to prove that the law had a discriminatory effect on out-of-state breeders; that they provided insufficient evidence that the ordinance created more than a minimal effect on interstate commerce; and that the ordinance was rationally related to other purported goals, including limiting or eliminating inhumane sources of dogs and reducing animal homelessness and euthanasia.
Despite rulings to the contrary, the American Kennel Club remains concerned that restricting pet sales may result in communities’ animal control efforts suffering unintended consequences. With a decreasing number of dogs entering U.S. shelters, approximately only 3% of which are purebred dogs, arbitrarily limiting humane and regulated sources does not appropriately serve communities.
It is not yet known whether the Phoenix pet store will appeal the decision of the district court. AKC Government Relations will continue to monitor developments regarding this case.