The Maryland General Assembly’s Task Force appointed to address Tracey v. Solesky are working on a bill, and the General Assembly may have the opportunity to vote on the bill during an upcoming special session this month. The bill is expected to impose liability on all dog owners, regardless of breed, but revert to the common law for landlords, imposing liability only if the landlord knows of the dog’s vicious propensities.
UPDATE (8/6/12): The American Bar Association’s House of Delegates just issued Resolution 100, promoting breed neutral legislation and proposing the elimination of breed bans and breed specific legislation.
Tune in tonight at 8:00 PM on Pit Bulletin Legal News Radio for an in-depth discussion of the Solesky decision, and what impact it is having on rescues and insurance companies. If you can’t make it tonight, the show will be archived so you can listen to it later.
Bright line rules have their place. Society often benefits from clear, objective and unambiguous rules, when those rules produce even-handed and predictable results and have very little risk of creating harsh or unjust results. Take speed limits, voting ages, and Miranda warnings as examples.
But sometimes life is not black and white. Bright line rules are inappropriate and dangerous tools any time the issues turn on a variety circumstances and there is a risk of sweeping up innocent activity or individuals. Then a balancing test, or case-by-case analysis, is much more appropriate.
Today, the Court of Appeals of Maryland opted for a bright line rule in exactly the kind of case where a bright line rule is inappropriate. In Tracey v. Solesky, the Court ruled:
Upon a plaintiff’s sufficient proof that a dog involved in an attack is a pit bull or a pit bull cross, and that the owner, or other person(s) who has the right to control the pit bull’s presence on the subject premises (including a landlord who has a right to prohibit such dogs on leased premises) knows, or has reason to know, that the dog is a pit bull or cross-bred pit bull, that person is liable for the damages caused to a plaintiff who is attacked by the dog on or from the owner’s or lessor’s premises. In that case a plaintiff has established a prima facie case of negligence. When an attack involves pit bulls, it is no longer necessary to prove that the particular pit bull or pit bulls are dangerous.
Such a bright line rule – pit bulls are per se dangerous – is misguided. Don’t get me wrong. I in no way condone what happened in this case. The dog was left in a small pen, escaped, and attacked and seriously injured a child. The owner put the dog back in the same pen, and the dog escaped yet again, and mauled another child, causing life threatening injuries.
The dog’s breed is not the main issue in this case. The much larger issue is the fact that the owner was completely irresponsible.
There was no reason for the Court to make new law in this case. The defendant could have tried to invoke the “one free bite” rule. But, at best, the “one free bite” rule would only help him escape civil liability for money damages as to the first child. He was certainly on notice of the dog’s propensity when the second child was attacked. Additionally, the “one free bite” rule would not impede a dangerous dog proceeding, and a well-crafted dangerous dog statute can provide restitution to victims without the hassle of a civil law suit.
It is legal to own a hybrid in Virginia, but Virginia Code Section 3.2-6582 allows localities to set up permitting systems to regulate such things as how many hybrids a person can own, identification by tags or tattoos, and the keeping and handling of hybrids.
Any animal, no matter whether it’s a pure wolf or a Chihuahua or a pug or anything else, depends on the person and how they raise it. It’s the same thing with your kids. If you’re abusive toward your kids, they’re not going to be so good. If you work with them, they’ll be great.
I disagree with Doughty. Although I am an avid critic of breed specific legislation, I see wolves and wolf hybrids in a very different light from pit bulls and other dog breeds. No good comes of spreading the rumor that dogs and wolves are one in the same. For many reasons – including for safety, and from a behavior and training perspective – the public needs to be made aware of the fact that dogs are not wolves – and wolves are not dogs.
An American flag flies over Ground Zero today. People in New York and all over the world observe a moment of silence at the exact times that the planes struck each of the Towers, the Pentagon, and the ground in Pennsylvania. The flag reminds us to never forget those who perished on what may be the darkest day of our history.
All was not dark that day. Incredible acts of heroism took place ten years ago — not the least of which were the passengers on the plane in Pennsylvania who sacrificed their lives so that another attack would not occur in Washington, DC.
There were plenty of canine heroes working beside the human heroes that day. The Daily Mail Online has a beautiful tribute to the few surviving search and rescue dogs from 9/11, with photos of the dogs then and now. Ten years ago, these dogs were adolescent search and rescue dogs who worked around the clock with their handlers to search for survivors among the rubble at Ground Zero. Today, these dogs are beautiful mature seniors who are still faithful companions.
And speaking of the most faithful companion of all, the Scoop has the tale of Omar Rivera, a blind computer technician who was on the 71st floor of one of the towers ten years ago. Knowing he would not make it to the bottom in time, Rivera selflessly unleashed his service dog, Dorado, to at least give Dorado the chance to escape and survive. The pressing crowd came between Dorado and Rivera, but Dorado fought his way back to his handler, and actually led him to safety down 71 flights of steps before the tower collapsed.
May we all stay safe today and every day. And may we always remember those who we lost ten years ago, and those — human and canine — whose acts of bravery will always shine through the darkness of that day.
If you have time tomorrow (Sunday, September 11, 2011), please come join me for a presentation on Dog Ownership and the Law from 1:00 to 3:00 at Fur-Get Me Not’s Dog Training School at 4120 South Four Mile Run Drive in Arlington, Virginia.
If you think of it, please register online beforehand on Fur-Get Me Not’s website, in order to give us a sense of how many people are coming. But if you didn’t pre-register, no worries! Feel free to drop by anyway.
Attendance is free, but we are suggesting a $15 donation. All proceeds go straight to Fur-Get Me Not’s rescue partners, including Homeward Trails Animal Rescue!
Virginia and Kristin Garwood operated Breezy Valley Dairy Farm in Mauckport, Indiana, a family farm that had been in the Garwood family for thirty years. In 2007, the rising price of grain and falling price of milk put the farm in financial jeopardy. Virginia decided to supplement the family’s income by selling dogs. She started the dog breeding business by buying a pregnant Cocker Spaniel and selling her four puppies for a total of $400. She also sold two of her own Australian Shepherd’s puppies for $150. That same year, Virginia bought 34 more breeding dogs, but could not breed all of them immediately due to health issues.
In 2008, Virginia purchased even more breeding stock, and sold 52 dogs for a total of $4,144. Animal control received a complaint about the treatment and sale of one of Garwood’s dogs. When animal control officials investigated the Garwoods in October 2008, Virginia was uncooperative.
In late 2008 and early 2009, a friend of the Garwoods shut down his dog breeding business and gave the Garwoods dogs that were either “undesirable breeds” or incredibly unkempt. Virginia treated, groomed and sold the dogs, and gave most of the proceeds to her friend. Two more complaints trickled to animal control, and animal control reported the Garwoods as a possible puppy mill to the Office of the Attorney General (AG).
At the time, Indiana did not have a puppy mill statute and Indiana law did not define the term “puppy mill.” There were no laws that criminalized actions like the Garwood’s breeding and dog selling practices. Taking a page about Al Capone from the history books, the authorities looked to tax evasion laws as a way to go against the Garwoods.
In early 2009, the AG and the Indiana Department of State Revenue began investigating the Garwoods for state income and sales tax evasion. The authorities even went so far as to set up an undercover “sting operation” to buy two puppies from the Garwoods for $550. The Garwoods gave no receipts, but claimed orally that sales tax was included in the price.
The authorities now had what they needed to move in on the Garwoods. On May 29, 2008, the Department of State Revenue issued “jeopardy assessment” notices, demands, vouchers and warrants against the Garwoods. The officials concluded that Virginia and Kristin each owed over $142,000 in taxes, penalties and interest.
In the early morning hours of June 2, 2008, the authorities served the Garwoods with the jeopardy assessment documents, and demanded immediate payment in full of all tax, penalties and interest. Not surprisingly, the Garwoods were unable to pay in full.
The tax court began its analysis by pointing out that the state’s power to pursue a “jeopardy assessment” is very limited, and warranted in only four situations – when the taxpayer is about to: (1) quickly leave the state; (2) remove property from the state; (3) conceal property in the state; or (4) do any other act that would jeopardize collection of taxes.
The Indiana tax officials were not arguing the first two points – that the Garwoods were trying to leave the state or take property out of the state. Rather, they relied on the last two prongs – concealing property in the state and actions jeopardizing tax collection – to justify the jeopardy assessments.
Arguing that the Garwoods were concealing property, the officials pointed to Virginia’s refusal to cooperate with animal control officers, and the fact that the dogs could easily be sold in bulk or set free. The tax court dismissed these arguments out of hand, calling them “specious non sequiturs” (ouch!).
The officials relied heavily on the fourth prong to justify the jeopardy assessments. In deciding what kinds of actions could constitute “any other act that would jeopardize collection of taxes,” the officials consulted IRS publications and guidelines. The officials then pointed to several facts to justify seizing the dogs – the Garwoods advertised the dogs in local newspapers, bred and sold the dogs, failed to register as a retail merchant, failed to prepare and file sales tax returns, and failed to report the income on their tax returns.
Once again, the tax court ignored these arguments. In a dismissive footnote, the tax court gave no weight whatsoever to the IRS guidelines. The tax court concluded that these facts merely showed the Garwoods were not paying taxes, but not that they were jeopardizing collection efforts.
At the end of the opinion, the tax court gratuitously scolded the authorities for the media hype surrounding the case. The court also pointed out a serious flaw with the case – the officials sold the 240 dogs to HSUS for a mere $300. In the tax court’s mind, this showed that the state wasn’t actually motivated by filling its coffers with tax revenues, but instead wanted to shut down a puppy mill. The huge gap between the $300 price tag and the $142,000 tax bill against Virginia and Kristin Garwood didn’t help matters.
This case shows the incredible need for strong laws aimed at puppy mills. Fortunately, Indiana passed a puppy mill statute in 2009 that requires commercial dog breeders to register with the state and keep basic records, and imposes minimal standards of care on the breeders. But Indiana’s puppy mill statute still may not address most critical issue posed by the Garwood case – the need to give authorities the power to seize dogs caught up in abusive or neglectful circumstances.