April 27, 2017

Court Strikes Down Ohio Town's Pit Bull Ban

The ASPCA helped get a pit bull ban in the city of Reynoldsburg, Ohio, struck down on state constitutional grounds this week, and we’re hopeful the court’s ruling will create momentum to repeal or invalidate the 80+ municipal breed-specific laws (BSL) that remain on the books in Ohio.

In 2014, a disabled veteran named Darlene Russ moved to Reynoldsburg, a suburb of Columbus, with her mixed-breed dog, Leah, who had no history of aggression. The city immediately cited Ms. Russ for owning a pit bull in violation of a local ordinance that classifies all “pit bulls” as “vicious dogs.” Violation of the vicious dog ordinance carried criminal penalties and possible “humane destruction” of the dog.

Facing the impossible choice between her beloved dog and her new home, Ms. Russ filed a lawsuit challenging the Reynoldsburg ordinance.

Upon learning about the case, the ASPCA filed an amicus (“friend of the court”) brief in support of Ms. Russ, which argued that not only is the ordinance invalid as a matter of law, but it is also contrary to sound public policy given the substantial scientific research that shows that breed-specific bans do not enhance public safety. Indeed, the Ohio Legislature removed breed-specific language from its statewide statute in 2012, but many local governments have been slow to catch up.
 
When the local municipal court ruled for the city and dismissed the case, Ms. Russ appealed and the ASPCA filed a second amicus brief. Finally, on April 24, 2017, the Ohio Fifth District Court of Appeals issued an opinion reversing the trial court’s ruling and striking down the Reynoldsburg ordinance as unconstitutional. The court reasoned that the Reynoldsburg ordinance prohibited something—the ownership of pit bulls with no history of aggression—that state law permits, in violation of the Ohio Constitution.

This victory should generate important momentum against BSL in Ohio: Absent review and reversal by the Ohio Supreme Court, the more than 80 municipalities in Ohio with breed-discriminatory ordinances still on the books now face the choice of either repealing them or defending them in court—with the law stacked against them. 

All in all, a great day for dogs and their people in Ohio!