Dog Limit called unconstitutional in Minnesota

Dog Limit called unconstitutional in Minnesota

Law called: “ invalid exercise of police power violating the plaintiffs’ Constitutional right to due process.”

By: Norma Bennett Woolf  Date: 03/19/1997 Category: | Animal Legislation |



In June 1996 two dog owners in Sauk Rapids, Minnesota, were granted a summary judgment against the city for two dog limit laws the judge called "an invalid exercise of police power violating the plaintiffs' Constitutional right to due process."

"The court finds that ownership of dogs and other pets is a property right which is protected by the Constitution," said District Court Judge Thomas P. Knapp when he granted the judgment on June 5.

One of the laws limited owners to two dogs, with an exemption for puppies under six months of age. The second law allowed owners to keep up to four dogs if they obtained a permit and to keep more than four dogs if they got permission from their neighbors. There was no grandfather clause; if owners could not get approval from all neighbors within 100 feet of their property line, additional dogs would have to be placed elsewhere or surrendered to authorities. Penalty for failure to get neighbors' permission was 90 days in jail and $700 fine.

The request for judgment came from Mary P. Holt, who rescues and fosters Newfoundlands, and Cynthia Eveslage, a dog trainer and breeder. Holt has 12 dogs and no permit; Eveslage has three adult dogs and a permit to keep up to four dogs. Neither woman contacted neighbors to get permission to keep more than four dogs.

The women challenged the ordinance on these grounds:

  • The ordinances were not rationally based on evidence that indicated a two-dog limit was warranted by conditions in Sauk Rapids. They argued that there is no such evidence and that the number was arbitrarily chosen.
  • The provision requiring a permit to own up to four dogs lacked criteria or standards for issuance.
  • The absence of a grandfather clause and the requirement to get neighbors' permission to keep more than four previously owned dogs allowed for the taking of property without just compensation.
  • The ordinances amount to ex post facto laws; i.e., they criminalize an act that was innocent when it was committed.

The city countered with a request for its own summary judgment based on two factors: that women had not exhausted all legal remedies because they had not asked their neighbors for permission to have more than four dogs and because there was no proof that the Constitution protects dog ownership.


The decision

Holt and Eveslage compiled reports of complaints involving dogs in the city and demonstrated that the complaints were not related to numbers. They also offered depositions of six officials who testified that there was no evidence that supported the limits before they were passed.

The judge found for the plaintiffs on the Constitutional grounds that the city had abused its power to create laws that promote the general health, safety, and welfare of the citizens and violated the guarantee of due process before property is taken. He said that the city failed to provide relevant evidence that the laws were needed.

The judge then denied the city's request for summary judgment against the women. The plaintiffs are not required to comply with unconstitutional laws and thus were not obliged to obtain the unanimous approval of neighbors before keeping their dogs. Furthermore, the judge found that the Constitution does protect pet ownership. He declared the laws unconstitutional and enjoined the city from enforcement. However, he did not award damages or attorneys fees.


The record grows

This is the second court decision striking down pet limit laws. The first took place in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, and removed an ordinance that limited residents to five pets. In resolving that case, the judge quoted from Kadash vs City of Williamsport, 1975: "What is not an infringement upon public safety and is not a nuisance cannot be made one by legislative fiat and then prohibited. Even legitimate legislative goals cannot be pursued by means which stifle fundamental personal liberty when the goals can otherwise be more reasonably achieved."

Marshall Tanick, the attorney for the women in Sauk Rapids, gives a complete account of the Pennsylvania case in the May-June 1996 issue of NAIA News.

The Sauk Rapids case was supported by the Minnesota Coalition of Dog Clubs; Tanick is national attorney for the American Dog Owners' Association.

About The Author

Norma Bennett Woolf's photo
Norma Bennett Woolf -

Editor and Writer for the National Animal Interest Alliance.

All Authors Of This Article: | Norma Bennett Woolf |
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