Last updateFri, 04 Jul 2014 5pm

Town of New Llano, Louisiana, Sued Over Pit Bull Ban

A lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of New Llano's Pit Bull ban was filed this week in the United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana, Lake Charles Division. The lawsuit alleges that New Llano's Ordinance 4 of 2013 is unconstitutional because, among other things, it allows the Town to seize and identify a “pit bull” without any type of hearing. Even though Louisiana law provides that an owned dog is personal property, under the New Llano law, there is no procedure in which the Town is required to prove it has the right to seize a dog, nor is there any way to legally defend against the Town's designation of a dog as a pit bull.

The lawsuit also raises the issue of whether the Town can rely on a canine DNA test as the final determinant of a dog's breed. The suit alleges that the Mars Wisdom Panel 2.0, upon which the Town relies, has terms of use that preclude its use for the purpose of enforcing a breed ban. The Ordinance also makes it impossible for the average person to know whether his or her dog is banned because it has two different definitions of pit bull: (1) a dog that is "predominantly" pit bull and (2) a dog that is "of any pit bull breed."

The case is brought on behalf of New Llano residents Christina and Victor Nelson who adopted their dog mixed-breed dog, Mazzy, from a shelter in Indiana in 2011. Victor Nelson is in the military, so the Nelsons moved to New Llano in September 2013 when he was stationed at Ft. Polk. According to the suit, the Nelsons found out about the ban when having their water turned on. They then agreed to a DNA test based on a promise by the Mayor that if Mazzy was found to be a pit bull under the ordinance, she would be grandfathered in so she would not be banned from New Llano. After the DNA test, Christina Nelson received a call from the Town saying Mazzy was banned because she was allegedly an American Staffordshire Terrier. But when Mrs. Nelson asked for the results of the DNA test, she was told she would have to subpoena them. Mrs. Nelson’s request for an order banning Mazzy was also rebuffed. Instead, she was told the Ordinance was the order of removal. The Nelsons have been fighting with the Town for months now about the banning of Mazzy and have been forced to board their dog outside the Town limits since October of last year.

The Nelsons are represented by Stacy R. Palowsky of Madisonville, Louisiana, and Fred M. Kray of Gainesville, Florida. Mr. Kray stated: "The State of Louisiana in dealing with dangerous dogs, provides a full panoply of due process rights, including a hearing, notice of hearing, a judge, right of cross examination, the right to introduce evidence and rules of evidence. And that is for dogs that have bitten someone or acted aggressively. In Christina's case, she received none of these protections, and Mazzy has been banned from the community even though Mazzy has never harmed anyone or acted aggressively."

The Town has 21 days to respond to the complaint.

The complaint, in its entirety, can be read here.

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