Cases on Dogs Raise Constitutional Questions – Melville

Metropolitan News-Enterprise Monday, May 14, 2001 Page 9 PERSPECTIVES (Column) Cases on Dogs Raise Constitutional Questions By ROGER M. GRACE (Sixth in a series on dogs and the courts.) Cases involving dogs on occasion entail issues of federal constitutional dimension. Below is a run-down on some such cases, arising here in California. The Court of Appeal’s ruling in Conway v. Pasadena Humane Society (1996) 45 Cal.App.4th 163 is summed up in the first two sentences of the opinion: “This appeal presents the question of whether animal control officers can lawfully enter a home, absent a warrant or consent, to seize and impound the homeowner’s dog for violation of a leash law. We hold that the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution precludes such conduct.” The opinion was penned by then-Justice William Masterson (since retired) of this district’s Div. One. The case involved a beagle named Toby whom a dog-catcher spotted running loose. Another dog-catcher then saw him running home. The pair, accompanied by Pasadena police, entered Toby’s home through an open door and seized the dog. The homeowners, Nicholas and Virginia Conway, paid a $500 fine for violating the leash law and got Toby back. They then brought suit under 42 USC §1984 for violation of their federal civil rights. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Coleman A. Swart granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants, the Pasadena Humane Society (with which the city contracts for animal control services), the city, and one of the Humane Society’s dog-catchers. The Court of Appeal reversed. Masterson observed that there were no exigent circumstances justifying the warrantless entry. The justice said although both Government Code section 53074 and a Pasadena ordinance authorized the seizure of dogs who had been running loose and returned home, without mentioning a need to obtain a warrant for entering the homes, such a requirement must be read into those laws. “We do not read these enactments as dispensing with the Fourth Amendment’s requirement that an official entry into a home be justified by a warrant, consent, or exigent circumstances,” he wrote, remarking: ” ‘A statute does not trump the Constitution.’ “