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Daskalea v. Washington Humane Society

May 2, 2010

SUNDAY DASKALEA, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
WASHINGTON HUMANE SOCIETY, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Colleen Kollar-kotelly United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiffs are self-described pet owners in the District of Columbia who allege that their pets were seized, detained, and damaged by Defendants without due process of the law. Presently at issue is Plaintiffs' allegation in Count II of their Amended Complaint that the District of Columbia's Freedom from Cruelty to Animal Protection Act, D.C. Code § 22-1001 et seq. (hereinafter, the "Act"), is facially unconstitutional because it fails to provide animal owners with a meaningful right to contest the seizure, detention, and terms of release of their pets, prior to final action. The challenged provisions of the Act, however, were recently amended (subsequent to the filing of Plaintiffs' lawsuit) by passage of D.C. Act 17-493, entitled the "Animal Protection Amendment Act of 2008" (hereinafter, the "2008 Amendment"). The Court therefore ordered the parties to submit supplemental briefing addressing the impact of the recent amendments to the Act on Plaintiffs' facial challenge and, specifically, whether Plaintiffs' claim of facial unconstitutionality is now moot. The parties have since filed the required briefing, and the Court is now tasked with determining whether Plaintiffs' facial challenge is moot in light of the new legislation. Upon consideration of the parties' supplemental memoranda, relevant case law, statutory and regulatory authority, as well as the record of this case as a whole, the Court finds that Plaintiffs' facial challenge to the constitutionality of the Act has in fact been rendered moot by the 2008 Amendment. Accordingly, for the reasons set forth below, the Court shall DISMISS Count II of the Amended Complaint as MOOT insofar as it asserts a facial challenge to the constitutionality of the Act.

I. BACKGROUND

The Court assumes familiarity with the factual background of this case, which is set forth in detail in this Court's previous opinions and is incorporated herein. See Daskalea v. Washington Humane Society, 577 F. Supp. 2d 82 (D.D.C. 2008) (hereinafter, "Daskalea I"); Daskelea v. Washington Humane Society, 577 F. Supp. 90 (D.D.C. 2008). Accordingly, the Court addresses only such facts as are necessary for resolution of the issues currently before the Court.

Plaintiffs Sunday Daskalea, Frances Norris, and Willie Jackson allege that they "are pet owners in the District of Columbia who have had their pets seized, detained and damaged without due process of law." Am. Compl. ¶ 1. Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint names as Defendants the District of Columbia (hereinafter, "D.C." or the "District"); Jody Huckaby, individually and in her official capacity as Executive Director of the Washington Humane Society ("WHS"); Adam Parascandola, individually and in his official capacity as Director of Law Enforcement for WHS; Sonya Scnoor, individually and in her official capacity as the WHS law enforcement officer who seized and detained Ms. Daskalea's dog; Rosemary Vozobule, individually and in her official capacity as a WHS law enforcement officer who refused to return Ms. Daskalea's dog; Lindsay Gardewin, individually and in her official capacity as a WHS law enforcement officer who seized and refused to return Mr. Jackson's dog; and H.O. Boozer, individually and in her official capacity as the WHS law enforcement officer who seized and refused to return Dr. Norris's dog (collectively, the "Individual Defendants").*fn1

Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint includes both constitutional challenges to the Act and common law claims regarding the alleged seizure, detention, and damaging of Plaintiffs' pets. See generally Am. Compl. In particular, Count II alleges that the Act is unconstitutional on its face and as customarily enforced, and Count III alleges that Defendants' application of the Act to the individual Plaintiffs violated their due process rights. Id. ¶¶ 75-80. Both Counts II and III remain extant at this time. As explained above, this Memorandum Opinion focuses solely on Plaintiffs' facial challenge to the constitutionality of the Act as set forth in Count II of the Amended Complaint.

Specifically, Plaintiffs contend that the Act "is unconstitutional because as written . . . it fails to provide animal owners with a meaningful right to contest the seizure, detention, and terms of release of their pets, prior [to] final action which permanently affects a pet owner's rights." Id. ¶ 75. Plaintiffs focus on D.C. Code § 22-1004, which is entitled "Arrests without warrant authorized; notice to owner." At the time the Plaintiffs' lawsuit was filed and the complained-of events allegedly occurred, section 22-1004 consisted of the following two paragraphs - (a) & (b) - reprinted in full below:

(a) Any person found violating the laws in relation to cruelty to animals may be arrested and held without a warrant . . . . The person making the arrest or the humane officer taking possession of an animal shall have a lien on said animals for the expense of such care and provisions.

(b)(1) A humane officer of the Washington Humane Society may take possession of any animal to protect it from neglect or cruelty. The person taking possession of the animal or animals, shall use reasonable diligence to give notice thereof to the owner of animals found in the charge or custody of [a] person arrested, and shall properly care for the animals until the owner shall take charge of the animals; provided that, the owner shall take charge of the animals within 20 days from the date of the notice.

(2) If the owner or custodian of the animal or animals fails to respond after 20 days, the animal or animals shall become the property of the Washington Humane Society and the Washington Humane Society shall have the authority to:

(A) Place the animal or animals up for adoption in a suitable home;

(B) Retain the animal or animals; or

(C) Humanely destroy the animal or animals.

D.C. Code § 22-1004.

Based upon the statutory language existing at the time of filing, Plaintiffs allege that the Act is unconstitutional on its face because of "its complete failure to provide notice and a meaningful opportunity for pet owners to contest the seizure, detention, terms of release and treatment of their pets, and the fees and terms associated therewith." Am. Compl. ΒΆ 76. In particular, Plaintiffs challenge the Act's alleged failure to (1) establish reasonable and articulable standards for the seizure of pets; (2) to provide reasonable notice and a meaningful opportunity to be heard to contest the seizure, detention, release terms and treatment of pets; (3) to set reasonable and articulable ...


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