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Johnson v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, D. Columbia.

October 17, 2014

IVER ROBERT JOHNSON, III, Plaintiff,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Defendant

Page 156

For Iver Robert Johnson, III, also known as JAY JOHNSON, Plaintiff: Jeffrey Louis Light, LEAD ATTORNEY, LAW OFFICES OF JEFFREY LIGHT, Washington, DC USA.

For District of Columbia, Defendant: Keith David Parsons, LEAD ATTORNEY, OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Washington, DC USA.

Page 157

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Royce C. Lamberth, United States District Judge.

Plaintiff Mr. Iver Robert Johnson, III is an animal rights activist. Although he has never been prosecuted or threatened with prosecution under the District of Columbia's Animal Control Act, he challenges a provision that reads: " No person shall knowingly and falsely deny ownership of any animal." D.C. Code § 8-1808(b). Mr. Johnson sues to obtain declaratory and injunctive relief, arguing the statute violates his First Amendment right to free speech because he is unable to deny ownership of his dog without risking prosecution.

The District of Columbia seeks dismissal, arguing that Mr. Johnson lacks standing and he has failed to state a claim. Def.'s Mot. Dismiss 1, ECF No. 11. Alternatively, it seeks Summary Judgment. Mr. Johnson cross-moves for Summary Judgment. Pl.'s Mot. Summ. J., ECF No. 16. Upon consideration of the entire record and applicable law, the Court GRANTS defendant's motion to dismiss and thus DENIES plaintiff's motion for summary judgment.

I. BACKGROUND

In around 2004, Mr. Johnson began caring for a beagle, Liam, that was previously a testing animal in a laboratory. Compl. ¶ 15. Mr. Johnson speaks publicly about Liam's experience and his belief that humans should not " own" animals. Compl. ¶ 18. He has given speeches at animal rights events in several cities, explaining his belief that animals are not property. Compl. ¶ 21. Central to Johnson's message is denying that he owns Liam. Compl. ¶ 119.

Mr. Johnson asserts that he desires to give speeches in the District of Columbia about why he opposes treating animals as property, and in such speeches he would like to deny ownership of Liam. Compl. ¶ 22. However, he alleges that he does not do so because he is deterred by D.C. Code § 8-1808(b).

D.C. Code § 8-1808(b) provides " No person shall knowingly and falsely deny ownership of any animal." While the term " ownership" is not defined, an " owner" is defined as " a person in the District of Columbia who purchases or keeps an animal in temporary or permanent custody" with some enumerated exceptions such as veterinary hospitals or pet shops. D.C. Code § 8-1801(5). The penalties for violating this provision range from a maximum of $25 for a first offense to a maximum of $100 for a third or subsequent offense within a 24-month period. D.C. Code § 8-1811.

Mr. Johnson argues that this section of the Animal Control Act has a chilling effect on his right to free speech under the

Page 158

First Amendment, dissuading him from making statements denying ownership of Liam. Compl. ¶ 26. He argues that Section 8-1808(b) is facially unconstitutional, or in the alternative, unconstitutional as applied to his desired conduct. Compl. ¶ ¶ 28-29.

Unfortunately, since this claim was filed, Liam has passed away. ECF No. 8 (Notice of death of dog Liam).

The District of Columbia seeks dismissal, arguing that Mr. Johnson lacks standing, his claim is moot, and that he has failed to state a claim. Def.'s Mot. Dismiss 1. Alternatively, it seeks Summary Judgment. Mr. Johnson cross-moves for Summary Judgment. Pl's Cross-Mot. Summ. J, ECF No. 16. Because this Court finds that Mr. Johnson lacks standing, it grants defendant's ...


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