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Lawsuit calls pit bull ruling unconstitutional

A Baltimore man is suing the state for forcing him to move out of his home or get rid of his dog after a recent court decision imposing strict liability on owners and landlords for pit bull attacks.

Joseph Weigel lives in Armistead Gardens, a low-income housing cooperative. The co-op’s president sent the 1,500 residents a letter in August telling them they had to get rid of any pit bulls or face possible eviction because of the Court of Appeals’ April decision, which found pit bulls were “inherently dangerous.”

According the complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore on Wednesday, Weigel will be homeless as a result of the ruling since he refuses to part with his dog. He wants the ruling declared unconstitutional, as well as an injunction to stop Armistead Gardens from evicting tenants who own the dogs.

“Someone had to step up and do this,” said Weigel’s attorney, Charles H. Edwards IV of the Law Office of Barry Glazer P.C. “No one was doing this, so we did.”

The decision stemmed from a case in which a 10-year-old Towson boy, Dominic Solesky, was seriously injured by a pit bull. The boy’s parents sued the landlord after the dog’s owner declared bankruptcy. A judge ruled for the landlord because there was no evidence she knew the dog was dangerous.

The Court of Appeals reversed, reinstating the lawsuit. Its April decision said the “one free bite” rule does not apply to pit bulls or pit-bull mixes because they are inherently dangerous. Following a motion for reconsideration, the court amended its decision on Aug. 21 to limit the holding to “pure” pit bulls since there was no allegation that the dog in the Solesky case was a mixed breed.

Between those two opinions, the General Assembly considered but failed to pass breed-neutral laws on liability for dog attacks. Lawmakers are expected to resume the debate next year.

Shortly before the second opinion, Armistead Gardens’ residents received the letter banning pit bulls and pit bull mixes.

Weigel and his attorneys argue that since there is no standard to evaluate what constitutes a pit bull, Weigel has been deprived of his right to procedural due process.

The lawsuit also says that Weigel’s dog is his property and the court violated his property rights with its ruling. In the complaint, Weigel and his attorneys say that about 500 Armistead Gardens residents would be affected by the law.

“Either these people have to give up their dogs, which they love and adore and have property interests in, and [the dogs] will be euthanized, or [their owners] can be homeless,” Edwards said. “Either alternative is something we are not comfortable with.”

The case is Weigel v. State of Maryland, 1:12-cv-02723-WDQ, U.S. District Court (Baltimore).