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Pit bull owners to appeal dismissal of suit

A group of pit bull owners will appeal the dismissal of a federal lawsuit in which they claim they are being forced out of their homes due to a decision by the state’s highest court.

Charles H. Edwards IV represents residents of Armistead Gardens who are fighting the Court of Appeals’ pit bull ruling in federal court.

Armistead Gardens resident Joseph Weigel and several other owners filed the action last year in U.S. District Court in Baltimore after the housing cooperative’s board sent a letter to residents banning pit bulls on its properties. The board’s notice was a response to a Maryland Court of Appeals’ decision that imposed strict liability on owners and landlords for pit bull attacks.

In addition to the board, the plaintiffs sued the Court of Appeals, the state of Maryland and several state officials.

However, Judge William D. Quarles Jr. held last month that state officials were immune and that the plaintiffs failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. Weigel’s notice of appeal to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, dated July 5, was filed this week.

In his June 19 memorandum opinion, Quarles held that there is no fundamental, constitutionally protected right to own and keep a dog.

He said the residents failed to establish plausible claims based on federal and state due process rights or a judicial taking, and that the Court of Appeals’ decision in the case, Tracey v. Solesky, was not unconstitutionally vague.

Quarles also stated that he could not conclude the decision was “arbitrary or irrational” and therefore held that the complaint failed to state a plausible substantive due process claim.

“The plaintiffs do not appear to dispute that the protection of health and public safety is a legitimate state interest,” Quarles wrote. “Instead, they insist that Tracey did not create specific rules or regulations that would ‘foster’ such protection. Their argument is wrong.”

The group of residents claimed their dogs were their property and that their property rights were being violated.

Quarles, however, held that there was little evidence a taking had occurred in the first place, and that Armistead’s decision was not a governmental taking, but an independent act by the housing cooperative.

“No government actor has physically taken possession of any part of the Plaintiffs’ property, or denied all economically viable use thereof,” Quarles wrote.

Charles H. Edwards IV with the Law Office of Barry R. Glazer P.C. originally filed the lawsuit on behalf of Weigel against Armistead Gardens in September. He filed an amended complaint in October to include Gov. Martin O’Malley, Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, the Court of Appeals and then-Chief Judge Robert M. Bell.

The Court of Appeals’ decision resulted from a case in which 10-year-old Dominic Solesky was seriously injured by a pit bull. When the dog’s owner declared bankruptcy, the parents sued the landlord.

Several legislative attempts were made to countermand the Court of Appeals’ decision in the regular General Assembly session this year and a special session in 2012, but none was successful.

The case is Weigel et al. v. State of Maryland et al., 1:12-cv-02723-WDQ.