Wayne County town's pit bull ban upheld

CHARLESTON – The state’s Supreme Court has affirmed the constitutionality of the Town of Ceredo’s ordinance prohibiting the ownership of pit bull terriers within the city limits.

In a memorandum decision filed Jan. 14, the court affirmed the order of Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Darrell Pratt, who had affirmed the Municipal Court of Ceredo’s conviction of three defendants for the possession of pit bulls in the city limits.

Steve Hardwick, Sharon Nalley, and Glenna Pelfrey were charged with owning pit bulls within the city limits of Ceredo under section 505.16 of the city’s Codified Ordinances.

On Nov. 12, 2009, the defendants were convicted by the city court and each was fined $162 plus costs. They appealed to the circuit court arguing that the ordinance in question was “unconstitutional in that it is arbitrary and unreasonable.”

A hearing was set and defendant Pelfrey did not appear at the hearing so her appeal was dismissed and her conviction affirmed. The circuit court then ruled on the appeals of the remaining defendants.

The circuit court found in relevant part:

“That each Defendant’s dogs are of the breed that is typically referred to generically as pit bull dogs which are aggressive by nature, have been known as attack animals with strong massive heads and jaws, and have been found to represent a public health hazard;

“The majority of jurisdictions have accepted the proposition that dogs of this type have a propensity to be aggressive and attack without provocation and it is well established that such dogs have gotten a lot of notoriety of being dangerous to public health and safety;

“The ownership, maintenance and control of dogs or other animals within city limits is a local concern which does not exceed the limitations of the home rule doctrine;

“That section 505.16 of the Codified Ordinances of the Town of Ceredo is legitimate, specific, rationally related to that legitimate interest and exercises the constitutional powers of the municipality to impose safety regulations to insure the health, protection and welfare of the citizens;

“That the ordinance is not constitutionally vague nor does it violate the due process of the Defendants because the owners may by limited by and subject to the City’s legitimate exercise of police powers by living inside the city limits; and

“That the conviction of each Defendant was based upon the evidence that these were pit bull dogs, they were within the city limits, and they were owned, harbored or maintained by each of the defendants within the jurisdiction and based upon the same the Court finds that there was no violation of due process.”

Hardwick and Nalley then appealed the circuit court’s order to the state Supreme Court. They were represented by counsel Cathy L. Greiner and the Town of Ceredo was represented by Lora L. Lake, the Prosecuting Attorney for the Town of Ceredo.

“On appeal, petitioners allege that the circuit court erred in denying their appeal because the ordinance in question is unconstitutional in that it is arbitrary and unreasonable. According to petitioners, the ordinance assumes a dog to be vicious based merely upon its breed without any further evidence of viciousness,” the opinion states.

“In response, the Town of Ceredo argues that West Virginia Code § 8-12-1, et seq., grants municipalities general police powers to protect their communities. Respondent asserts that it has a legitimate interest in protecting its residents against the dangers of pit bulls and that the ordinance in question is constitutional because it is rationally related to that legitimate interest.

“Having reviewed the circuit court’s “Order” entered on June 7, 2011, we hereby adopt and incorporate the circuit court’s well-reasoned findings and conclusions as to the assignment of error raised in this appeal. The Clerk is directed to attach a copy of the circuit court’s order to this memorandum decision.

“For the foregoing reasons, we find no error in the decision of the circuit court and its June 7, 2011, order denying petitioners’ appeal is affirmed.”

More Stories