The Maryland Court of Appeals has partially reversed their decision in Tracey v Solesky. Whereas the original decision applied strict liability to owners of “pit bulls” and “crossbreed pit bulls” and their landlords, the reversal removes reference to crossbreed and mixed breed pit bulls. However, it leaves intact strict liability for owners and landlords of “pit bulls”—and the term “pit bull” remains undefined by the court.
The court’s reasoning is that the Tracey v Solesky case only involved dogs referred to as “pit bull,” “pit bull dog,” or “pit bull terrier.” The dogs were never referred to as mixes or crossbreeds, and the court can’t issue a decision that involves something that was not the subject of the original case; therefore, the court can only issue a decision about “pit bulls.”
Unfortunately, the decision as it stands still does not define “pit bull,” so it is impossible to know exactly which breeds are included in this ruling. Also, the court did not explain how a non-crossbred (i.e. purebred) “pit bull” could be proven to exist.
The court narrowed the application of the decision to a dog that is called a “pit bull” or “pit bull terrier.” The court’s designation of strict liability therefore only applies to those owners who consistently refer to their dog, or allow others to refer to their dog, as a “pit bull,” “pit bull dog,” or “pit bull terrier”—but the ruling does not apply to owners who call their dog a “mix” or a “cross.” Following the same reasoning that the court used to narrow their decision, the case did not involve, nor did the court name, any specific breed (only a non-breed, “pit bull”); therefore, strict liability might not apply to owners of purebred dogs who avoid shorthand breed references and always use a full breed name to refer to their dog (ergo, their dog is some official breed, not just a “pit bull”).**
**Mind you, I am NOT a lawyer, so don’t take this as legal advice. Rather, you can see how the court’s partial-reversal hasn’t cleared anything up, but instead has left us with an even more confusing mess.
HSUS Maryland has created a very helpful info sheet for Maryland renters with dogs: HSUS Info for Renters and Dog Owners
PBLN had a good discussion about the ruling at the beginning of their 8/21/12 radio show: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/pit-bulletin-legal-news/2012/08/22/austin-no-kill-bsl-dbo-brent-toellner-ryan-clinton-1
I’m sure other organizations will have good discussion of the court’s revised decision and its possible effects over the next few days.
We will be interested to see how the Maryland legislature addresses this mess during the next legislative session, which will begin in January.
You can read the court’s Motion for Reconsideration decision here: http://mdcourts.gov/opinions/coa/2012/53a11re.pdf
Court partly backs off pit bull ruling
Judge admits error in applying decision to cross-bred dogs
By Michael Dresser, The Baltimore Sun
12:08 p.m. EDT, August 21, 2012
Maryland’s highest court on Tuesday partly backed off its widely criticized April decision that pit bulls are inherently dangerous, admitting that it went too far when it applied its ruling to cross-bred dogs.[…]
In a decision written by Judge Alan M. Wilner, the court stood by its finding about purebred pit bulls but canceled its reference to cross-breds.
Wilner, a retired judge who sat with the court on the original case, wrote that having re-read the briefs and the dissent in the case, he now believes the decision to extend the ruling to cross-bred pit bulls was “both gratuitous and erroneous.” […]
Wilner said nothing in the court record showed that Tracey had ever contended the animal was anything other than a pit bull terrier. […]
Full article retrieved 8/21/12 from http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/bs-md-pit-bull-decision-20120821,0,4806033.story