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Business Law

Pennsylvania Dog Law Agency Appeal Case

Attorney(s): Christopher A. Sarno, Esq.
Client Profile: Licensed dog kennel operator
Summary:

Our client, a dog kennel owner, was found to be in violation of PA Dog Law. He was ordered to pay over $40,000 in fines and to completely renovate his entire kennel facility, all while incurring daily fees for not complying. The owner approached us looking to appeal the decision.

Case Highlights

  • The issue was whether the Pennsylvania Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement had the authority to force a private kennel to become a commercial kennel and adhere to those regulations. The Dog Bureau argued this was necessary because the private kennel had transferred more than 60 dogs in a calendar year.
  • PA Dog Law is an Act that contains all laws concerning canines, including but no limited to kennels (breeding and whelping).
  • The Dog Bureau had been enforcing this action on many kennels since the Act passage in 2008, based merely on the definition of “commercial kennel” as described in the Act. Most kennel owners complied because they were told by the Bureau it was the law.
  • The reason the Bureau was doing this was because the Act has only 2 regulations for private kennels but has 74 regulations for commercial kennels, which gives the Bureau more control over the kennel.
  • In the agency appeal process, we first had a hearing before the Department of Agriculture’s appointed Hearing Master. The Hearing Master found in favor of the Dog Bureau.
  • Next, we filed an appeal within the Department of Agriculture to a Board of Appeals. That Board upheld the holding.
  • Finally, we were able to take the case on review to the Commonwealth Court of Appeals. This is an intermediate court of appeals in the state of Pennsylvania. This court hears government agency appeals, among other areas of law.
  • On appeal, we were able to make a strong cogent argument in our written brief and oral arguments.

Our Approach

Our strategy rested on Statutory Interpretation. The General Assembly passes laws, and those laws are enforced by offices in the Executive branch (in this case, the Dog Bureau). The enforcers of that law may misinterpret the law or interpret the law to suit their goals. Many in Pennsylvania want to shut down kennels considering them to be “puppy mills.” The Dog Bureau was using this tactic to gain more control over the kennel to lead to its eventual shut down.
 
However, the courts are then used to examine the law created by the General Assembly and the executive branch’s interpretation of that law to see if it complies. In this case, we argued that the Dog Bureau was going beyond the authority given in the statute, and the court agreed.

Result

The Commonwealth Court of Appeals found in our favor and vacated the judgment. This meant that my client no longer owed the over $40,000 dollars in fines and that he could continue to run his business as a private kennel.
 
This case has set precedent within Dog Law, as it reversed a decade-old practice.

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