The 8th Circuit affirmed the district court decision holding that “the challenged city ordinance was supported by a rational basis.” Danker v. City of Council Bluffs, Iowa, 53 F. 4th 420 (8th Cir. 2022).
Plaintiff dog owners had appealed the district court’s decision, granting the City Motion for summary judgment “concluding that ‘the pit bull ordinance had the required rational relationship to the health, safety, and public welfare interests of the city to survive rational basis review.” Id. at 423. Plaintiff, on appeal, claimed that the ordinance “violated their right to substantive due process and equal protection” but dropped the remainder of their prior allegations.
Both parties agreed that the rational basis test was applicable because the ordinance did “not infringe a fundamental right nor involve a suspect classification.” Id. at 424. Plaintiffs seeking to prevail when a rational basis test is applied often face an uphill battle.
Here, the Ordinance was determined to promote a legitimate government interest — protecting public health and safety from documented increases in dog bites in the City. The City produced evidence that pit bulls were responsible for a disproportionate number of dog bites its citizens received and that the Ordinance would protect citizens from such harm. Also, the City provided evidence of a 25% decrease in the incidence of reported dog bites from 2007 through 2020, after the Ordinance was enacted.
The Court found that Plaintiffs’ arguments did not negate “every conceivable basis for the Ordinance’s rationality,” for example:
“[T]he dog owners argue that experts in canine genetics and behavior currently acknowledge that pit bulls are no more or less dangerous than similarly sized dogs of other breeds” but the City’s evidence related to pit bull dog bites was persuasive.
The dog owners also provided evidence that “(1) Pit Bull type dogs are no more or less dangerous than other breeds of dogs; (2) neither breed nor physical characteristics are predictive of a dog’s aggressiveness or propensity to bite; and (3) the City’s method of identifying dogs as Pit Bulls is inherently unreliable.” Id. at 425. But the Court found there was sufficient evidence, even from that provided by Plaintiffs to reject a conclusion that the Ordinance was irrational. While disappointing for those Pit Bull owners in this jurisdiction, it may be comforting that other jurisdictions have rejected such prohibitions, in addition to the position of associations with expertise in animal health and behavior, including for example the American Veterinary Medical Association. See, e.g., “Responsible ownership the alternative to breed banning, other restrictions.”