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Media Alerts - New York Pet Welfare Ass'n, Inc. v. New York City - Second Circuit
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March 3, 2017
  New York Pet Welfare Ass'n, Inc. v. New York City - Second Circuit
Headline: Second Circuit Upholds New York City Animal Welfare Laws Aimed at Controlling Overpopulation of Cats and Dogs

Area of Law: Animal Law, Commerce Clause, State & Federal Preemption

Issue(s) Presented: Whether newly-enacted New York City animal welfare laws are preempted by state or federal law or violate the dormant Commerce Clause.

Brief Summary: Plaintiff-appellant brought suit against New York City in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York to challenge two New York City animal welfare laws enacted in 2015. Plaintiff-appellant, the New York Pet Welfare Association, alleged that one law, requiring New York City pet shops to buy dogs and cats only directly from a specific class of federally-licensed breeders, violated the dormant commerce clause. In addition, plaintiff-appellant alleged that the federal Animal Welfare Act preempted this law. Second, plaintiff-appellant alleged that New York law preempted a second animal welfare law that required pet stores to sterilize dogs and cats before consumers could purchase them.

The district court held that plaintiff-appellant's Commerce Clause challenge failed because the laws did not "discriminate against or unduly burden interstate commerce." The district court also found that neither federal law nor New York state law preempted the City's animal welfare laws. Plaintiff-appellant appealed, and the Second Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal.

To read the full opinion, please visit:

Extended Summary: This case concerns animal welfare laws that aim to protect the approximately 1.1 million dogs and cats that reside in New York City. In 2015, defendant-appellant New York City (the "City") drafted a series of animal welfare laws aimed at the breeding of dogs and cats, their subsequent sale, and the unfortunate issue of overpopulation. Before the laws took effect, plaintiff-appellant, the New York Pet Welfare Association, sued the City in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, challenging two of the laws: the "Sourcing Law" and the "Spay/Neuter Law."

The Sourcing Law required that City pet stores sell only animals from a specific class of federally-licensed breeders, while the Spay/Neuter Law required pet stores to spay and neuter the animals before selling them. Plaintiff-appellant alleged that the Sourcing Law violated the Commerce Clause and was preempted by the federal Animal Welfare Act ("AWA and alleged that the Spay/Neuter Law was preempted by New York state law. The district court dismissed the complaint in its entirety, and plaintiff-appellant appealed to the Second Circuit.

In its analysis, the Second Circuit explained that the AWA covers any "person who, in commerce, for compensation or profit, delivers for transportation, or transports, except as a carrier, buys, or sells, or negotiates the purchase or sale of . . . any dog or other animal . . . [for] use as a pet." The AWA gives wide discretion to the Secretary of Agriculture to form a licensing scheme and set standards. With this discretion, the Secretary created three categories of dealers, Classes A-C. Despite the AWA's broad scope, by the Act's express terms, states may still promulgate standards in addition to those set by the Secretary. States have taken the initiative to regulate large-scale breeders and require pet stores to strengthen their warranties and provide more disclosures about the pets they sell.

Plaintiff-appellant argued that the AWA preempted the Sourcing Law because it interfered with the AWA's established licensing systems. The Second Circuit rejected this argument, holding that plaintiff-appellant did not meet its burden in proving that the two laws could not stand together. Specifically, the court noted that plaintiff-appellant failed to show how the Sourcing Law prohibited the Secretary of Agriculture's licensing system from fulfilling Congress's intended goal of inspection. The Court differentiated between the Sourcing Law's goal of regulating sales by a federally-licensed class and the AWA's ability to "facilitate federal enforcement activities." Since Congress directed the Secretary to cooperate with state officials in promulgating and enforcing state animal welfare laws, Congress, the Second Circuit concluded, did not intend the AWA to automatically preempt any proposed state laws.

The Second Circuit likewise rejected plaintiff-appellant's argument that the Sourcing Law's violated the Commerce Clause. As an initial matter, the court determined that the Sourcing Law did not discriminate against interstate commerce. The court stated that the law posed only an incidental burden on commerce because even if the law made it difficult for some out-of-state breeders to sell to City pet stores, as long as some breeders are able to this does not constitute an impermissible burden on interstate commerce overall.

Regarding the Spay/Neuter Law, plaintiff-appellant argued that, because the law set a certain minimum age and weight for required sterilization, these standards conflicted with and were preempted by New York state law dictating that veterinarians should apply independent judgment and obtain informed consent from the owner before performing the surgeries. However, the Second Circuit found no preemption because the Spay/Neuter Law did not impose any obligations on veterinarians who, the court said, could simply refuse to perform any surgeries that they felt would violate their duties under state law.

As a result, the Second Circuit affirmed the lower court's decision dismissing plaintiff-appellant's complaint in its entirety.

To read the full opinion, please visit:

Panel (if known): Circuit Judges Leval and Lohier, and District Judge Korman

Argument Date: 09/19/16

Date of Issued Opinion: 03/02/17

Docket Number:
No. 15-4013-cv

Decided: Affirmed.

Case Alert Author: Samantha Hazen

Counsel: Jeffrey M. Pollock (Nancy Elizabeth Halpern, on the brief), Fox Rothschild LLP, Lawrenceville, NJ (James M. Lemonedes, Fox Rothschild LLP, New York, NY, on the brief), for Plaintiff- Appellant, Benjamin Welikson, of Counsel (Zachary W. Carter, Corporation Counsel, Richard Dearing, Assistant Corporation Counsel, Devin Slack, of Counsel, on the brief), City of New York, New York, NY, for Defendants-Appellees, S. Reid Kahn, Kane Kessler, P.C., New York, NY, for Amicus Curiae The Humane Society of the United States.

Author of Opinion: District Judge Edward R. Korman

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor: Professor Elyse Diamond

    Posted By: Elyse Diamond @ 03/03/2017 02:20 PM     2nd Circuit  

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