United States: Pet Stores Under Attack-Sourcing Bans Violate The Supremacy Clause

Last Updated: October 7 2016
Article by Nancy E. Halpern, DVM, Esq.

The interstate pet market has been targeted for decades by NGO's intent on eliminating purposely-bred pets and replacing them with randomly-sourced and irresponsibly-bred pets sold through rescue and shelter channels. According to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) more than "140 jurisdictions nationwide" have recently passed pet store sourcing limitations or bans, with 35 local bans passed in the first five months of 2016 alone. The patchwork of ordinances affecting retail pet stores and their sources are decimating the interstate pet market and create an impermissible obstacle to the mechanisms USDA has adopted to enforce the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). These ordinances, therefore, violate the Supremacy Clause and are preempted by the AWA.

There are two ways a local jurisdiction can adopt laws governing the pet market without running afoul of the Supremacy Clause.

  1. Local jurisdictions may require pet dealers, including Class B licensees and USDA exempt breeders to be licensed and comply with standards in addition to those prescribed in 7 U.S.C. § 2143(a)(8)(1); or
  2. Local jurisdiction may protect their citizens against dangerous animals, infectious diseases, or other hazards to public health.

The pet store sourcing bans do neither. The sourcing bans do not require additional humane standards of care by market participants—they simply ban sales from certain (licensed) sources in favor of unlicensed, randomly sourced pets, without regard to any requirements relating to animal care or welfare. The sourcing bans are also unrelated to public health or safety concerns that would be defensible under police powers. Banning sales of puppies from licensed or exempt sources and limiting or favoring sales from rescue channels does not protect local consumers from health or safety risks—in fact, it increases the risk of importation of infectious diseases and parasites.

These sourcing bans are a significant hindrance to the mechanism Congress established in the AWA to ensure that animals in interstate commerce are treated humanely. The interstate pet market includes breeders, wholesalers, and retailers. Some of these entities, like retail pet stores that sell face-to-face or breeders with four or fewer breeding females are exempt from licensure under the AWA, but they are nevertheless part of the interstate market. The public lacks an understanding of the depth and breathe of the interstate pet market, and the comprehensive licensing scheme USDA has deployed to enforce the AWA.

A state law is preempted if it "'stands as an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of the full purposes and objectives of Congress." Int'l Paper Co. v. Ouellette, 479 U.S. 481, 492 (1987). The Supreme Court's obstacle preemption analysis in Geir is instructive here. The Court found that a state law that would have required manufacturers of all Honda Accord and similar cars to specifically install airbags which the Court held "would have stood 'as an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of' the important means-related federal objectives" set forth in the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act, and was therefore preempted. Geir v. Am. Honda Motor Co., Inc., 529 U.S. 861, 881 (2000).

Here, Congress and USDA, through the AWA, identifies specific classes of licenses and requires pet dealers to qualify for and maintain humane standards of care to be federally licensed, unless they have specifically exempted certain breeders from licensure because they already provide such care. By banning sales from these entities without regard to the care they provide their animals, the sourcing bans interfere with this specific method Congress has established.

Despite the fact that the sourcing bans do not require more rigorous standards of care than required in the AWA and by the USDA, NGO's have succeeded in convincing legislators and the public that these sourcing bans are needed because the standards of care enforced by USDA do not provide "humane" standards of care, and even if they did, that USDA has "allegedly" proven it is unable to enforce those standards. While local jurisdictions may require standards of care that exceed those mandated by the AWA (which they have not done), they cannot redefine what qualifies as "humane standards of care." Congress has not amended the AWA to strip USDA of its authority or declare the standards deficient even though it has had ample opportunity to do so.

Further, the national patchwork of sourcing bans conflict with each other and the AWA and is precisely the situation the Supremacy Clause was established to avoid. See, e.g., Darling v. Mobil Oil Corp., 864 F.2d 981, 984 (2d Cir. 1989) (establishing a "single, uniform set of rules to regulate the grounds for termination and nonrenewal and eliminate the uneven patchwork of rules governing franchise relationships which differ from State to State.") (internal quotation omitted); Paneccasio v. Unisource Worldwide, Inc., 532 F.3d 101, 113 (2d Cir. 2008) (rejecting "a patchwork scheme of regulation [that] would introduce considerable inefficiencies") (internal quotation omitted). If such laws are not enjoined they will cumulatively render the federal law superfluous to the local sales bans or, at best, be subject to a labyrinthine patchwork of local regulation.

For example, pet stores in many localities, like Albuquerque, N.M., are not permitted to sell dogs or cats. Albuquerque, N.M. City Ordinance§ 9-2-3-12. In Sunrise, Florida pet stores can only purchase from shelters, rescues, or "hobby breeders" who are limited to producing one litter per year per breeding dog (male or female). Maryeli's Lovely Pets, Inc. v. City of Sunrise, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 98451, at *2-*3 (S.D.Fl. June 24, 2015). In Cook County, Illinois "a 'pet shop operator' may only sell animals obtained from a breeder that (among other requirements) holds a USDA class 'A' license and 'owns or possesses no more than 5 female dogs, cats or rabbits capable of reproduction in any 12-month period." Mo. Pet Breeders Ass'n v. Cnty of Cook, No. 14-06930, 2015 WL 2448332, at *1 (N.D.Ill. May 21, 2015), appeal docketed, No. 15-2895 (7th Cir. Sept. 3, 2015). In New York City, pet stores can only purchase from Class A breeders—pet stores are expressly prohibited from purchasing from Class B dealers.

To support these allegations, the NGO's: (1) raise the specter that pet stores' sources are puppy mills based only on noncompliant citations on USDA's inspection reports which they misrepresent as violations of the AWA; and (2) claim USDA fails to properly enforce the AWA as determined by USDA's Office of the Inspector General's 2010 report, "Inspections of Problematic Breeders." NGO's also mischaracterize brokers and distributors as "evil middlemen," despite the fact that federal law permits intermediaries to participate in the interstate commerce of pets, by establishing a separate classification for these market participants (Class B license). All these conclusions are based on NGO "investigations" even though no one other than USDA is authorized to inspect USDA licensees or reclassify Class B licensees or USDA exempt breeders as pet dealers who provide inhumane care.

States and local governments may create and enforce their own laws and regulations to protect animals, which may exceed the AWA standards, but they cannot adopt laws with the intent and effect to exclude legitimate, licensed or exempt pet dealers from selling healthy, domestic (not wild or inherently dangerous) pets to pet stores, as the AWA has contemplated and permitted. Laws can be adopted to prohibit the sales of all pets or particular types of pets (like ferrets) if they are considered dangerous or even too expensive for local governments to regulate, but this is not what the sourcing bans have done.

The effect of these sourcing bans since their initial adoption in 2006 has resulted in a quantitative effect on the entire pet industry, resulting in 3,488 fewer Class A licensees and 1478 fewer Class B licensees nationwide—a 75% and 85% drop respectively. Imagine the impact to biomedical research if similar ordinances were passed that banned continued research based on noncompliant items on USDA inspection reports and NGO's contention that animal use in research is inhumane? For example, New Jersey's pet sourcing bans prohibit sales to pet stores from a licensee who has been cited on a USDA inspection report for: (1) a direct violation of the AWA during the prior 2 years; (2) 3 or more indirect violations of the AWA during the prior 2 years; or (3) a no-access violation of the AWA on the 2 most recent inspection reports. Despite the fact that the licensees have not been "finally determined" to have violated the AWA, pet stores may not purchase from these licensees. If similar restrictions were applied to biomedical research facilities, most research involving animal testing would cease.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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Authors
Nancy E. Halpern, DVM, Esq.
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