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Maryland Ban on Sale of Dogs, Cats in Pet Stores Upheld

Feb. 10, 2020, 8:42 PM

Maryland’s new law banning the sale of dogs and cats in retail stores withstood constitutional challenges by pet stores and others, as a federal court in the state said Maryland’s animal protection goal was a rational basis for the “puppy mill” act.

“Protecting consumers, reducing financial support for mill breeders, and encouraging pet adoption are indisputably legitimate state interests,” the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland said Feb. 7.

The act took effect Jan. 1. It prohibits retail sales but expresses the Legislature’s desire to encourage pet stores to showcase animals from local breeders and animal welfare organizations.

Just Puppies Inc. and others alleged the act violated the equal protection and commerce clauses of the U.S. Constitution. The court dismissed the suit and denied the plaintiffs’ motion for an injunction blocking enforcement of the law.

Many states, including Maryland, have sought to address the harms associated with “puppy mills,” a term used to describe high-volume breeding operations where dogs are kept in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions, the court said.

The plaintiffs’ argument boils down to the contention that by siding with animal-rights groups, the Maryland Legislature sought to injure pet stores, the court said. But, “siding with one group does not necessarily signify hostility towards another,” the court added.

The Legislature could rationally conclude that banning the sale of cats and dogs in stores would advance its interests, it said.

“By eliminating one purveyor of cats and dogs, the act may nudge consumers towards shelters, thereby increasing adoptions and reducing the euthanasia rate,” the court said. “At a minimum,” the act removes Maryland pet stores as a source of income for puppy mills, advancing the goal of preventing animal cruelty,” the court said.

The court also rejected the plaintiffs’ contention that the act violates the commerce clause by giving a competitive advantage to in-state breeders and brokers. In-state and out-of-state breeders are “similarly disadvantaged” by the act’s prohibition on retail store sales, it said.

California and Maine recently enacted laws prohibiting the sale of cats and dogs in stores, although each contains exceptions. New York is contemplating a pet store ban similar to Maryland’s, the court said.

Judge Ellen Lipton Hollander wrote the opinion.

Kagan Stern Marinello & Beard LLC represented Just Puppies and the other plaintiffs.

The case is Just Puppies, Inc. v. Frosh, 2020 BL 45434, D. Md., No. 19-2439, 2/7/20.

To contact the reporter on this story: Julie Steinberg in Washington at jsteinberg@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Carmen Castro-Pagan at ccastro-pagan@bloomberglaw.com and Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com

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