Dogs and their owners in Minnesota enjoy significant statutory and procedural protections when the dangerousness of the dog is in question, but a default to local ordinances to implement the statute makes knowing the local regulations imperative for owners.
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Approximately 31.9 percent of households in Minnesota include at least one dog.1 While many dog owners consider their pets to be members of the family, under Minnesota law a dog is considered to be the personal property of its owner.2 As a result, seizure of a dog by law enforcement or an agent of local or state government is subject to the same requirements as for seizure of any other type of personal property. Since property interests are a constitutionally protected interest, due process protections apply to any proceedings for the seizure or disposition of a dog, even following a bite or attack incident.3 Dog owners are well-advised to be aware of Minnesota law on dangerous or potentially dangerous dogs before an allegation of aggression is made in order to protect their rights.
Dogs’ Due Process
The state legislature established a procedure for identifying and handling dangerous dogs in M.S.A. §347.50-56. Since the statute is enforced primarily by municipalities and other local authorities, the typical way that the statute becomes relevant is if an allegation of a bite or attack is made to law enforcement or animal control.4 While animal control authorities have wide discretion in deciding whether a particular incident should commence under the statute, due process protections attach as soon as there is a possibility of the seizure of personal property.5 The relevant animal control authority triggers the process by notifying the animal’s owner that the dog is being declared dangerous. This designation is appealable, and the owner of the dog has a statutory (and constitutional) right to a hearing to contest the designation before an impartial hearing officer.6 To appeal, one should request a hearing to review the validity of the declaration of dangerousness within 14 days of notification. A hearing must then be held within 14 days of receipt of the request for a hearing.7 If the owner does not object, or if the hearing officer does not overturn the declaration, the dog is duly considered to be dangerous under Minnesota law.
Only under specific circumstances, however, does the animal control authority have a right to seize the animal in question. A dog with a current vaccination certificate that is alleged to have bitten a person is to be observed for signs of rabies for ten days, which (in the absence of a more specific local ordinance) can occur at the owner’s residence as long as there is a proper enclosure to keep the dog away from the public.8 There is no prohibition against owning a dog designated as dangerous, provided all requirements of M.S.A. §347.51 (as described below) are satisfied. Within 14 days of receiving notice, the owner of a dangerous dog must provide to the relevant animal control authority evidence of:
- The existence of a proper enclosure for the dog;
- Posting of a clearly visible sign warning of a dangerous dog on the premises, including a warning symbol for children;
- Evidence of a surety bond (renters) or liability insurance (homeowners) with a policy limit of at least $300,000 in coverage for any personal injuries inflicted by the dog;
- Payment of any additional fee for registration of a dangerous dog; and
- Implantation of a microchip for identification pursuant to M.S.A. §347.515.
Provided the owner of a dangerous dog can provide evidence that each requirement has been satisfied, animal control must issue a certificate of registration for the dog.
Requirements to keep a dangerous dog are described in M.S.A. §347.52, and include:
- Keeping the dog in a proper enclosure;
- Muzzling the dog and having an appropriate person using an appropriately strong leash if the dog is outside the enclosure;
- Annual renewal of registration for the duration of the dog’s life;
- Registration as a dangerous dog in any new jurisdiction if the dog is moved;
- Notification to animal control of change of residence or ownership within 30 days;9
- Sterilization within 30 days;
- For renters, disclosure to the property owner prior to entering into a lease and at lease renewal that the renter owns a dangerous dog that will reside at the property;
- Disclosure to any new owner of the dog’s status as a dangerous dog and notification to animal control of any transfer of ownership.
After a period of six months, a dog owner may request a review of the
designation of dangerousness. If the animal control authority finds sufficient evidence that the dog’s behavior has changed due to age, neutering, change in environment, obedience training, or other factors, it may rescind the designation of dangerousness.10 Regarding the difference between “dangerous” and “potentially dangerous,” while the statute’s procedural requirements are explicitly addressed to a declaration of dangerousness, the Minnesota Court of Appeals has held that due process protections require a meaningful opportunity to contest a declaration of potential dangerousness, just as with a declaration of dangerousness.11
M.S.A. §347.50-56 is not the only source of law to consider. Many (though not all) municipalities have adopted ordinances to enforce the state statute. Local authorities are empowered to adopt such ordinances, though they are subject to its explicit limitations as well. For example, authorities are specifically prohibited from adopting an ordinance regulating dangerous or potentially dangerous dogs based solely on the specific breed of the dog.12 These local ordinances are often modeled on M.S.A. §347.50-56, but owners should be aware of additional requirements that may apply in their local jurisdiction. Both statewide and local ordinances must provide appropriate due process protections, and failure to do so can be a basis for judicial review.13 A municipal agency’s action in enforcing the state statute is considered quasi-judicial and is subject to certiorari review by the court of appeals. A quasi-judicial decision of an agency that does not have statewide jurisdiction will be reversed if the decision is fraudulent, arbitrary, unreasonable, unsupported by substantial evidence, not within its jurisdiction, or based on an error of law.14
Seizure or Euthanasia
Failure to comply with the requirements of the statute after declaration that a dog is dangerous can lead to confiscation by the animal control authority. M.S.A. §347.54 authorizes immediate seizure for failure to register the dog and comply with the attendant requirements (enclosure, surety bond, sterilization).15 Note that the statute identifies the date that notice of dangerousness is received as commencing the 14-day period rather than the date that the designation is upheld on appeal. This means that an owner must comply with the statutory requirements as if the dog is dangerous, even if an appeal of the declaration pending.
Under the statute, a dog that is seized by animal control authorities is not automatically euthanized, nor does the owner lose her property interest in the dog once it has been seized. Following seizure, an owner may prevent the dog from being destroyed by posting security sufficient to provide for the dog’s actual cost of care and keeping within seven days of the seizure (inclusive of the date of seizure). To reclaim a dog that has been seized, the owner must make payment for impounding and boarding fees and provide evidence that requirements of §347.51 and §347.52 will be met.
M.S.A. §347.55 provides for misdemeanor criminal liability for violation by an animal’s owner of §347.51 (preregistration requirements), §347.515 (microchip requirement), or §347.52 (requirements for keeping a dangerous dog). If an owner has been convicted of such a misdemeanor and is subsequently charged with another violation relating to the same dog, M.S.A. §347.54(b)(3) states that the animal control authority must seize the dog and, if the owner is convicted of the second offense, the dog shall be destroyed with attendant costs assessed to the owner. The statutory language is not discretionary, so dog owners should be aware that failure to maintain compliance with the requirements of the statute for keeping a dangerous dog after a first offense will almost certainly result in a destruction order.
In certain circumstances, a dog may be ordered to be destroyed notwithstanding the above. Pursuant to M.S.A. §347.56, animal control authorities can order the euthanasia of a dog that:
- Inflicted substantial or great bodily harm on a human on public or private property without provocation;
- Inflicted multiple bites on a human on public or private property without provocation;
- Bit multiple human victims on public or private property in the same attack without provocation; or
- Bit a human on public or private property without provocation in an attack where more than one dog participated in the attack.
- However, due process requirements still apply in this situation, and a dog owner is entitled to a hearing to contest the order for destruction before an impartial decision maker.16 While the hearing officer has the authority to order the destruction of an animal under this statute, the court of appeals requires that the decision-maker furnish a legal and substantial basis for the action taken.17 Orders for euthanasia have been reversed where the hearing officer did not make specific findings of fact to justify the decision.18
Defining “Dangerous Dog”
Here in Minnesota, a dog that bites or attacks a person or other animal is not automatically considered dangerous, or even potentially dangerous. The determination is based upon how aggressive the dog’s conduct is, where the bite or attack occurred (private versus public property), and whether the bite or attack was provoked or unprovoked. Under M.S.A. §347.50 Subd. 3, a potentially dangerous dog is:
- A dog that, without provocation, bites a human or domestic animal on either public or private property;
- A dog that has, without provocation, chased or approached a person on the streets, sidewalks, or any public or private property other than the owner’s property in an apparent attitude of attack; or
- A dog that has a known propensity, tendency, or disposition to attack unprovoked, causing injury or otherwise threatening the safety of humans or domestic animals.
Under M.S.A. §347.50 Subd. 2, a dangerous dog is:
- A dog that has, without provocation, inflicted substantial bodily harm19 on a human being on either public or private property;
- A dog that has killed a domestic animal without provocation while off the owner’s property; or
- A dog that has, after the owner has notice that it is potentially dangerous, aggressively bitten, attacked, or endangered the safety of humans or other domestic animals.
As one might expect, there are exemptions for certain situations in which the dog is protecting the owner’s person or property or is otherwise provoked by the person bitten or attacked. M.S.A. §347.51 Subd. 5 expressly states that a dog may not be declared dangerous if any threat, injury, or damage was sustained by:
- A person committing a willful trespass or tort upon the premises of the owner of the dog;
- A person provoking, tormenting, abusing, or assaulting the dog, or who can be shown to have repeatedly done so in the past; or
- A person who was committing or attempting to commit a crime.
The statute defines provocation as an act that an adult could reasonably expect may cause a dog to attack or bite.20 The question, therefore, is whether a reasonable adult (even if the actual bite victim is a child) would be aware that his or her conduct might provoke an attack or bite from the dog’s perspective.
Owners’ Rights & Responsibilities
Although the statutes pertaining to the regulation of dangerous or potentially dangerous dogs are detailed and attempt to cover all situations, the enforcement of state law by numerous local authorities can lead to confusion on the part of both dog owners and animal control personnel. As a result, dog owners need to be aware of their rights and to know the substance of and basis for the law regulating their pets. Municipal animal control agents’ authority to regulate dogs comes from the state statute, and is thus limited to its scope and bound by its due process requirements.21 Additionally, the animal control authority must follow its own process, and cannot render a decision that is fraudulent, arbitrary, unreasonable, unsupported by the evidence, not within its jurisdiction, or based on an error of law.22 A city’s failure to follow its own procedural requirements may render its actions void or voidable.23
Due to the unexpected nature of a dog bite or attack, the best course of action for dog owners is to be prepared for such an incident. Regardless whether your dog does or does not have a propensity for aggression, it pays to know your rights and responsibilities, and to be prepared.
When (In Case) the Dog Bites
- Keep rabies vaccination current and have proof of vaccination easily available. A dog that is alleged to have bitten will typically be required to be kept away from the public and observed for ten days. Unless a municipality has adopted a regulation to the contrary, a dog with a current rabies vaccine certificate can be observed at the owner’s home. Failure to keep a dog’s rabies vaccination current can put the dog at risk for being seized or even euthanized for rabies testing. It is therefore highly advisable for all dog owners not only to keep vaccinations current but also to have a copy of the certificate available and easily accessible to demonstrate that quarantine at the owner’s home is appropriate.
- Read any local ordinances pertaining to the keeping of dogs in your municipality. Dog owners should be aware of what ordinance has been adopted by their specific jurisdiction to enforce the state statute. Such an ordinance must provide sufficient due process protections to protect property interests and an opportunity to be heard by an impartial hearing officer at a meaningful time. The court of appeals has found that a municipality that failed to adopt an ordinance to enforce the state statute is not empowered to act in any capacity with respect to dangerous dogs because the statute is not self-executing.24
- In the event of a bite, become familiar with procedural and evidentiary requirements. Dog owners faced with having to contest a dangerous dog declaration are advised to become familiar with the jurisdiction’s procedure and evidentiary rules right away. To be adequate, notice from the animal control authority must inform a party of how government action affects his or her interests and must communicate the adverse consequences of government action.25 Such notice is inadequate if it fails to communicate what is at stake or is actively misleading.26 There is, however, no requirement that evidentiary rules be provided to a dog’s owner prior to a hearing.27
Lisa Dailey is an attorney practicing in the area of asylum and civil rights litigation, and has done pro bono work in dangerous dog cases in multiple jurisdictions. Lisa graduated from Hamline University School of Law in 2005 and completed a Master of Studies degree in International Human Rights Law from the University of Oxford in 2011.
1 http://www.animalfolksmn.org/facts.html/, citing 2012 U.S. Pet Ownership & Demographics Sourcebook, AVMA.
2 Sawh v. City of Lino Lakes, 800 N.W.2d 663, 670 (Minn. App. 2011) (citations omitted).
3 Id. at 667-668.
4 There is no statewide animal control authority in Minnesota. In many cities, animal control is handled by the police department, or by contract with a third-party as authorized by M.S.A. §347.51 Subd. 9. Larger cities, such as St. Paul and Minneapolis, have dedicated animal control agencies.
5 Sawh at 669. “The fundamental requirement of due process is the opportunity to be heard at a meaningful time and in a meaningful manner.”
6 Id. at 667-68, citing U.S. Const. amend. XIV, §1 and Minn. Const. art. I §7.
7 M.S.A. §347.541 Subd. 4.
8 See, Johnstone v. Minneapolis Animal Care and Control, A08-1099 (Minn. App. 05/19/2009) (unpublished) (dog seized by animal control because owner unable to maintain proper enclosure for quarantine period while living in vehicle with dog).
9 M.S.A. §347.52(c). Specific information required.
10 M.S.A. §347.51 Subd. 3(a).
11 Sawh v. City of Lino Lakes, supra n. 2 at 670.
12 M.S.A. §347.51 Subd. 8.
13 Bruski v. City of St. Paul Dep’t of Safety & Inspections, A09-900 (Minn. App., 2010) (unpublished) citing Staeheli v. City of St. Paul,
732 N.W.2d 298, 303 (Minn.
14 Id. at 5-6.
15 Seizure can also occur if the owner of the dog is convicted of a crime arising from the dog’s aggression. M.S.A. §347.54(b).
16 M.S.A. §347.56 Subd. 2.
17 Bruski, supra note 13 at 5-6.
18 Sawh, supra note 2 at 670.
19 “Substantial bodily harm,” pursuant to M.S.A. §609.02 Subd. 7(a), means bodily injury which involves a temporary but substantial disfigurement, or which causes a temporary but substantial loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ, or which causes a fracture of any bodily member.
20 M.S.A. §347.50 Subd. 8.
21 Minn. Stat. §14.69 (2008). Whether an agency’s decisions exceed its statutory authority or whether procedural due process requirements have been satisfied will be reviewed de novo. St. Otto’s Home v. Minn. Dep’t. of Human Servs., 437 N.W.2d 35, 39-40 (Minn. 1989).
22 Bruski, supra note 13 at 5-6.
23 Hamline-Midway Neighborhood Stability Coal. v. City of St. Paul, 547 N.W.2d 396, 399 (Minn. App. 1996).
24 In re Molly, 712 N.W.2d 567,
570-71 (Minn. App., 2006).
25 Brunotte v. City of St. Paul Office Safety & Inspections, A08-0173 (Minn. App. 02/10/2009) at 6-7 citing Schulte v. Transp. Unlimited, Inc., 354 N.W.2d 830, 834 (Minn.1984).
26 Brunotte, supra note 25 at 7 citing Plocher v. Comm’r of Pub. Safety, 681 N.W.2d 698, 702 (Minn.App. 2004).
27 Brunotte, supra note 25 at 7. (relator’s due process rights not violated by failure to provide evidence authentication requirements with notice of right to hearing).