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Beagle’s Death Ends Free Speech Lawsuit In D.C.

WASHINGTON (CN) - An animal rights advocate who claimed a city law prevented him from saying he didn't own his beloved rescue beagle, Liam, lost his battle after Liam passed away.

U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth declared Iver Johnson's lawsuit moot after Liam's passing, ending Johnson's campaign against D.C. Code § 8-1808(b), which states that "No person shall knowingly and falsely deny ownership of any animal."

Johnson, a public speaker, sued the District of Columbia last year, claiming that the law would result in fines if he spoke about Liam, the central message of his public speaking, in the city.

Liam spent the first four years of his life as a test animal for Abbott Laboratories.

"Johnson has developed a deep bond with Liam, and emphatically imagines those first four lonely and painful years that Liam spent in a laboratory, treated as nothing but a piece of property - a thing," Johnson stated in his complaint.

Johnson had the number that had been tattooed on Liam's ear during his lab days tattooed on his own foot.

According to his complaint, Johnson spoke publicly for animal rights across the country, expressing his belief that "nonhuman animals are not property." He specifically mentions Liam in each speech.

"Each time Johnson would deny ownership of Liam in the District of Columbia, he would be subjected to arrest; a fine of up to $100; mandatory collateral posting of $5,000; and either the forfeiting of the $5,000 collateral, or a trial. These penalties have worked to prevent Johnson from scheduling and giving a speech about Liam in the District of Columbia and from privately speaking, denying ownership of Liam," Johnson said in his complaint.

"In addition to a total lack of previous enforcement, the government has never threatened Mr. Johnson with prosecution," Judge Lamberth notes in his 11-page ruling. "Furthermore, the government has disavowed any intention to prosecute."

The judge ruled that Johnson presented no evidence to substantiate his fears of persecution for disavowing ownership of Liam.

"Mr. Johnson's fear of prosecution under § 8-1808(b) is based on speculation that the Government will enforce the provision pursuant to interpretations it has never adopted and in fact explicitly rejects," the judge states. "Such hypothetical fears cannot form the basis for standing under Article III."

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