(CN) – The owners of a wolf named Dutchess can’t sue an animal control officer for seizing their pet while they were gone, the 4th Circuit ruled.
Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, sitting on the three-judge panel, said the officer was entitled to qualified immunity, and the owners failed to adequately plead a claim against Prince George’s County.
Robert and Courtney Walker thought Dutchess was a dog when they got her, a belief confirmed by their veterinarian, who told them Dutchess was an Alaskan malamute.
In July 2006, animal control officer Janet Jacobs impounded Dutchess after Robert’s sister, following an altercation, told police that the Walkers kept a wolf as a pet.
Spotting Dutchess from the driveway, Jacobs recognized her as a wolf based on her physical characteristics. The officer seized Dutchess and left a note for the Walkers, telling them to contact the Animal Control Office.
The Walkers tried to get Dutchess back, but their petition was rejected on the grounds that they had violated permitting requirements for wolf hybrids, which is what Dutchess turned out to be.
The Walkers sued Jacobs and the county for civil trespass and Fourth Amendment violations. Jacobs moved for qualified immunity, and the county challenged the sufficiency of the Walkers’ claims.
“In short, appellants have failed to point us to any authority that even suggests the existence of their purported Fourth Amendment right,” O’Connor wrote, upholding the lower court’s ruling for the defendants. “We have found none.”
Thus, the Walkers were unable to prove that a reasonable officer would have known that seizing Dutchess violated the Fourth Amendment.
Nor could they explain why the county should be held liable, the court added.
At best, the Walkers alleged that Jacobs frequently asked her supervisor whether to take an animal and then acted on his orders.
“Critically lacking is any support for the proposition that Officer Jacobs’ common practice ‘implemented an official government policy or custom,'” the retired justice wrote.