Court Remands Challenge to Animal Ordinance

     SANTA FE, N.M. (CN) – The New Mexico Court of Appeals rejected most of the arguments brought by dog owners, kennel owners and veterinarians challenging an Albuquerque ordinance that regulates the treatment of animals, but ruled that permit and licensing fees collected by the state might constitute an illegal excise tax.

     The case involves an ordinance called HEART, which stands for the Humane and Ethical Animal Regulations and Treatment ordinance. The plaintiffs complained that the ordinance forces the sterilization of some pets, allows animal control officers to conduct warrantless searches, and imposes an impermissible excise tax, among other alleged constitutional and statutory violations.
     The district court agreed that the warrantless searches and some of the kennel requirements were unconstitutional, so it severed those from the ordinance and upheld the rest as valid.
     On appeal, the plaintiffs argued that they should have been allowed to develop a factual record and to amend their complaint. They also reiterated their claims that forced pet sterilization will result in an unconstitutional taking, that the ordinance imposes an unfair excise tax, and that it’s unconstitutionally vague.
     The court rejected all claims except the tax claim and remanded to determine whether the city collected fees “that are unreasonably in excess of the cost of regulation.”

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