(CN) - Require Ohioans who own lions and other wild animals to hold a permit and implant their animals with a microchip is constitutional, the 6th Circuit ruled.
State lawmakers passed the Ohio Dangerous Wild Animals and Restricted Snakes Act after one resident released more than 50 exotic animals and then committed suicide in 2011. The law, which regulates the ownership of dangerous and exotic animals, took full effect at the beginning of 2014.
To own a dangerous wild animal, an Ohio resident must apply for a wildlife shelter permit, which requires at least two years experience in the care of that species of dangerous wild animal. Applicants who lack prior experience must pass a written exam regarding the animal's care.
The law also requires owners to, at their own cost, have their animals implanted with a microchip and, for male animals, sterilized.
Individuals accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) or the Zoological Association of America (ZAA) are exempt from these requirements.
A group of exotic animal enthusiasts, including several lion owners, challenged the act's requirements in Columbus.
They claimed that the permitting requirements are so onerous that the only viable option for an exotic animal owner is to join one of the accredited zoological organizations, essentially compelling them to subsidize the organizations' speech.
The owners also challenged the microchipping requirement as a taking by the government, in violation of the Fifth Amendment.
After a federal judge refused to enjoin the law, the Cincinnati-based 6th Circuit affirmed Wednesday.
"In the instant case, appellants do not contend that they will be penalized if they do not join the AZA or ZAA," Judge Julia Gibbons wrote for a three-judge panel. "Rather, they contend that they are unwilling or unable to meet fourteen other options available to them. This is not the type of compulsion that qualifies them for First Amendment protection."
While the burden of meeting the permitting requirement may "fall heavier on some than on others," that does not make it unconstitutional, the court ruled.
The Fifth Amendment challenge fails because "neither the government nor a third party has occupied appellant's property," the ruling states.
"Even after appellants implant the microchips, they retain the ability to use and possess their animals and the implanted microchips," Gibbons added.
The 15-page opinion compares the microchipping provision to a law that requires handrails in an apartment building.
"Both are regulations of individuals property properly challenged as regulatory takings, and neither law effects a government occupation of property or a government-authorized occupation of property by a third party," the court concluded.
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