Pet Store Closed for Dead Puppy May Have a Case

     CINCINNATI (CN) – A Tennessee pet store that lost its license for keeping a dead puppy in the freezer may have a case for violation of due process, the 6th Circuit ruled.
     The nonprofit McCamey Animal Care received complaints about the conditions at a mall pet store owned by United Pet Supply Inc. while working with the city of Chattanooga to provide animal-welfare services in 2010.
     United Pet employee Ashley Knight told McCamey executive Karen Walsh that a dead puppy marked “Fit for Sale” had been stuffed into the freezer with the employees’ lunches.
     She also said a United Pet manager had put a live hamster in a garbage compactor.
     McCamey employees investigated the store and discovered a dead hamster, “puppies that appeared to be very lethargic and dehydrated,” “dried fecal matter that was matted in the fur of the puppies,” and a broken air conditioner.
     They removed the store’s animals and business records, and they also revoked the store’s permit. Eighteen puppies tested positive for intestinal diseases.
     A city court judge ultimately found that the court lacked the authority to make licensing determinations, and the dogs put in the custody of a veterinarian until they were healthy enough to go to one of the company’s other pet stores.
     United Pet Supply sued the city, McCamey and its employees in federal court, complaining that they violated its due-process rights by shutting down the business.
     The store also argued that the seizure of its animals and records without a warrant violated its Fourth Amendment rights. The defendants countered that their actions were protected by qualified immunity.
     A federal judge sided with the store on the immunity issue, and the 6th Circuit affirmed some points Thursday, saying United Pet may have a case againt McCamey operations director Paula Hurn “because there is no history of immunity for animal-welfare officers.”
     McCamey and its employees are also not protected from being sued in their official capacities “because qualified immunity is not an available defense to an official-capacity suit,” the ruling states.
     Walsh and McCamey animal-services officer Marvin Nicholson Jr. do, however, have immunity from being sued in their personal capacities because they were specially commissioned police officers, the court found.
     “Given the low risk of an erroneous deprivation and the minimal value of additional safeguards, the great governmental interest in immediately removing the animals from an overly hot, filthy environment, and the fact that a hearing was provided nine days later, we conclude that the seizure of the animals did not violate due process,” Judge Karen Nelson Moore wrote for a three-judge panel.

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