PLAINTIFF LEMAY WAS PARENT AND GUARDIAN of her two minor children, one of whom was considered disabled; and plaintiff Livingston suffered from a severe anxiety disorder.
The defendants are Mays, a Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) officer, and the City of Minneapolis.
Plaintiff Livingston owned two terrier dogs — Rocko (a trained emotional-service animal) and Ciroc (a trained service animal). Livingston accidentally set off the burglar alarm. Plaintiff LeMay notified the alarm company that the alarm had been accidentally triggered and officers responded.
Officer Mays jumped the privacy fence and encountered Ciroc, who “walked toward Mays wagging his tail in a friendly manner.” Officer Mays shot Ciroc in the face. After shots were fired, Rocko entered the backyard and “presented himself to Mays in a non-threatening manner.” Mays then shot Rocko multiple times. Both dogs survived, but were severely injured, permanently disabled and unable to continue as service dogs.
A subsequent public information report issued by the MPD described the incident as “two large pit bulls charged at the officer” and Mays in his incident report described the dogs as “rushing towards me.” The plaintiff’s video recordings of the incident rebutted the description of events by the officers.
The plaintiffs filed a complaint against the officers, the city and the alarm company (the alarm company complaint was subsequently dismissed) alleging three counts: conducting an illegal search of the plaintiffs’ home; illegal seizure of the plaintiffs’ dogs; and alleging municipal liability for the defendants’ conduct in shooting the dogs.
The defendants filed a motion to dismiss. With respect to the second count, the court pointed out that the Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable searches and seizures. A dog is considered property for Fourth Amendment purposes. A seizure of property occurs when there is some meaningful interference with a person’s possessory interests in that property. It can hardly be doubted that by shooting a dog, a police officer “meaningfully interferes” with its owner’s possessory interests.
The question before the court therefore was whether this seizure was reasonable under the circumstances. Because the government retains a strong interest in allowing law enforcement officers to protect themselves from animal attacks, courts have recognized that no unreasonable seizure may be found where an officer has killed or injured a dog that posed an imminent threat.
The question of whether the dogs in this case posed an imminent threat is a factual one. Nothing in the pleading would allow the court to conclude that Rocko was an imminent threat.
Although a defendant pleading qualified immunity is entitled to dismissal before the commencement of discovery, the court clarified that this entitlement did not apply if the plaintiffs’ allegations state a claim of violation of clearly established law. Here, the plaintiffs’ allegations, taken as true, do state such a claim. The court determined that the court had insufficient evidence to determine whether May’s actions were reasonable under the circumstances. The court therefore denied defendant’s motion to dismiss that count.
With reference to the third count, the court indicated that although the plaintiffs do not specifically note that their complaint relies on the inadequate-training theory, it is the only one of the three that fits the allegations. The plaintiffs do not allege that a particular MPD policy is unconstitutional. Instead, the complaint focuses on the city’s failure to adopt appropriate policies on MPD interactions with dogs and states that MPD officers were not properly trained on how to interact with dogs.
The plaintiffs failed to meet the stringent standard of failure-to-train liability because the complaint is devoid of allegations of notice. The plaintiffs failed to plead any facts that support the conclusory allegation of routine overreaction and use of unreasonable force. Therefore, the defendants’ motion to dismiss was granted without prejudice. The plaintiffs were given 45 days to file an amended complaint.