Pacific Legal Foundation will litigate The Perfect Puppy’s takings lawsuit; its East Providence store was shut down by the town’s new ban on pet stores
WASHINGTON, D.C. – May 25, 2015 – (RealEstateRama) — East Providence, Rhode Island; May 22, 2015: A national property rights legal organization has stepped in to represent a small, family-owned pure-bred puppy business whose East Providence store has been shut down by the city’s new ban on pet stores.
Attorneys with Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF) represent the owners of The Perfect Puppy, Inc., in their constitutional “takings” lawsuit against the city. The suit takes on the city for destroying the owners’ property — by forcing closure of their store — without a penny in the “just compensation” required by the Fifth Amendment. PLF’s representation will begin with an appeal of the city’s shell-game ploy that got Perfect Puppy’s case arbitrarily dismissed — a bizarre procedural maneuver in which the city transferred Perfect Puppy’s state-court lawsuit to federal court, and then successfully argued to the federal judge that it should not be heard because it needed to be litigated in state court!
Headquartered in Sacramento and with regional offices on both coasts, donor-supported PLF is the nation’s leading watchdog organization that litigates for limited government, property rights, and free enterprise, in courts across the country. PLF represents Perfect Puppy free of charge, as with all the foundation’s clients.
A conscientious small business is
sideswiped by politicians who ignore the Constitution
The story began last year, when East Providence officials apparently decided they needed to be on the progressive “cutting edge” by banning stores that sell pets. This was devastating for Perfect Puppy, which had just opened a store in the city after securing all necessary licenses and passing all inspections.
As the store’s owner and manager, Scott Bergantino, explained in urging the City Council not to impose the ban, Perfect Puppy is a well-run, conscientious business that stresses concern and care for its animals. It hand-selects all its dogs; does not patronize puppy mills; certifies the puppies’ health; has never been cited for any health violation; and does such a brisk business that no dog stays in the store long.
None of this mattered to the council. Siding with activist groups that are concerned about the entirely distinct and different issue of “puppy mills” — a concern, ironically, that Perfect Puppy’s owners share — the council imposed the ban.
The city’s arbitrary action destroyed the owners’ financial investment. With their store shut down, their lease and license in East Providence were now worthless.
The city offered no reimbursement, so the owners filed suit in Rhode Island state court under both the state and federal constitutions.
“The underlying issues aren’t complicated, they’re as basic as the difference between right and wrong,” said PLF Principal Attorney J. David Breemer. “If government takes your property, government has to pay you for it. And that goes for government action that destroys the use or value of your property. Citizens are entitled to access to the courts to protect this right. This isn’t just a matter of fairness, it’s a constitutional rule that every American knows or should know. In fact, this case amounts to Constitutional Property Rights 101.”
The city’s procedural gimmick to deny Perfect Puppy access to justice
Instead of owning up to its constitutional violation and doing the fair thing by offering compensation for its taking, the city responded to Perfect Puppy’s litigation with a procedural gimmick.
The city’s lawyers removed (transferred) the case to a federal court on the basis that it raised federal constitutional questions. Then, they argued that the takings claim was unripe (or procedurally premature) in federal court — and couldn’t be heard there — because it had to be first fully litigated in state court under a doctrine known as the Williamson County ripeness doctrine. This doctrine generally says that takings plaintiffs must sue and lose in state court before they can have their federal takings claims heard by a federal court.
The federal court judge accepted this bizarre argument and declined to hear Perfect Puppy’s case. Instead, the case was sent back to state court — where Perfect Puppy originally started but couldn’t get a hearing because the city moved the case to federal court.
This left the business owners in legal limbo. They were denied a hearing in state court and now have been denied a hearing in the federal court. But PLF is now challenging this merry-go-round process, to get the store back on the road to justice. On appeal to the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, PLF attorneys are determined to get Perfect Puppy’s case reinstated in federal court.
Indeed, two years ago, PLF won a landmark ruling at the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals against a similar procedural ploy by a North Carolina town that sought to escape takings liability by jerking a property owner’s case from state to federal court, and then seeking dismissal.
“Government can’t deny citizens their day in court by procedural gamesmanship,” said Breemer. “We’re in America, not a Kafka novel. Government lawyers can’t perform absurd procedural contortions to leave property owners dizzied, financially exhausted and without their day in court. Government can’t whipsaw property owners between state and federal courts in order to rob them of any judicial hearing on their constitutional claims.
“PLF secured a first-of-its-kind decision holding exactly this in the 2013 case of Sansotta v. Town of Nags Head, at the Fourth Circuit,” Breemer continued. “Hopefully, the appeals court in Perfect Puppy’s case will adopt the same reasoning, and give the business a chance to make the city pay just compensation for destroying its store and its owners’ dreams.”
“We’re grateful that Pacific Legal Foundation is stepping up to defend our constitutional rights,” said Scott Bergantino. “This is a case about basic fairness, and my family and I believe we’re fighting for everyone’s constitutional right not to be deprived of their property without just compensation.”
The case is Perfect Puppy, Inc. v. City of East Providence. PLF’s opening appeal brief will be filed sometime in mid-Summer, 2015.
About Pacific Legal Foundation
Donor-supported Pacific Legal Foundation is the leading legal watchdog organization that litigates for limited government, property rights and free enterprise, in courts across the country. PLF represents all clients free of charge
J. David Breemer
Pacific Legal Foundation
jdb (at) pacificlegal (dot) org