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Lawsuit Filed California Veterinarians Over Animal Surgery and Declawing Law

In February 2005, DogLaw.com reported on efforts by the City Council of West Hollywood to ban cosmetic surgery procedures on animals, like tail docking and ear cropping.

A group representing California veterinarians filed suit challenging West Hollywood’s efforts, arguing that California state law pre-empts the municipality’s attempts at restricting doggone nips and tucks.

JENNIFER F. Y. YU (SBN 234269)
400 Capitol Mall, Twenty-Second Floor
Sacramento, CA 95814
Telephone: (916) 441-2430
Facsimile: (916) 442-6664
Attorneys for Plaintiff





Plaintiff CALIFORNIA VETERINARY MEDICAL ASSOCIATION (“CVMA”) hereby alleges as follows:

1.   CVMA is the statewide veterinary medical association for the State of California, with a membership of over 4,800 veterinarians, including members in the County of Los Angeles and City of West Hollywood. A California non-profit corporation, CVMA’s service to California veterinarians spans more than 110 years. During this time, CVMA has been a principal force in developing and providing input on relevant legislation and veterinary standards of practice, sponsoring educational programs, and issuing professional publications to improve the quality of services provided by the veterinary profession.

2.   Defendant CITY OF WEST HOLLYWOOD (“City”) is a California municipal corporation located in the County of Los Angeles and organized pursuant to Article XI of the California Constitution and Government Code section 34000 et seq.

 3.  On or about January 21, 2003, the West Hollywood City Council (“City Council”) adopted a resolution condemning the practice of animal declawing within City boundaries, and directed the City Attorney to explore the legalities of permanently banning this procedure on a city-wide basis.

4.   On or about January 22, 2003, the City announced that the City Attorney was expected to present a draft ordinance directed at banning animal declawing to the City Council for discussion and potential adoption within ninety (90) days therefrom.

5.   In response to this announcement, CVMA, via correspondence dated February 24, 2003, provided a series of reasons to the City Attorney why the proposed ordinance was inappropriate and ill-advised. Notwithstanding this correspondence, the City Council on April 21, 2003 adopted Ordinance No. 03-656, which added Chapter 9.49 (consisting of Sections 9.49.010 and 9.49.020) to the City’s Municipal Code. Section 9.49.010 presents a series of “findings” related to the propriety of declawing (also known as onychectomy), and Section 9.49.020 contains the proscriptive provisions of the ordinance. Specifically, Section 9.49.020 provides as follows:

No persons, licensed medical professional or otherwise, shall perform or caused to be performed an onychectomy (declawing) or flexor tendonectomy procedure by any means on any animal within the city, except when necessary for a therapeutic purpose. “Therapeutic purpose” means the necessity to address the medical condition of the animal, such as an existing or recurring illness, infection, disease, injury or abnormal condition in the claw that compromises the animal’s health. (“Therapeutic purpose” does not include cosmetic or aesthetic reasons or reasons of convenience in keeping or handling the animal. In the event that an onychectomy or flexor tendonectomy procedure is performed on any animal within the city in violation of this section, each of the following persons shall be guilty of a violation of this section: (1) the person or persons performing the procedure, (2) all persons assisting in the physical performance of the procedure, and (3) the animal guardian that ordered the procedure.)

6. On December 1, 2006, the California Department of Consumer Affairs (“DCA”), in response to an inquiry posed by the California Veterinary Medical Board, issued an opinion (Legal Op. No. 04-04) regarding whether Municipal Code section 9.49.020 is preempted by California Veterinary Medical Practice Act (Bus. & Prof. Code § 4800 et seq.) and Business and Professions Code section 460. In this opinion, the DCA concluded that Section 9.49.020 is indeed so preempted.

7.  By letter dated January 11, 2005, CVMA informed the City of the above-referenced DCA opinion, and requested that the City rescind Section 9.49.020 and refrain from further enforcement thereof. In that letter, CVMA asked that a formal response be prepared on behalf of the City within one month.

8. On February 3, 2005, prior to providing any response to CVMA’s correspondence, the City announced that Mayor John Duran would introduce a proposal at the following City Council meeting seeking the preparation of a new ordinance aimed at prohibiting additional veterinary procedures for animals, including ear cropping, tail docking, debarking, and other “non-therapeutic” procedures. This item was placed on the agenda for the City Council’s February 7, 2005 meeting.

9. At the February 7, 2005 City Council meeting, representatives of CVMA spoke in both open and closed session to the City Council, informing the Council of the impropriety of both the existing ordinance and proposed new ordinance. CVMA representatives further indicated that if the existing ordinance was not rescinded and/or the City moved forward with adoption of the expanded ordinance, CVMA would file suit for declaratory relief. Notwithstanding this indication, the City Council unanimously (5-0) voted on February 7 to direct the City Attorney to draft the proposed expanded ordinance. Also during that meeting, Mayor Duran expressed his view that the existing and proposed ordinances were “legally defensible.”

10. On February 9, 2005, CVMA again wrote to the City Attorney indicating that, based on the City Council’s decision to move forward with regard to the expanded ordinance, the parties appeared to be at loggerheads on the issue. CVMA indicated that unless it heard a compelling reason from the City by the close of business on February 18, 2005 as to why a lawsuit should not be imminently filed, CVMA would initiate a declaratory relief action in the Superior Court of California for the County of Los Angeles. This position was reiterated via another letter from CVMA to the City Attorney dated February 15, 2005. On February 18, 2005, during a telephone conversation, the City Attorney informed CVMA’s attorney that the City Council would not rescind the existing ordinance. Therefore, CVMA’s attorney indicated that the instant action would be filed posthaste.

First Cause of Action

(Declaratory Relief)

11.  CVMA realleges and reincorporates each and every allegation contained in Paragraphs 1 through 10, above, as though fully set forth herein.

12.  An actual controversy exists as to the matters set forth herein. Specifically, a present and justiciable dispute exists with regard to the legality and permissibility of the City’s Municipal Code Chapter 9.49, in that CVMA contends the provisions contained therein are in conflict with and preempted by the California Veterinary Medical Act and Business and Professions Code section 460, and thus invalid, while the City contends that these provisions are valid, enforceable, and “legally defensible.”

13.  Given the existence of the above-referenced dispute between the parties, a declaration from this Court regarding the validity and enforceability of Chapter 9.49 and the provisions thereunder is proper under California Code of Civil Procedure section 1060 and necessary in order for CVMA, its membership, and City and other veterinarians to be apprised of their rights and duties within City limits as they relate to declawing and similar procedures. Such a declaration will also alleviate the need for one or more veterinarians to risk violation of Chapter 9.49 and resulting prosecution thereunder in order to ascertain the permissibility of the anti-declawing provisions, and will further reduce the prospect of a multiplicity of lawsuits arising with respect to these provisions.

14.  Concerning the proposed additional ordinance prohibiting other “non-curative” procedures, CVMA reserves the right to amend this Complaint and seek any and all available relief regarding such expansion if and when the City Council attempts to enact the proposed expanded ordinance.

WHEREFORE, CVMA prays for relief as hereinafter set forth. 

15. CVMA realleges and reincorporates each and every allegation contained in Paragraphs 1 through 14, above, as though fully set forth herein.

16. As stated above, CVMA contends that Chapter 9.49 of the City’s Municipal Code is preempted by California law, and thus invalid and unenforceable. Should the Court conclude that Chapter 9.49 and the provisions thereunder are so preempted, CVMA requests the issuance of an order commanding the City to rescind these provisions and refrain from enforcement thereof.

17. Such permanent injunctive relief is necessary because in absence of such relief, the rights of City veterinarians will continue to be infringed. City veterinarians will suffer irreparable harm from being denied the fruits of their veterinary licenses; specifically, the ability to perform certain recognized veterinary medical procedures within City limits. Given the continuing nature of the infringement of rights that would inhere via maintenance of Chapter 9.49, monetary damages would be insufficient to compensate for said infringement, and would at any rate require multiple lawsuits to be pursued.

18. Further, pending resolution of this action, CVMA requests temporary injunctive relief prohibiting the City from enforcing Chapter 9.49 and, depending on the City’s actions in regards to the proposed expanded ordinance prohibiting other “non-therapeutic” procedures, may also seek temporary injunctive relief prohibiting enactment and/or enforcement of such an ordinance pending while this matter is pending.

19. In connection with both causes of action set forth herein, CVMA also seeks an award of attorneys’ fees pursuant to California Code of Civil Procedure section 1021.5. In prosecuting this action, CVMA will confer a significant benefit on the general public and/or a large class of persons, in that veterinarians will have certainty regarding their rights and obligations in the City with respect to the above-referenced procedures, and members of the public seeking the above-referenced procedures will be able to procure relevant services from veterinarians practicing in the City. Moreover, the necessity and financial burden of this action makes an award of attorneys’ fees appropriate, and such fees cannot be paid out of any monetary recovery, because no such recovery can be awarded pursuant to this action.

WHEREFORE, CVMA prays for judgment as follows: 

1. For a judgment declaring the City’s Municipal Code Chapter 9.49 and the provisions thereunder to be unlawful, invalid, and unenforceable;

2. If necessary, for a judgment declaring the City’s proposed expanded ordinance prohibiting additional “non-therapeutic” procedures to be unlawful, invalid, and unenforceable;

3. For preliminary and permanent injunctive relief;

4. For reasonable attorneys’ fees;

5. For costs of suit herein; and

6. For such other and further relief as the Court deems proper and just.

Dated:   March 2005

                     WILKE, FLEURY, HOFFELT, GOULD & BIRNEY, LLP
                     DANIEL L. BAXTER
                     Attorneys for Plaintiff

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