Internet resources for what you need to know on NYC Law
Five Favorite Sites For Beginners
by Margaret Reuter, Center for New York City Law at New York Law School
In the News: Ferrets - pet or public health menace?
(apr '00) What's a ferret owner to do? What's the City to do? Ferrets, members of the weasel family, make novel pets, are ideally sized for apartment living, and have won the admiration and affections of their owners. Public health officials, at least in New York City, see them as unpredictable, and having a track record of unprovoked attacks on small children and infants. The struggle between the ferret owners and the City's Department of Health has played out in public health studies, federal court, state housing court, the regulatory arena, back to court and and even in the legislature.
The City's Health Code prohibits keeping animals that are "wild, ferocious, fierce, dangerous, or natually inclined to do harm." DOH has long considered ferrets wild and banned them as pets. DOH relied on a ten-year California Department of Health Services study documenting ferret attacks and the caution issued by the National Association of State and Public Health Veterinerians. Ferret owners, who felt their pets were unjustly accused, banded together as the Friends of Ferrets and sued the City in federal court. They complained that pit bulls were not categorically prohibited and pointed out that a number of other states allow ferrets, including the rest of New York State. US District Judge Allen Schwartz upheld the City's classification of ferrets -- the studies provided DOH with a rational and constitutionally valid basis for its action. That was 1995.
In 1998, Gary Kaskel's landlord, Abe Rill, read a newspaper article featuring Kaskel and his pet ferrets. Kaskel is one of the founding members of Friends of Ferrets. His lease prohibited pets without permission and forbade any animals that were prohibited by the Health Code. Given the federal court opinion on the matter, one might think this should be an open-and-shut case. As it turns out, Civil Court Judge Lucy Billings examined the Health Code, DOH's application of the Code to ferrets, and the federal case, but concluded otherwise. Judge Billings ruled that DOH's policy that all ferrets were wild without regard to any mitigating circumstances was the equivalent of a "rule." Since the City Charter requires specific procedures for adopting a rule, which had not been followed here, the ferrets were not prohibited under the Health Code as a matter of law. Mr. Kaskel could have a trial to prove his ferrets were not wild or dangerous.
Meanwhile, Kaskel tried another route to legitimize ferrets. He petitioned the Board of Health to review the status of ferrets. They agreed, but delivered the answer he did not want to hear. Less than one month after Judge Billings decision, DOH proposed a new rule, specifically listing nearly 200 species of animals as wild, fierce, ferocious, dangerous, or prone to harm. Ferrets were included, along with iguanas, mongooses, devenomized snakes, and hawks. When the agency finalized the rule in July 1999, it reported that the ferrets fanciers put up a valiant campaign to legalize the ferrets. Nonetheless, DOH stuck to its earlier assessments that ferrets were not reliably tame.
Since then, Council Member Kathryn E. Freed requested that the Speaker's Office consider legislation specifically legalizing ferrets and iguanas as lawful pets in New York City. No bill has yet been drafted. Kaskel's landlord discontinued its eviction action, realizing that DOH's new rule would take care of Judge Billings' only issue in the case. The landlord has yet to reinitiate the eviction action. The ferret owners, even sued the City again, which the City has moved to dismiss. No decision has yet been made.
Meg Sounds Off: Census 2000 and the City
Everyone has heard about the significant undercount of 8.4 million people in the last census. Everyone has also heard that sophisticated sampling techniques could calculate a more accurate count than the enumeration (head count) the Census Bureau has historically conducted, but the Supreme Court forbade the technique. What everyone may not realize is that the Court forbade the statistical techniques in one instance only -- apportioning the 435 seats of the House of Representatives. That is the one and only constitutional reason to conduct the census. The census however, is used for everything that is distributed on a per capita basis -- like most federal aid, and even for drawing congressional districts. For all those uses of the population count, the Supreme Court indicated that the sampling methods were permissible. While the City should do everything it can to get a full count through the historical enumeration method (Congressional seats are vital), it must aggressively vie for the population count to be adjusted with the fairest techniques available so that it receives the maximum federal aid allowed.
Meg's Top Sites For Beginners: