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Maryland’s Recent Pit Bull Case Does Not Apply To Cross-Breeds

Tracey v. Solesky
Court of Appeals of Maryland, No. 53 (Md.) (August 21, 2012)

by Kevin M. Cox, Associate
Semmes, Bowen & Semmes (www.semmes.com)

On April 26, 2012, the Court of Appeals of Maryland filed an opinion in this case holding, by a four-to-three vote, that, “upon a Plaintiff’s sufficient proof that a dog involved in an attack is a pit bull or a pit bull mix, and that the owner or other person(s) who has the right to control the pit bull’s presence on the subject premises (including a landlord who has the right and/or opportunity to prohibit such dogs on leased premises as in this case) knows, or has reason to know, that the dog is a pit bull or cross-bred pit bull mix, that person is strictly liable for the damages caused to a plaintiff who is attacked by the dog on or from the owners or lessors’ premises.” On May 25, 2012, Dorothy Tracey (“Ms. Tracey”) filed a motion for reconsideration, complaining that the imposition of a “new duty” on landlords was fundamentally unfair and unconstitutional. As to the Court’s holding with respect to pit bulls, Ms. Tracey’s motion was denied; however, the Court refrained from ruling on the motion for reconsideration. Specifically, the Court’s holding would apply only to pure breed pit bulls not mixed breed pit bulls.

According to the Court, the question of whether strict liability should apply to cross-breeds was never addressed in the case. By gratuitously including them, the Court opined on an issue that was never raised or argued. Because the cross-bred issue was never raised in the lower appellate court, there was no discussion about what the term included. There was uncertainty as to what the term means and greater certainty is required in imposing strict liability for cross-breeds.

A motion for reconsideration gives each judge of the Court an opportunity to take another look at an issue and to rethink the position formerly asserted. The Court was convinced that it erred in gratuitously applying strict liability to cross-breeds, when that issue was never in the case. Therefore, the Court decided that any extension of strict liability to cross-breeds (or to any other breed of dog), other than by legislative action, should await a case in which that issue is fairly raised.

For these reasons, the Court granted and denied in part the motion for reconsideration filed by Ms. Tracey. The Court denied reconsideration of its order holding a pure breed pit bull owner and her landlord strictly liable for injury caused by the pure breed pit bull to a child on the premises; however, the Court determined the language of the order went too far in extending the strict liability standard to pit bull cross-breeds as that issue was not raised below.


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