In January 2016, Detroit police officers arrived at the home of Nikita Smith with a search warrant. Ms. Smith told the police that she owned three dogs and offered to put them in a separate room so they would not get in the way of the search. When the officers entered her home, they handcuffed Ms. Smith and immediately shot all three dogs to death.
Smith sued the police for violating her Fourth Amendment rights when they killed her dogs without reason to believe they posed a threat, but the district court dismissed her lawsuit on the grounds that she did not have a “license” to keep the dogs under Michigan law.
When the case was appealed to the Sixth Circuit, the ACLU of Michigan filed a friend-of-the-court brief explaining that the lower court improperly equated compliance with licensing requirements under state law with legitimate property interests under the Fourth Amendment. Property not properly licensed might be subject to lawful seizure, but the manner of that seizure must be reasonable because the owner still has a Fourth Amendment interest in the property. Shooting a dog when it poses no threat is not reasonable, regardless of whether the dogs are licensed.
In October 2018 the Sixth Circuit agreed with us and reversed the lower court’s dismissal of Ms. Smith’s lawsuit.
(Smith v. City of Detroit; ACLU Attorney Dan Korobkin; Cooperating Attorney David Moran of U-M Law School.)