Pennsylvania dog owners can proceed with their action seeking a declaration that regulations promulgated by the Department of Agriculture conflict with the Dog Law, 3 P.S. §§ 459-101 – 459-1205, the Commonwealth Court ruled in Keith v. Department of Agriculture, __ A.3d __ (No. 394 M.D. 2014, filed May 13, 2015). Petitioners in this action for declaratory and injunctive relief are individual dog owners and the Animal Legal Defense Fund, a California non-profit organization. They challenge regulations promulgated by the Department, applicable only to certain commercial kennels, which relate to flooring in primary enclosures and access to exercise areas. Specifically, Petitioners argue that the Department cannot exempt nursing mothers from provisions in the Dog Law banning metal strand flooring and requiring unfettered access to exercise areas.
The Department filed preliminary objections asserting that Petitioners lack taxpayer standing under In re Application of Biester, 409 A.2d 848 (Pa. 1979). The Department argued that Petitioners failed to identify how the relaxed standards of the regulations provide a financial benefit to commercial kennels. Assuming there is such a benefit, the Department contends the economic competitors of the non-compliant kennels would be directly harmed by the regulations and better situated to challenge them.
The Commonwealth Court overruled the Department’s objections in an opinion written by Judge Leadbetter. The unanimous panel held that Petitioners’ averment that the commercial kennels affected by the regulations will benefit financially was sufficient at this early stage of the litigation. The Court noted that Biester’s required “benefit” need not be financial; the flexibility afforded by less than full compliance with the Dog Law is itself a benefit. The Court declined to consider the Department’s arguments concerning the effect of the regulations on other entities and their purported interest in enforcing the Dog Law, which were based on factual assertions outside the allegations of the complaint. Finally, the Court concluded that dog owners are the obvious beneficiaries of the health and safety protections of the Dog Law and are well situated to challenge potentially conflicting regulations.