Dias v. City & County of Denver (paragraph break added):
[T]he plaintiffs have alleged a substantive due process violation sufficient to survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Viewing the factual allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs, as we must, the complaint plausibly alleges that the [pit bull ban] Ordinance is not rationally related to a legitimate government interest. Although the plaintiffs may be unable to demonstrate through evidence that the Ordinance is irrational, the complaint makes out a claim for relief.
It is uncontested that Denver has a legitimate interest in animal control -- the protection of health and safety of the public. Even so, the plaintiffs have alleged that the means by which Denver has chosen to pursue that interest are irrational. In particular, the plaintiffs contend that there is a lack of evidence that pit bulls as a breed pose a threat to public safety or constitute a public nuisance, and thus, that it is irrational for Denver to enact a breed-specific prohibition.
Pointing to the cases where courts across the country have rejected substantive due process challenges to pit bull bans, Denver argues that the Ordinance is rational as a matter of law. This argument misconceives the nature of the plaintiffs’ challenge. Specifically, the plaintiffs contend that although pit bull bans sustained twenty years ago may have been justified by the then-existing body of knowledge, the state of science in 2009 is such that the bans are no longer rational. [Footnote: Moreover, in the majority of cases where courts have sustained a pit bull ban as reasonable, they have done so based on a developed evidentiary record. No such record was developed in this case because the district court dismissed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6).]
This claim finds some support in the AKC and UKC standards themselves, to which the plaintiffs direct us. The official UKC breed standard for the American Pit Bull Terrier, for instance, states that “[American Pit Bull Terriers] make excellent family companions and have always been noted for their love of children.” American Pit Bull Terriers are an “extremely friendly” breed “even with strangers. Aggressive behavior toward humans is uncharacteristic of the breed ....” Similarly, the AKC breed standard for Staffordshire Bull Terriers states that, “with its affection for its friends, and children in particular, its off-duty quietness and trustworthy stability, [the Staffordshire Bull Terrier is] a foremost all-purpose dog.” Without drawing factual inferences against the plaintiffs, the district court could not conclude at this early stage in the case that the Ordinance was rational as a matter of law.
We have no occasion to pass upon the ultimate merit of plaintiffs’ substantive due process challenge; that is not our role at this juncture. We are constrained to deciding if the complaint alleges facts sufficient to state a claim for relief. Whether the plaintiffs can marshal enough evidence to prevail on the merits of their claim that the Ordinance is irrational is a different matter entirely. But at the 12(b)(6) stage, we must assume that they can, even if it strikes us “that a recovery is very remote and unlikely.” Crediting the allegations in the complaint, and drawing all inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs, we conclude that they have stated a plausible substantive due process violation.
Not a huge victory for the plaintiffs, for reasons the quote makes clear -- but still something of a victory, and one that in my experience has been pretty rare, given the Court's view that "In areas of social and economic policy, a statutory classification that neither proceeds along suspect lines nor infringes fundamental constitutional rights must be upheld against equal protection challenge [and substantive due process challenge -EV] if there is any reasonably conceivable state of facts that could provide a rational basis for the classification."
Thanks to How Appealing for the pointer.