Dog Administrative Hearings Clinic

The UCLA School of Law Dog Administrative Hearings Clinic is the product of an innovative partnership between City of Los Angeles Department of Animal Services (LAAS) and UCLA Law. Students in the clinic practice several practical legal skills while providing valuable public service. Participants learn how to conduct actual hearings and to analyze evidence in order to make fair determinations and recommendations in each case. The clinic brings together concepts from constitutional due process, evidence, property law, and animal law in the context of subject matter narrow enough that students can focus on practice skills in questioning, fact investigation, the analysis of facts in relation to statutes, developing a theory of a case, and writing persuasive reports and recommendations.

Every year, a large number of complaints are filed about dogs in the City of Los Angeles. People claim that their neighbors' dog barks too much or that a particular dog poses an unreasonable risk to public safety. The City, too, can file complaints against dog owners about their allegedly dangerous dogs. These complaints are resolved through administrative hearings to determine whether a dog's behavior is problematic and, if so, the best way to address it. The focus is on prevention of future incidents rather than punishment for past violations of the relevant law.

While these types of hearings take place in jurisdictions around the country, the UCLA School of Law Dog Administrative Hearings Clinic is unique. This clinic gives UCLA Law students the opportunity to serve as hearing examiners in these quasi-judicial proceedings held under the authority of the City of Los Angeles Department of Animal Services (LAAS). Indeed, it is the closest law students can come to serving as judges while in law school. UCLA Law Professor Taimie Bryant and experienced professionals in LAAS provide extensive training before UCLA Law students can be appointed to serve as hearing examiners. After students are appointed, the same team supervises them as they conduct hearings and produce reports with recommendations for the General Manager.

Work in the clinic can be challenging. Victims of a dog's aggressive behavior can include dogs and other animals as well as humans. Sorting out what triggered a dog and predicting the dog's future likelihood of causing harm can be difficult, especially when there were no witnesses to an incident. Unique situations pose unique challenges. For instance, it can be effective to impose conditions of ownership to prevent specific dogs from interacting with people and other dogs unless under direct supervision. However, that is usually effective only when their owners live in residences that allow for restriction of the dog's interactions. What about dogs belonging to individuals without such residences? Those dogs and the people who care about them are greatly disadvantaged in a system that relies heavily on restricting dogs' interactions to prevent risk of harm to others. This is just one example of a difficult situation hearing examiners encounter and must resolve with fairness and compassion. In fact, every case the clinic handles has unique and novel features, which require care and attention to details.

Work in the clinic is interesting also because of lack of legal clarity about some of the rules that apply. Imagine a situation in which a dog bites a bicyclist on a cement beach bike path where there is signage stating, “No dogs on the beach.” Does that mean the sand part of the beach only? Is the cement bike path part of the “beach” because it is lying on top of the sand? Suppose the dog was on a leash but managed to bite a person anyway. Does being on a leash mean that the dog is “under the control” of the dog’s owner? Does the severity of the bite help to answer that question?

Finally, work in the clinic requires considerable flexibility because laws, rules, and agency personnel change. Different types of changes can occur suddenly, necessitating quick adjustments in procedure or in recommendations to be conceptualized differently than when first developed.

Because of all of these challenges, the clinic provides a particularly useful opportunity for future lawyers to learn and practice important legal skills. Students who gain the most benefit from the clinic are good at time management, flexibility, working with a variety of people regarding complaints about their dogs, and receiving and applying constructive feedback.

Clinic Advisors

  • Stephanie Anayah

    Stephanie Anayah has been an advisor to the clinic since its inception in the 2017-2018 academic year. She is a UCLA Law Library reference librarian and serves, also, as librarian to the Williams Institute at UCLA. In her capacity as the clinic’s "library liaison," Stephanie has provided research assistance to the clinic pertinent to clinic projects, training materials for conducting hearings, and administrative matters. For instance, she has provided research findings about hearing officer immunity from liability for City decisions based on hearing examiner recommendations, penalties for perjury under California law, and powers of the general manager under various LA Municipal Code sections. Stephanie is a careful lawyer assisting the clinic participants and LA Animal Services Hearings Division staff, often as a first step before review of our work by the Deputy City Attorney assigned to LA Animal Services.

  • Rebecca Huss

    Rebecca Huss is currently the General Counsel for Best Friends Animal Society. Prior to assuming that position, she held the Phyllis and Richard Duesenberg Chair in Law at Valparaiso University School of Law where she also served as Associate Dean for Academic Affairs. She was the first American law scholar to earn tenure exclusively on the basis of animal law scholarship, and she remains a highly respected companion animal law scholar in the United States. She was appointed as the guardian/special master to advise the court about assessing the behavior and placing dogs seized from the Bad Newz Kennels case in 2007. She has been recognized with numerous awards for service and academic accomplishment in animal law and is a prolific scholar regularly invited to speak about a variety of companion animal issues. She is knowledgeable about many subjects particularly relevant to the clinic, including breed discriminatory legislation.

  • Katie Larkin

    Katie Larkin is the Founder and Executive Director of Angel City Pit Bulls, which assists pit bull-like dogs while operating out of one of the former LA Animal Services shelters. Katie has already applied her wealth of experience and practical knowledge about dogs to assist the clinic. She has advised us about appropriate collars, terms and conditions of ownership appropriate for large-breed dogs, and an understanding of such LA Animal Services policies that may require dogs to be placed for adoption or rescue outside the City. Most of the dogs coming through LAAS hearings are pit bull-like dogs because of selection bias, not because of frequency of bite occurrence, and so it is particularly important that we understand as much as possible about these dogs. Katie’s expertise helps to shape clinic participants’ understanding of complaints about dogs, appropriate case outcomes, and future prospects for the dogs. We are hoping, also, to work together with Katie and LA Animal Services to consider possible adjustments or changes to LAAS policies and LA Municipal Code sections relevant to hearings that are beneficial to all involved in these hearings, including the dogs.

  • Peter Reich

    Peter Reich is one of the anchors of the LL.M. and M.L.S. Programs at UCLA Law. He participates in development of the programs, and his teaching is highly valued by our students and faculty. Peter joined UCLA Law after many years of service on the Whittier Law faculty where he taught courses particularly relevant to the clinic, including Evidence, Environmental Law, and the American Legal System. He helps clinic participants think about what types of evidence should be admitted and how it should be weighed in their legal analysis of each case. He thinks about such matters through the immediate, on-the-ground resolution of evidentiary questions clinic participants have and, also, at the level of the relationship between evidentiary rules and administrative legal procedure. For example, he helps clinic participants think about how treating certain submissions as highly valued evidence could shift our process in an adversarial direction while giving those same submissions less weight could push towards more of a mediation/arbitration model of administrative adjudication. During the 2020-21 academic year, Peter’s contributions will be particularly helpful as the clinic focuses specifically on the evidence dimensions of the hearings process and relevant LA Municipal Code sections.

Benefactors

  • Brooks Institute for Animal Rights Law and Policy

    The Brooks Institute is dedicated to producing and disseminating outstanding, independent, academic, and public policy research and programming; and pursuing projects and initiatives focused on advancing law and policy pertaining to animals.

  • Petco Love (formerly Petco Foundation)

    Petco Love is an independent nonprofit charitable organization associated with Petco. The mission of Petco Love is “to create a better world for animals and the people who love and need them."

  • William S. Hale

    William S. Hale is a UCLA Law alumnus, engineer, and an attorney at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP.

  • Donna Mo

    Donna Mo is a UCLA Law alumna and an attorney at Blue Dot Advocates.

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