Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Sheffield v. City of Fort Thomas

Sep 3: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit, Case No. 09-5619. Plaintiff William Sheffield challenges several municipal ordinances enacted by the city of Fort Thomas, Kentucky, alleging that the ordinances violate the United States and Kentucky Constitutions and that the ordinances are preempted by Kentucky state statutes and administrative regulations. The district court rejected all of Sheffield's challenges.
    The case involves the fact that between 1950 and the present day, the deer population within the state of Kentucky increased approximately five-hundredfold. According to the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (DFWR), "deer are reaching a saturation point in many parts of the Commonwealth." Among the regions is the heavily wooded area surrounding the city of Fort Thomas (a suburb of Cincinnati, Ohio), whose residents have suffered increasingly from motor vehicle collisions with deer, landscaping damage due to deer, and other cervid-perpetrated problems. Eventually, the members of the Fort Thomas City Council decided to take action.
    Beginning in October 2006, a city administrative officer worked with DFWR representatives to develop a deer-management plan. Various options were considered, ranging from implementing a catch-and-release program to administering a birth-control drug derived from pig ovaries. In the end, the City Council opted for a three-part approach: (1) educating the public about deer-control tactics; (2) prohibiting deer feeding; and (3) permitting the hunting of deer by bow and arrow within the city limits, which DFWR representatives had advised was the most effective means of controlling the deer population in an urban area.
    Plaintiff, Sheffield claims are: (1) that all three Ordinances are preempted by Kentucky Statutes, which broadly regulates the Commonwealth's wildlife resources, and/or by Kentucky Administrative Regulations, which more concretely regulates hunting; (2) that the Bow-and-Arrow Ordinance violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States  Constitution and the Kentucky Constitution because it infringes on his asserted "fundamental right to be free from a risk of serious bodily harm" and/or lacks a rational basis; and (3) that the Deer-Feeding Ordinance violates those same constitutional provisions because it is void for vagueness.
    The district court rejected all of Sheffield's challenges. The Appeals Court said, "With one exception, we agree with that conclusion. We hold, however, that the district court erred in concluding that Kentucky administrative regulations have no preemptive force as against Kentucky municipal ordinances. We therefore affirm in part and reverse in part."
    Access the complete opinion (click here).