West Hollywood, California’s controversial law banning the sale of fur within city limits survived a legal challenge by a luxury retailer last month. A federal court dismissed the action brought by Mayfair House Inc., a retailer that sells high-end clothing products, including products made wholly or partly of animal fur, challenging the ordinance as unconstitutionally vague and arbitrary in violation of the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and violating state laws preventing the City from enacting wildlife-related ordinances.
The fur ban, hailed by the Humane Society of the United States as the first in the nation, was passed by the West Hollywood City Council in 2011 and became effective last year. Subject to certain exceptions, the ordinance makes it unlawful for anyone “to sell, import, export, trade or distribute any fur product by any means anywhere within the City of West Hollywood.”
Judge George H. King, Chief Judge for the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, rejected Mayfair House’s claim that certain words and terms in the ordinance, including “fur,” “wearing apparel,” “second-hand store,” and “internet transactions,” were unconstitutionally vague. Dismissing this argument as “disingenuous,” Judge King held that the ordinance’s terms provided fair notice to people of ordinary intelligence about what the law prohibits, and thus found that the law did not invite arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement in violation of the 14th Amendment.
Judge King likewise rejected Mayfair House’s claim that the ordinance violated the Equal Protection Clause because it unfairly targets high-end clothing retailers and arbitrarily discriminates between used fur apparel sold by second hand stores and private parties (which is protected by one of the statute’s exceptions) and fur products sold by luxury retailers like Mayfair House.
Judge King emphasized that when economic regulations are at issue, the Equal Protection Clause affords state and local legislative bodies wide latitude, so long as there is rational relationship between the law promulgated and a legitimate governmental goal. Here, noting that the West Hollywood City Council made explicit findings of fact regarding the suffering of animals raised on fur farms and trapped in the wild, Judge King deemed the law rationally related to West Hollywood’s goal of promoting the humane treatment of animals. That the City did not completely ban the sale of fur was of no consequence, the Court noted, because legislatures are free to make incremental change.
Judge King was able to decline supplemental jurisdiction over Mayfair House’s state law claims after dismissing the federal law claims, and dismissed the state claims, without prejudice.
This case is a big victory for animal rights activists, and may be the forerunner of similar laws in other cities and locales throughout the United States.
But this law is not the first time West Hollywood has enacted groundbreaking animal welfare laws. In 1989, the City banned both steel leg-hold traps and animal testing for cosmetics. In 2003, West Hollywood outlawed the declawing of cats and other animals, and in 2010, it banned the commercial display of animals, which effectively banned circuses.
The case is Mayfair House Inc. v. City of West Hollywood, 13-07112, U.S. District Court, Central District of California (Los Angeles).