Animals that are held in the "stray hold" area in a shelter are not allowed to be viewed or photographed by the public. Is this a violation of rights, under Section 1983?


USC §1983 prohibits a governmental entity (including a city animal shelter) from depriving a citizen of a constitutional right.  Federal courts have held that it is a violation of the right of free speech for a shelter to prohibit a person who has gone into a shelter from taking or publishing photos of shelter conditions because this is the same as commenting on shelter conditions which is a form of speech.  The courts have held that a shelter may also not prohibit a person who has published photos from going back into the shelter again because this is retaliation for the person’s exercise of the right of free speech.  These cases dealt people who have gone inside a shelter.  However, we are unaware of any court holding that an animal shelter is required to admit the public into the shelter.  In other words, members of the public do not have a constitutional right to go inside an animal shelter. But once a person is inside a shelter he or she may not be prohibited from taking photos or videos. And the shelter may not selectively exclude people who have taken photos and published them in the past from going back inside the shelter. Under existing case law we think it would be a violation of Section 1983 to prohibit people from bringing cameras or cell phones inside an animal shelter if the public is allowed to go inside the shelter.  As a practical matter, it would take a civil rights lawsuit under Section 1983 to force a shelter to allow admission to a shelter and the taking of photographs.


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