Lake Twp. case: Court reinstates dangerous dog designation

By: 
Larry Limpf

The Ohio Sixth District Court of Appeals has reinstated a dangerous dog designation previously imposed by the Wood County Dog Warden in a dog bite case in Lake Township.
The appeals court ruled last week that Perrysburg Municipal Court erred when it vacated the dog warden’s decision to impose the dangerous dog designation.
A magistrate heard the case Feb. 13, 2020 and ruled the warden “failed to meet its burden to demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence that the dog caused injury without provocation.” The municipal court affirmed the magistrate’s decision the same day.
However, the appeals court concluded that video of the incident shows the dog bite victim didn’t provoke or tease the dog.
The incident occurred in October 2018. According to court records, a German shepherd owned by Ashley Lathrop went onto neighboring property and began snarling and barking at Paulette Eckermann, who was gardening in the yard owned by her mother-in-law. The dog returned to Lathrop’s property but the Eckermanns later decided to drive to Lathrop’s home and inform her about the dog’s behavior. The dog bit Thomas Eckermann while he was standing in the driveway talking to Lathrop’s husband. A surveillance camera on the Lathrop property captured the incident and was admitted into evidence.
“The video clearly demonstrates that Zeus was already in a provoked state when Eckermann arrived, and the dog attempted to bite Eckermann prior to either him raising his arms or forming a fist with his hand. The dog then persisted, going around the back of its owner and biting Eckermann’s right leg. Thus the (municipal) court’s finding that the parties’ assertions were merely a ‘difference of opinion’ is flawed; this court is of the mindset that the evidence presented is not susceptible of more than one interpretation,” the appeals court ruled. “There is no evidence that Eckermann ‘abused’ or ‘tormented’ the dog, nor is there any evidence in the video (or anywhere else in the record) to suggest that Eckermann engaged in any persistent conduct that would be considered ‘teasing.’
“Accordingly, we find that there was insufficient evidence demonstrating that Zeus’ bite was provoked and that the (municipal) court’s reversal of the dangerous dog designation was against the manifest weight of the evidence. Thus, the trial (municipal) court abused its discretion in denying the warden’s objection relative to the magistrate’s determination that it was possible that the bite was provoked.”
The warden’s office notified Ashley Lathrop in October 2019 her dog has been designated as dangerous under state law. The designation required her to secure the dog on her premises and obtain liability insurance.
She filed to contest the designation and request a hearing. After the magistrate and municipal court ruled to vacate the designation, the warden appealed, arguing the court used a wrong standard of review to the warden’s objections.
The appeals court agreed and remanded the case back to the lower court in July 2021 which again rejected the warden’s objections.
The municipal court noted: “It appears to be the position that the video shows Mr. Eckermann did not provoke the subject dog. This court, having reviewed the testimony and the video is not prepared to accept that position. The Dog Warden has not met their burden to show that the actions of Mr. Eckermann did not provoke the subject dog.”
The warden then filed the second appeal.

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