Court Rejects Lawsuit Over Dog Racing Ban

More than four years after Florida voters approved a ban on greyhound racing in the state, an appeals court Wednesday rejected a Pinellas County kennel’s argument that it should be compensated because of a “taking” of property.

A three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal upheld a ruling by a Leon County circuit judge that D’Arcy Kennel, LLC, and its owner, Christopher D’Arcy, were not entitled to damages after voters passed what was known as Amendment 13 on the 2018 ballot.

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Wednesday’s decision pointed to the heavily regulated nature of the gambling industry, saying D’Arcy “did not have a reasonable expectation that the investment in dog racing could not be severely impacted by regulation.”

“Pari-mutuel gambling has long been heavily regulated in Florida. It is not surprising that reasonable investment-backed expectations ‘are greatly reduced in a highly regulated field,’” the decision said, partially quoting from a legal precedent. “Given the extensive history of state regulation of gambling, it is not reasonable that D’Arcy had no expectation of future governmental interference with their property investments, as they … claimed.”

The 2018 constitutional amendment required shutting down the state’s decades-old greyhound industry by Dec. 31, 2020. D’Arcy filed the lawsuit against the state in August 2019, seeking damages for the loss of value of property, including racing dogs that the lawsuit said could previously be sold for up to $50,000.

“The state of Florida, through Amendment 13, imposed such a severe burden on the private property rights of plaintiffs (D’Arcy and the kennel) that it amounts to a per se taking that completely deprives plaintiffs of all economically beneficial use of the property,” the lawsuit said. “The adoption of Amendment 13 is the functional equivalent to a physical taking in which the state of Florida has ousted the plaintiffs from their domain and from any benefit from their property.”

But Leon County Circuit Judge Angela Dempsey in 2021 ruled against the kennel, writing, in part, that the ballot measure only prohibited greyhound owners from using the dogs to race at Florida pari-mutuels.

“Here, plaintiffs retain virtually every stick in the bundle of property rights — they can still race their dogs, they can still sell their dogs, they can still keep them as pets, and they can even race them in wagered races in other states where wagering on greyhound racing is allowed,” Dempsey wrote. “The only thing they cannot do is race them in a wagered race in Florida. That is not a restriction so severe as to cause a taking.”

Similarly, Wednesday’s appeals-court decision by Judges Joseph Lewis, Ross Bilbrey, and Susan Kelsey said the “operation of Amendment 13 does not deprive racing dog owners of their property; it merely regulates its use.”

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