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Law School Case Brief

Sentell v. New Orleans & C. R. Co. - 166 U.S. 698, 17 S. Ct. 693 (1897)


Even if it were assumed that dogs are property in the fullest sense of the word, they would still be subject to the police power of the State, and might be destroyed or otherwise dealt with, as in the judgment of the legislature is necessary for the protection of its citizens. That a State, in a bona fide exercise of its police power, may interfere with private property, and even order its destruction, is as well settled as any legislative power can be, which has for its objects the welfare and comfort of the citizen.


Plaintiff Sentell owned a valuable Newfoundland ***, registered in the American Kennel's stud-book, and was kept by her owner for breeding purposes. It seems that while following him in a walk upon the streets, the dog stopped on the track of defendant New Orleans and Carrollton Railroad Company (railroad company), and, being otherwise engaged for the moment, the dog failed to notice the approach of an electric car that was coming toward her at great speed. Because the dog was heavily pregnant with young pups, and not possessed of her usual agility, she was caught by the car and instantly killed.  Sentell alleged that his dog was negligently killed by New Orleans and Carrollton Railroad Company. As a defense, the railroad company argued that Sentell failed to comply with state law requirements or city ordinances with respect to the keeping of dogs and was not entitled to recover. The trial court entered judgment for Sentell but the appeals court reversed, finding that Sentell should have shown a compliance with the laws and ordinances as a condition precedent to recover. Sentell sought further appellate review.


Could a dog owner recover damages for the alleged negligent killing of his dog by the railroad company?




The United States Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the appellate court, and found that the legislation regarding ownership in dogs was within the police power of the state. The Court determined that, even if dogs were property in the fullest sense, they were still subject to the police power of the state and could be dealt with as the legislature saw fit for the protection of its citizens. The Court concluded that it was within the discretion of the legislature to say how far dogs were recognized as property and under what restrictions they were permitted to roam the streets.

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