Local News Matters weekly newsletter

Start your week with a little inspiration. Sign up for our informative, community-based newsletter, delivered on Mondays with news about the Bay Area.

In a complaint that ridiculed San Francisco’s ban on the sale of animal fur products as a “an act of sanctimony,” an international association representing the fur trade sued the city in federal court in 2020 to prevent enforcement of the prohibition.

On Tuesday, the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of California dismissed the complaint and denied the plaintiff, the International Fur Trade Federation, a further opportunity to amend the suit.

The plaintiff’s colorful complaint — previously amended three times in an attempt to remedy prior defects — began with the proclamation that “Fur is part of the fabric of our Nation, from its founding through the present day.”

The plaintiff recounted the role of furs in early trade and noted that Abraham Lincoln wore a stovepipe hat made of beaver fur when he delivered the Gettysburg Address. According to the complaint, when Barack Obama was inaugurated, “Americans broke out their furs to celebrate.”

The complaint challenged a 2018 ordinance, unanimously adopted by San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors, that barred the sale or manufacture of new fur products — including hats, clothing, earmuffs, scarves and gloves — in the city. The ordinance did not forbid people from wearing fur products nor did it prevent secondhand stores from selling furs.

In adopting the ordinance, the board stated that the purpose was to combat animal cruelty and avoid negative environmental impacts.

Pointing out that there are no San Francisco manufacturers of fur products, nor are any San Francisco animals known to be used in such manufacturing, the plaintiff contended that the ordinance does not protect any animal in San Francisco and therefore the ban was “silly.”

Mocking the supervisors’ legislative statement that ”[t]he sale of fur products in San Francisco is inconsistent with the City’s ethos of treating all living beings, humans and animals alike, with kindness,” the plaintiff pointed out that there are more than 8,000 homeless individuals in the city and city animal shelters have put to death double that number of “dogs, cats and other animals in the last six years alone.”

In earlier rulings, the court rejected challenges to the supposed burden the ordinance placed on national and international commerce after the city made clear that it did not seek to ban sales by non-San Francisco sellers to customers in the city. Thus, a North Carolina manufacturer would not be barred from selling a fur coat to a San Franciscan who ordered online.

In the latest round of litigation, the court considered a variation on the online sale scenario: where the online shipment occurred outside of the city, but the seller maintained a retail location in San Francisco. The plaintiff asked the court to determine that the ordinance would not prevent the sale.

Chief U.S. District Court Judge Richard Seeborg rejected the request, finding that the board had intended the ordinance to apply to sales by a seller with a physical location in the city even if the shipment occurred from another location. Otherwise, a national retailer with a San Francisco location could do an end-run around the law simply by encouraging its local customer to order a fur from its website.

Because the ordinance broadly barred the sale or other distribution of fur products “by any means,” the ordinance’s intent was to include internet sales where both buyer and seller were in the city. That result, the judge noted, was consistent with the board’s intent to treat San Francisco-located sellers the same, whether their sales were in person or online.

The court granted the city’s motion to dismiss the case and, given that multiple unsuccessful attempts to present a meritorious challenge, ordered that the plaintiff would not be permitted to amend its complaint again.