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Gittman-Crowther v. Kent County Society For Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

Court of Chancery of Delaware

July 25, 2013

Gittman-Crowther
v.
Kent County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

Submitted: April 16, 2013

Curtis J. Crowther, EsquireYoung Conaway Stargatt & Taylor, LLP

Steven Schwartz, Esquire Schwartz & Schwartz, P.A.

Dear Counsel

Petitioners Julia M. Gittman-Crowther ("Julia") and Curtis J. Crowther ("Curtis") (collectively, the "Petitioners") seek to compel Respondent Kent County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (the "SPCA") to comply with Delaware's Shelter Standards Law.[1] They request a permanent injunction addressing a wide range of actions subject to the Shelter Standards Law, including strict compliance with its euthanasia requirements, abandoning "temperament" tests used to determine whether the animal is "aggressive" or "unadoptable" and thus eligible for euthanasia, precluding euthanasia when the SPCA has available space, affording other animal shelters and rescue groups adequate advance notice that an animal is available for transfer as an alternative to euthanasia, and placing a monitor at the SPCA, at its expense, to assure compliance with the Shelter Standards Law.

The SPCA has moved to dismiss this action because, except for the euthanasia process governed by 3 Del. C. § 8004(d), there is no private right of action and the Petitioners lack standing to pursue their claims. The SPCA also contests this Court's subject matter jurisdiction. It argues that a declaratory judgment, available as a remedy at law in the Superior Court, would be adequate under the circumstances. Finally, the SPCA asserts that the Complaint does not state a claim upon which relief may be granted under 3 Del. C. § 8004(d).

I. BACKGROUND [2]

The Petitioners, residents of New Castle County, Delaware, have three dogs and four cats. On December 8, 2012, a dog now known as "Maggie, " befriended the Petitioners' son and a friend as they were walking in their development. Maggie was given food, water, and a place to rest. The Petitioners called the SPCA, which serves as the animal control agent for New Castle County. An SPCA animal control officer explained the procedures for dealing with stray dogs, including the option of keeping the dog. The Petitioners filled out a field intake form, which included a reference number which they were told could be used to track the dog.

Maggie was introduced to Petitioners' dogs. One of the dogs, perhaps scared of Maggie, reacted with barking and growling. Maggie got along well with the other dogs. Nonetheless, the Petitioners, worried about aggression from one of their own dogs, decided to turn Maggie, who had been happy and friendly with them, over to the SPCA. They were disappointed that they could not keep Maggie.

Two days later, on December 10, 2012, Julia called the SPCA to check on Maggie. Although she used the tracking number from the field intake form, that reference did not work. Eventually, after describing Maggie, Julia was told that Maggie "was there and was ok." Julia, after informing the SPCA representative that she and Curtis were the ones who had found Maggie, expressed a renewed interest in adopting her. Julia was told that Maggie would be evaluated for a few days and then put into the general dog population, that "rescue groups" take dogs frequently from the shelter, that dogs surrendered to the SPCA become the property of the SPCA, and that if dogs were transferred to other shelters, the SPCA's policy would protect the dogs' destinations as confidential.

The Petitioners, over the next few days, checked the SPCA's website and found Maggie who could be identified by a "pet finder I.D." but not through the field intake form tracking number.

On December 20, 2012, Curtis contacted the SPCA by email; he asked about the status of Maggie and when she would be ready for adoption.[3] The SPCA responded that Maggie had not yet been evaluated. Curtis again contacted the SPCA on December 25, 2012. He inquired about Maggie's status after noting that she was not on the SPCA's "hold" or "adoptable" lists. The next day, the SPCA asked whether Curtis was "interested in adopting the dog."[4] A few minutes later, Curtis replied that he was interested in adopting Maggie and that he wanted to introduce Maggie to his dogs again "in the hopes" that they could "add her . . . to [their] family."[5] No response was received. Julia telephoned the SPCA a few hours later and was told that Maggie had been tested and that she was "aggressive" with other dogs. Curtis then sent a lengthy email to the SPCA in which he expressed skepticism about the conclusion that Maggie was aggressive with other dogs.[6] He reiterated their concerns about not receiving information about the dog if she had been transferred to another shelter or if she had been euthanized. Curtis went to the SPCA facility on December 26, 2012 and saw three empty runs.

After a few phone calls that produced little information other than that Maggie was still alive, Curtis, on December 28, 2012, received an email from the SPCA which, in part, read:

Once an animal is surrender[ed] to our facility by the finder, owner, etc. we are then legally responsible for the animal. We do everything in our power to make sure that the animal can be placed for adoption. They go through a holding period, then evaluation to determine placement. Unfortunately, this dog did not pass evaluation and is only available for a rescue agency. If something were to ...

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