Law review: The case of the puppy peddlers
Cruella de Vil and cats. They don’t like puppies. Who else doesn’t like puppies? Just about no one. That can be counted as a universal truth. Here’s another: Litigants who harm puppies lose. Judges and jurors are people. People love puppies. People do not love people who hurt puppies. You get the point.
In a recent case from the Court of Appeal of the State of California, Second Appellate District, Loy et al. v. Kenney et al., the court barred a family of purveyors in puppies from selling sickly canines to the unsuspecting public. The facts of the case are disturbing, but the outcome proves once again that if lady justice is blind, she has a cute guide dog.
Four members of the Kenney family — father Rick, mother Trina, daughter Jezriel, and son Elijah — sell dogs on Craigslist. By all accounts, they sell lots of dogs, dogs the Kenney’s claim to be healthy and vaccinated. But many of the Kenney dogs are not healthy, or vaccinated, and many die. For puppy loving people (i.e. dang near everyone), this is problematic.
And so, a group of nine aggrieved Kenney puppy purchasers, and the Caru Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (collectively, the “plaintiffs”), sued the Kenney’s on various legal grounds, including for violations of California’s Consumers Legal Remedies Act (the “Act”.)
The act prohibits spurious commercial conduct, which includes the selling of goods that are not as advertised. Goods such as supposed labradoodle puppies the Kenney’s sold for more than $1,000 that died within days and that had been dyed brown. Under the act, affected consumers may seek an injunction (a court order) to physically prevent sellers from advertising or selling misrepresented goods.
Here, the plaintiffs sought a preliminary injunction against the Kenney’s to stop them from peddling puppies during the pendency of the litigation. For a preliminary injunction to issue, there must be a likelihood the plaintiffs will prevail at trial, and the harm to be prevented by injunction must outweigh the harm to be suffered by defendants.
The trial court granted preliminary injunction and the Kenney’s appealed the decision. The Kenney’s main complaint on appeal was an absence of proof showing they had, in fact, sold the puppies. The court of appeal disagreed in no uncertain terms, stating, “the overwhelming evidence demolishes this complaint.”
The evidence elucidates a long and sordid history of Kenney family canine abuse. In 2012, the Humane Society of San Bernardino Valley began receiving complaints about the Kenney’s selling sick and underage puppies. Three sting operations were set up, and on each occasion a Kenney family member came with a puppy.
The stings are as comical as they are tragic. During the first sting, siblings Jezriel and Elijah showed up with two puppies, but fled on foot without the dogs before the sheriff’s office arrived. On the second sting, father Rick arrived with a puppy and his 5-year-old daughter, but sensing something was amiss, Rick drove off leaving his daughter alone in the parking lot. On the final sting, Rick drove up with a puppy and was arrested for driving on a suspended license.
It gets worse. In 2018, a search warrant was executed on the Kenney home and Rick was arrested for being a felon in possession of a firearm, and, lo and behold, officers seized 32 puppies and dogs living in “unhealthy and cruel” conditions.
Most of the puppies had Parvo virus and had to be euthanized, but one lucky survivor turned from brown to white when bathed, “showing the dog’s fur had been dyed.” No surprise then that hair dye was found at the property along with vaccination “records,” but no vaccines or syringes. During the search, mother Trina proclaimed something to the effect of, “you will not stop us from selling puppies.”
Well, the court of appeal did just that. It upheld the preliminary injunction barring the Kenney’s from selling dogs until the case is fully resolved. The court, with biting wit, concluded, “[w]hen the puppies you sell immediately get sick and die, the plaintiffs at trial probably will be able to show your claims about good health were false.”
In balancing the harms of the injunction, the court determined that “closing this puppy mill was in the public interest,” and the Kenney’s would suffer no harm. Remember, the Kenney’s claimed they did not sell the dogs. A legal oops the court humorously called out: “The Kenney’s put themselves in an intractable situation by pursuing an identity defense: difficulties arise when people insist ‘we are not doing that, but if you stop us from doing that it will cause us serious problems.’”
Time will tell what happens to the Kenney’s at trial, but in the interim, they are prohibited from selling dogs. A good result for two and four-legged creatures alike. A result likely to stand at the conclusion of the case, because puppy people – which is to say, nearly everyone – are quick to punish those who cause puppy pain.
Ravn R. Whitington is a partner at Porter Simon licensed in California and Nevada. Ravn is a member of the firm’s Trial Practice Group where he focuses on all aspects of civil litigation. He has a diverse background in trial practice ranging from complex business disputes to personal injury to construction law, and all matters in between. He may be reached at email@example.com or http://www.portersimon.com.
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