A real dog fight


Dog custody fight goes up legal chain to state Superior Court according to a story in Wilmington, Delaware News Journal.

Written by Sean O’Sullivan in the daily News Journal, it certainly perked up my ears thinking of our former cannine companion, Baxter that my husband and I loved dearly. I can imagine this playing out in our family under similar circumstances.

WILMINGTON — They only had a dog together for about 18 months, but their legal fight over who should get to keep Dennis Hopper after they split has lasted at least twice that long.

Michael Fossett and Lindsay Conte first squared off over custody of the miniature brown and white dachshund in Justice of the Peace Court in 2011, then took it to the Court of Common Pleas in 2012 and most recently to Delaware Superior Court.

Last week, in an opinion that has gone viral in the legal community, Judge Jan R. Jurden ruled that Conte has the best claim. “For many ‘happiness is a warm puppy’” she wrote, but under Delaware law, a dog has “the same legal status as a piece of furniture.”

Jurden concluded the dog was a gift from Fossett to Conte and following their break-up he cannot reclaim it.

Jurden, who apparently is a fan of the actor Dennis Hopper, twice cited the movie “Speed” in her opinion and noted that the emotional strain caused by the fight over the dog must not have been an “easy ride.” A footnote makes clear this is a reference to Hopper’s 1969 movie, “Easy Rider.”

According to the facts of the case, after the couple moved in together in 2007, Conte pressed her boyfriend to get a dog. Fossett put off Conte until March 2009 when Fossett presented her with the puppy one morning saying, “Surprise.”

The trouble started a little over a year later in June 2010, when the couple split and feuded over custody of the dog. Conte claimed it was a gift to her and she had provided most of its care while Fossett noted that he had paid for the dog and most of its expenses and Dennis Hopper had spent nearly all its life in his apartment.

The argument ended when Conte left with the dog and Fossett walked away saying, “whatever.” The two later “agreed to a fluid shared custody” arrangement, according to court papers, where the dog spent some time with Fossett and some time with Conte. But that unwritten deal soon fell apart.

Conte claimed in court that Fossett had made things “awkward” by having women at his apartment when she dropped off Dennis for visits and further charged Fossett left the dog alone in the apartment “to go out drinking with his friends.”

Fossett claimed Conte only became furious after meeting his new girlfriend in September 2010 and stormed out with the dog screaming, “You’re never going to see Dennis again!”

In May 2011, Fossett went to Justice of the Peace Court to get the dog back, but lost. On appeal to the Court of Common Pleas, the judge ruled in his favor in February 2012 following a bench trial.

Court of Common Pleas Judge Joseph F. Flickinger III ruled the dog was not a gift to Conte but a gift “from Fossett to himself and Conte as a couple.” The judge also ruled that Fossett’s statement of “whatever” did not amount to terminating their joint agreement.

Jurden, in her ruling, disagreed writing that “Despite angelic tendencies, the law views a dog as property,” and that the dog was a gift that could not be reclaimed.

Conte’s attorney, Timothy Dillon, said they believe Jurden handed down a “well-reasoned opinion.” He said they hope Fossett will end the matter and not take the “expensive and time consuming” step of appealing the case to the Delaware Supreme Court.

Neither Fossett nor his attorney could be reached for comment Monday. However, at the Common Pleas trial, Fossett told the judge that Conte had offered him $600, the amount he paid for the dog. “I declined it,” he told the judge, “I don’t want the money, I want my dog.”

And so it goes in puppy love.

6 responses to this post.

  1. And to think some children are suffering through this same kind of battle! *MY GOD IS AN AWESOME GOD!*

    Like

    Reply

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