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Ex gf and her sister suing for custody of dog. Do I have any chance of winning?

Discussion in 'Small Claims & Municipal Court' started by Tim S, Jan 24, 2019.

  1. Tim S

    Tim S Law Topic Starter New Member

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    Hello, I am looking for advice on this subpoena I just received from me ex-gf and her sister. They want custody of our dog, but so do I. I am being sued for custody of the dog and 2700 dollars. I am wondering if I have any chance of winning or if i should settle out of court by giving them the dog. Here is the background info:


    Three years ago (Dec 2015), my gf sister decided to leave for the UK to go see her boyfriend. She planned on going for six months. She could not find anyone to watch her dog while she was gone. Her family said her dog could not stay at their home while she was away, but she did not listen. I was told by my gf that she parked her car in front of her family’s house, with the dog inside the car. And just left for the airport. (In my opinion, she abandoned her dog). Her family saw her dog in the car and took her inside and kept her in a crate in their garage for a day or two. They then told my gf that they were going to take the dog to the pound.


    My gf heard this and asked if we could watch the dog to prevent her from going to the pound. I said yes. I was then told by my gf that her sister would come and pick the dog up when she returned from her trip.


    Her sister returned from her trip in June 2016, but never came to pick up her dog. So we continued to care for the dog.


    Fast forward to April 2018. The dog is still under care of my gf and I, but our relationship goes south and we break up. My now ex-gf packs up all her stuff and on her way out asks what we are going to do about the dog. I tell her “the dog is better off with me.”


    My ex says, the agreement between us and her sister was that the dog could stay with us as long as we are together. Which was not true, she was trying to manipulate me into staying in a relationship with her (she cheated on me). Not that this matters in the case. I told her, her sisters opinion did not matter since she abandoned her dog to go on her trip and didn’t come pick her up when she said she would.


    My ex then said, the dog could stay with me for a month and then she would come and pick her up. I did not agree to that and said the same thing, “the dog is better off with me.” My ex ends up leaving the apartment and the dog stays with me.


    A month later, i get a text from my ex saying she is going to come pick up the dog. I told her that is not happening. About a month after that, in July 2018 I think, I get a letter from her sister asking for her dog back. I do not respond. After that I don’t here any requests to give the dog back.


    I received a subpoena last week with the plaintiffs listed as my ex and her sister. Court date is in March. Can I win and keep MY dog?


    My argument is that they both abandoned “their property (the dog). Her sister abandoned by going on this trip, and then did it again by not picking up her dog at the agreed upon date. That, in turn, made the dog the property of my gf and I. My gf then abandoned the dog, by leaving the dog at the apartment with me and no agreement being made between us. Am I making the right assumption that I can win this case because they “abandoned” their property?


    Another problem I might face is the fact that I only have my word as defense. I do not have any documents backing up my case (i can dig up a few receipts of dog food/vet bills and pictures showing that i was taking care of her, but that’s it).


    The plaintiffs have the ownership papers of the dog and I’m sure they plan to use that in the case. I know they plan on stating that they need the dog because of mental illness (anxiety) that her sister has and that they have a therapist note or something. I don’t know what else they might try to use. Maybe some texts between me and my ex. I know she saved all het texts between me and her. I did not do the same. Not sure what she might dig up. But i am sure I didn’t agree to give up the dog.


    So do I have a shot at winning this case or do I have to accept the inevitable and give up my dog?


    Thank you for taking the time to read this. Any advice given is appreciated.
     
  2. army judge

    army judge Super Moderator

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    Keep your life uncomplicated.

    When I go to court, I get paid.

    Why go to court trying to avoid the inevitable?

    Make it easy on yourself, give the lousy human being back her dog.

    In the future, do what I do, just say NO when anyone asks for a "favor".

    As Polonius said, in Hamlet:

    Polonius:
    Neither a borrower nor a lender be,
    For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
    And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.

    Hamlet Act 1, scene 3, 75–77
     
  3. zddoodah

    zddoodah Well-Known Member

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    Was it a subpoena or a summons. There's a big difference, and it sounds like you probably received a summons, not a subpoena (although given what's at issue, this should be a small claims case, and summonses are not used in small claims court).

    When you say "our dog," to whom does "our" refer besides you? Also, there's no such thing as "custody" of a dog. A dog is a piece of property, just like a car, a TV set or a toaster, and you can't get "custody" of any of those things either.

    What's the basis for them seeking $2,700 on top of "custody of the dog"?

    That might be a great argument. When the sister "abandoned" the dog, did you and your ex-GF send an appropriate written notice pursuant to California's abandoned property law, and do you have a copy of that notice and evidence of mailing? When your girlfriend moved out, did you send her an appropriate written notice, and do you have a copy of that notice and evidence of mailing? By the way, while I only skimmed your overly long post, it sounds like you and your ex-GF have been arguing about ownership of the dog since she moved out, so I don't think you have a good substantive argument that she abandoned it.
     
  4. Tim S

    Tim S Law Topic Starter New Member

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    No written notice was ever sent
     
  5. adjusterjack

    adjusterjack Super Moderator

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    The reality is that it's not your dog, no matter how you spin it.

    Give it up.

    This isn't worth the hassle.

    If you want a dog bad enough, go rescue one from the pound.
     
    Michael Wechsler likes this.
  6. Disabled Vet

    Disabled Vet Active Member

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    Judge Judy..... Call her court and try to have this moved there. She loves these types of cases. Since the dog has been with you for this long. There is a chance Judge Judy would side with you. Good luck
     
    army judge likes this.
  7. mightymoose

    mightymoose Moderator

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    While they might have an argument to make against you in small claims, the court won't order you to return the dog. You can likely keep the dog if you are willing to pay its value. If it isn't some rare breed it's value is likely quite low.
    They will have to justify the dollar amount they seek and the judge will decide what portion of it, if any, they might be owed.
    This sounds like petty silliness. You can avoid the hassle by returning the dog, but if you truly are attached to it and not holding it to spite the ex, by all means keep it and be prepared to pay what they court decides is fair. I suspect it would not be remotely close to what they are claiming.
     
    Michael Wechsler likes this.
  8. zddoodah

    zddoodah Well-Known Member

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    I just noticed that you responded to my prior response by putting your answers inside the same box that quoted what I wrote. Doing that makes it very easy to overlook what you've written, so it's a bad idea.

    Then I'm at a loss as to why you used the term "subpoena" in your original post. In any event...

    That makes no sense at all. How much you paid for vet bills, training and buying a license has nothing to do with the dog's "value." The court may order you to return the dog or to pay its "value" if the plaintiffs present evidence of the dog's value, but it's not going to order both (although, if you lose, you'll be required to pay the plaintiffs' filing fee and any fees incurred in connection with serving the claim and order on you)..

    Then you have no basis for claiming the dog is yours. The good news is that showing up at a small claims hearing costs you nothing more than time and maybe the cost of parking at the courthouse. However, if you don't want to waste time on what is almost certainly a losing cause, you should think long and hard about giving the dog back in exchange for a signed dismissal of the case.

    I'm curious why you think that given that California small claims courts have jurisdiction to award equitable relief and the OP has provided no information that would reasonably allow one to conclude that the court wouldn't exercise that jurisdiction in this case.
     
  9. flyingron

    flyingron Well-Known Member

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    Understand that the dog is property, unlike a child.

    Making people hand over property that the court decides belongs to others is a quite frequent equitable relief in California small claims. The court judgment is not limited to monetary damages.
     
  10. mightymoose

    mightymoose Moderator

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    Based on the circumstances given I believe it is very unlikely there would be anything other than a monetary judgment, if anything at all. The case is not timely and both parties have a valid claim to the dog.

    To the OP- you might look into seeking dismissal of the claim since the owner abandoned the dog 3 years ago.
     
  11. Vsparky

    Vsparky New Member

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    I am definitely not a lawyer but maybe someone here could comment on the idea of filing a countersuit for the amount the dog has cost you since the date of abandonment. If you count the food, bed, toys, grooming shelter and your hourly cost to walk the dog, pick up after her etc the bill in three years would be considerable. My boarding place charges $40 a day that would be $14,600 a year. $43,800 for 3 years. You could offer to take half of that $21,900 cause you are a nice guy. I think you are certainly entitled to reimbursement of the costs you paid for if they are claiming that the dog is still their property. It might scare them into withdrawing their suit. Just a thought. Good luck. Those girls don't deserve that dog.
     
  12. mightymoose

    mightymoose Moderator

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    I am not a lawyer either, but have seen enough silly issues like this pass through courts over the years to have a good idea of the attention it would receive if it arrives in court.
    Such claims as you suggest are common and fall on deaf ears without some sort of contract agreement to back it up.
    The dog was taken in and cared for willingly with no promise of compensation. Making such claims for compensation would only support the argument that the dog should be returned.
    I'd suggest starting with a response that asserts the statute of limitations. It may not work if the girlfriend is recognized to have standing, but it's worth trying. For the girlfriend to have a valid claim it seems it would have to be acknowledged that the original owner in fact abandoned the dog.
    I suspect the court would make quick work of this and tell the new owner to pay some petty amount for the value of the dog, if anything at all. Too much time has passed to look any deeper in a small claims setting.
     
    army judge likes this.
  13. zddoodah

    zddoodah Well-Known Member

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    Yeah...it's a dumb idea. All of the expenses were voluntary, and the numbers mentioned in your post are absurd. The OP could have taken the dog to a local pound/shelter but instead chose to take care of it.
     

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