Puppy Case Before N.J. Court

Posted: July 06, 2007

CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE, N.J. - A judge is scheduled to decide whether to allow an Upper Township couple whose new puppy died to sue a big Pennsylvania dog kennel, in New Jersey - where consumer fraud laws are said to be stricter.

Superior Court Judge Joseph C. Visalli today heard a motion filed by C.C. Pets LLC, based in Lancaster County, Pa., to have a lawsuit dismissed based on a lack a personal jurisdiction in the Garden State.

Lewis and Stephanie Ostrander, who bought a labradoodle that they said had a deadly disease, had filed a complaint against the kennel under the Pennsylvania "puppy lemon law," but the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office found that there had been no pattern of "deceptive conduct" and decided not to pursue the case.

Paoli, Pa., lawyer Garen Meguerian, who represents the Ostranders, said in court today that while the puppy was sold in Pennsylvania, the couple should be protected under New Jersey's Consumer Protection Law because they reside here and this is where they would have raised the dog.

Atlantic City lawyer David Azotea, who represents kennel owners Raymond and Joyce Stoltzfus, said his clients are regulated by Pennsylvania. The kennel moves about 1,700 dogs of various breeds a year.

Azotea also asserted that the couple, who have operated dog breeding operations for more than 25 years, have no connection to New Jersey and no agents in the state.

The November 2006 contract between the Stoltzfuses' C.C. Pets and the Ostranders, of the Marmora section of Upper Township, was executed in Pennsylvania and is, therefore, subject to Pennsylvania law, Azotea argued.

New Jersey consumer law is considered one of the strictest because plaintiffs need only to prove an intent to defraud. In other states, including Pennsylvania, actual fraud must be proved.

The couple bought the crossbreed of a Labrador retriever and a standard or miniature poodle in November and it died within a week of their paying $530 for the animal at the Stoltzfuses' Peach Bottom, Pa., kennel.

The Ostranders sued, alleging that the kennel violated the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act and common law fraud by selling a diseased and dying dog.

The Stoltzfuses denied the allegations and have countersued the New Jersey couple, saying that Lewis Ostrander defamed them in an Internet blog and in news interviews.

The kennel owners did not appear in court today. The Ostranders, who sat in the gallery front row, said they were pleased to have the matter finally before a judge.

"I think it's important that people hear as much about this case as possible," Lewis Ostrander said.

The Ostranders contend, in court filings, that the Stoltzfuses produced health certificates that allegedly were signed by a veterinarian, indicating the 7-week-old puppy was in good health and had completed scheduled vaccinations and worming.

Meguerian said in court today that it appears the health documentation had been forged with the pre-printed signature of a veterinarian.

The Ostranders said that almost immediately upon their purchasing the puppy, the animal began to vomit, have diarrhea, and exhibit lethargy - symptoms they said the kennel called normal signs of adjustment for the dog.

After the puppy became even more sick, the Ostranders took her to a veterinarian, who determined that she was terminally ill with canine parvovirus. The couple spent more than $4,300 on the puppy and it died within a week, Lewis Ostrander said.

Previously operating under the kennel name Puppy Love, the Stoltzfuses, had been the subject of numerous consumers complaints and government scrutiny dating to the 1980s. The high volume of complaints against the Stoltzfuses regarding sick dogs purchased at their kennel led to enactment of 1996 Pennsylvania legislation known as the "puppy lemon law."

In 1997, the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office tried to have the kennel closed, but the case was thrown out because of a lack of evidence.

After 171 consumer complaints earlier this decade, a 2005 consent agreement - said then to be the toughest restrictions on a dog seller in Pennsylvania - was reached after the Stoltzfuses were fined $75,000 and promised to certify the health of each dog sold.

Contact staff writer Jacqueline L. Urgo at 609-823-9629 or jurgo@phillynews.com.

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