$1 Million Memphis the Pit Bull Lawsuit Dismissed
Judge rules Lexus Project, group that filed lawsuit against township, does not have ownership of the dog
A judge threw out Friday a $1 million civil action lawsuit against the township of Bloomfield that would have brought Memphis the pit bull one step closer to being adopted.
Judge Walter Koprowski dismissed the suit, filed by the Lexus Project on behalf of dog trainers Jeff and Diana Coltenback, after he ruled the Lexus Project did not have legal ownership of Memphis.
The Lexus Project, a non-profit legal defense organization for dogs, had asked in its lawsuit that Memphis be placed in the care of Robin Mittasch, a trustee and co-founder of the project, Bloomfield Life previously reported. The suit also requested an injunction prohibiting the township from euthanizing, selling or transferring the dog.
"It seems to me that in order for the trust to have standing, there has to be an ownership right. And there is no ownership right … that can be proven," said Koprowski in general equity court Friday morning.
Memphis, a stray dog found in Bloomfield in February, has been in the control of Neighbor to Neighbor Network, a volunteer branch within the Department of Health and Human Services, since September.
The pit bull has been at the center of a months-long battle between the township's Board of Health and Coltenbacks after the dog was taken away from the dog trainers. Memphis had been ruled unadoptable for now after undergoing evaluations by dog behavioral experts.
According to Jones, Memphis is being held in South Dakota, though details on his condition and exact location are not known. Until now, the pit bull's whereabouts had not been disclosed.
Steve Martino and Ronald J. Ricci, the attorneys for Bloomfield township and the Board of Health, respectively, had asked the lawsuit be dismissed because the town has no control over the health department, an autonomous entity.
"The township has no jurisdiction over the dog, health department or animal shelter," said Ricci.
After the hearing, Martino said the dog will remain at the current facility until it is trained to be adoptable.
Jones said further legal action may be pursued for the Coltenbacks to adopt Memphis. But she said she feared the pit bull could be euthanized now without an injunction to protect him.
The Coltenbacks, as well as a handful of Memphis supporters wearing gray and red "Save Memphis" tee shirts, were present in the general equity court for the 50-minute hearing Friday morning.
Jeff Coltenback said he felt "disappointed but not discouraged" by the judge's ruling Friday and vowed to continue to fight for Memphis.
"I've been speaking up for dogs for forever. This one (Memphis) obviously is a lot different," he said fighting back tears. "It's not going to stop us. This is my life. It's what I do – dogs are my life."