Does Gryffin belong to Shalloo or Zarrour? Court Decides Claims to Welsh Terrier Puppy

This was originally posted on the SGR Blog.

A dog may be wo/man’s best friend. But, when it comes to the law, a dog is a mere chattel or thing—possession of which is governed by the competing proofs in action for conversion.

Madison Shalloo sued Beleal Zarrour for the replevin of a dog on August 14, 2020. In her complaint, Shalloo alleged she was in a relationship with Zarrour. They shared an apartment in Long Island City from November 30, 2017, to January 10, 2020. In April 2018, they agreed to purchase a dog together. Shalloo located and was the contact person with the breeder. On July 2, 2018, they purchased a Welsh Terrier puppy named Gryffin Shalloo. And she reimbursed Zarrour for one-half of the cost of Gryffin.

Shalloo alleged that she had provided not less than 90% of Gryffin’s physical care, including feeding, walking, and grooming. And had been solely responsible for the cost of Gryffin’s food, treats, clothing, and toys. Also, solely responsible for all veterinary insurance and veterinary care for Gryffin, including requisite vaccinations, well care, and sick care. And, since Gryffin was a puppy, he routinely visited with her parents at their home.

Shalloo ended the relationship on January 12, 2020, and moved out of the parties’ apartment, leaving Gryffin with Zarrour—who had insisted on keeping the dog but agreed to share the dog with her. On January 28, 2020, he agreed to exchange the dog each week. On January 30, 2020, the parties met with a therapist in part to discuss their arrangement for sharing the dog, and it was agreed to exchange the dog every Sunday. Thereafter, on February 1, 9, 16, and 23, 2020, and on March 1, 2020, Zarrour released the dog into the care of Shalloo’s father either in the lobby of the apartment building or at her parents’ home in Middletown, New Jersey. However, on March 8, 2020, Zarrour sent a text to her father advising him that he would no longer be exchanging Gryffin with Shalloo, as the dog was his and he was keeping him.

Shalloo claimed that she was entitled to immediate possession of Gryffin. A demand was made on her behalf by her counsel in a letter dated June 3, 2020. Zarrour’s counsel responded on June 16, 2020. Counsel for the parties exchanged emails between June 22, 2020, to June 27, 2020. And Zarrour did not respond to a June 27, 2020 settlement offer.

Zarrour moved to dismiss the complaint on the grounds of documentary evidence and failure to state a cause of action. He argued that Shalloo was not the rightful owner of Gryffin, nor was she legally entitled to possess Gryffin. Indisputable documentary evidence clearly showed that Zarrour was the rightful owner of Gryffin. And the complaint failed to sufficiently plead a cause of action for replevin.

Zarrour asserted that he was the rightful and legal owner of Gryffin. He “sourced” the breeder from whom Gryffin was purchased—coordinated the transport of Gryffin from the breeder to his apartment. Paid the breeder the full purchase and transportation price for Gryffin. And when the parties ended their romantic relationship, Shalloo moved out of the apartment and left Gryffin with him.

Shalloo’s counsel, in opposition, asserted that Zarrour’s motion must be denied as a matter of law, as it did not meet the legal standards for summary judgment. The documentary evidence submitted by him was insufficient to warrant dismissal of the action. The complaint sufficiently stated a cause of action for replevin. And the best interests of Gryffin, or at least the best interests of all concerned, must be adjudicated.

The Court found that the documentary evidence submitted in support of Zarrour’s motion was insufficient to establish that Shalloo was not the owner of Gryffin or that she did not have a superior right of possession. The copy of a Certificate of Registry with United All Breed Registry and Pedigree Service — Blue Ribbon Division did not on its face establish that ownership of Gryffin was transferred by the breeder to Zarrour. In fact, that Certificate did not identify a breeder or prior owner of the dog. Furthermore, the Certificate naming Beleal Zarrour as the owner of Gryffin was issued on January 29, 2020, well after the dog was purchased in July 2018 and 13 days after the parties ended their relationship.

Zarrour also submitted a document containing information pertaining to Paypal credit payments made to Rachelle Tindle on June 10, 2018, in the sum of $200, on July 2, 2018, in the sum of $287, and on July 16, 2018, in the sum of $600, with a “ship to address” bearing his name and address. That document did not identify Tindle as a dog breeder or as a prior owner of Gryffin. Did not identify the purposes for which these payments were made. And did not identify what was being “shipped to” Zarrour. As such, the document was insufficient to establish that Zarrour purchased Gryffin from Tindle.

Finally, Zarrour submitted a copy of a dog license issued by “NYC Health” to Beleal Zarrour for Gryffin that expired on January 29, 2021. The license was no evidence of a dog license issued by the New York State Bureau of Veterinary and Pest Control Services. In New York City, dog licenses are issued by the New York City Department of Health upon application and payment of the required fee. At most, the document established that Zarrour was issued a dog license for Gryffin by the Department of Health. But dog licenses are issued for periods of 1 to 5 years. And that document on its face did not establish when the license was issued or that a dog license was issued to Zarrour at all times since Gryffin was first purchased in 2018.

The standard for recovery in a replevin action was a superior possessory right in the chattel. Although the complaint did not specifically recite the words “a superior right to possession”, Shalloo’s allegations, taken in their entirety, asserted such a claim. The Court found that the complaint stated a cognizable claim for the replevin of the dog named Gryffin.

Zarrour’s motion to dismiss Shalloo’s complaint was denied.

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