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Humane society, BIDR smear campaign lawsuit drags on

Updated: 
November 11, 2017 - 8:48pm

KEALAKEKUA — The ongoing legal dispute between Big Island Dog Rescue and Hawaii Island Humane Society showed little signs of resolution last week as both parties were unwilling to compromise on any of the motions brought before a 3rd Circuit Court judge.

Big Island Dog Rescue’s lawsuit filed against the humane society has changed since it was initially filed in April. It originally listed nine causes of action, four of which have been dismissed.

On Monday, lawyers for the rescue group submitted a second amended complaint they wished to file with the court.

BIDR’s lawsuit alleges the society stole credit for the shipment of dogs to the mainland for care and that several people connected to the society conspired to smear the organization.

Attorneys for the humane society opposed the admission of the second amended complaint. They also requested Judge Harry Freitas make summary judgments — a judge’s decision whether complaints should go forward or get tossed out — for some of the allegations.

The lawsuit is based on a series of emails — allegedly from a Humane Society board member, the executive director and others — discussing how to discredit Big Island Dog Rescue and turn public opinion against them. The society has said the emails were fabricated.

On Monday, Humane Society’s lawyer Peter Olson requested Freitas look at summary judgments for the following causes of action: intentional interference with prospective business advantage; invasion of privacy — false light; civil conspiracy to commit intentional interference with prospective business advantage; and intentional interference with contractual and/or advantageous relations.

Olson said the evidence used to support those claims is based on fake emails.

BIDR attorney Paul Sulla objected to the summary judgments. He said the reality is his team has been blocked every step of the way.

“We have a clear case of unfair competition and defamation,” Sulla said. “We’re entitled to be able to prove this.”

Sulla said they should be allowed to continue their discovery.

“This is insulting that they’re coming with summary judgment,” he said.

Olson disagreed.

“The insult is that our client has been brought and sued on false claims,” he said.

Freitas said he would take the motion under submission.

The final matter of business for the hearing was BIDR’s leave to file a second amended complaint. White said there were hundreds of emails that should’ve been produced that weren’t.

The second amended complaint seeks to add newly arisen and/or discovered facts. According to the amendment, the plaintiff also wishes to clarify which causes of action have already been dismissed based on newly discovered evidence.

Duchemin said the new claims go against previous rulings made by former 3rd Circuit Court Judge Ronald Ibarra, who dismissed causes of action from the complaint, including allegations of unfair trade practices and unfair competition.

Duchemin added that BIDR filed the amendment after it filed for summary judgment.

“You can’t evade summary judgment on new theories,” he said. “You can’t do this to circumvent summary judgment.”

White said their team has more documents and research trickling in, and they are creating amendments based on that.

“This amendment, it’s a moving target since we don’t have all the emails we’ll have to file a motion to amend,” White said. “No matter what I ask for, they object to. If I stand my ground, they take me to court.”

Duchemin argued back saying the main problem was the unfair surprise of the amended complaint.

“We have produced those documents,” he said.

Freitas said he would take everything under advisement. He will submit his decision to the parties by mail. They will not return to court unless either party decides to file another motion.

Outside the courtroom, Olson said the plaintiff is throwing mud at the wall to see what sticks.

“Their claims have no factual merit or legal merit,” he said.

Sulla said it was premature to file summary judgment.

“This case is just mushrooming for us right now,” Sulla said.

Sulla added they’re gearing up for a trial next year if the case doesn’t settle.

A bitter feud was brewing between the humane society and the rescue group as they bickered publicly for months before the smear suit was filed. Still, the organizations used to work together.

BIDR shipped 81 dogs to mainland “no-kill” shelters in its first four months of operation starting early last year, under a partnership with HIHS in which BIDR handled the shipments using animals adopted from the society at a much-reduced fee.

Then HIHS began to work against BIDR with last-minute schedule changes, failures to communicate and increased fees, according to the suit.

The Humane Society suspended adoptions to the rescue organizations until a contract was created spelling out legal responsibilities, animal treatment and reporting on the status of animals shipped to the mainland. BIDR declined to sign the agreement once it was drafted.

The suit also alleges HIHS showcased BIDR’s off-island shipping of the dogs during its March 2015 “Tropical Paws” fundraiser. But instead of sharing credit or acknowledging that the airlift was both created and implemented by BIDR, the society instead edited any reference to the rescue organization and presented the shipments as solely an HIHS program.

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