September 4, 2020 – RICO Lawsuit Thrown Out by 11th Circuit Court
The proposed class action detailed on this page has been dismissed following an 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that the plaintiff failed to plausibly allege her puppy’s death was the result of a nationwide racketeering conspiracy.
The three-judge panel wrote in a 35-page opinion that although the facts of the suit “tell a sad story” and that the court is “sympathetic to [the plaintiff] and the loss of her puppy,” the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, a law originally designed to fight the mafia, “cannot be invoked every time a group of people causes an injury.”
“Her complaint fails to plead facts that plausibly support the interference that the defendants shared a common purpose to commit the massive fraud she alleges,” the judges wrote with regard to the elements that must be satisfied in order for a RICO lawsuit to survive a dismissal motion. “Moreover, as we see it, [the plaintiff] failed to allege with particularity that each defendant engaged in a pattern of racketeering activity.”
Although the 11th Circuit added that the plaintiff’s lawsuit “paints a troubling picture of animal abuse and neglect, consumer deception, and aggressive sales practices,” the federal RICO statute “does not provide [the plaintiff], as she has pled this case, the remedy she seeks.”
Petland, Inc., along with BKG Pets, Inc., Pets BKG LLC—Petland Kennesaw, collectively—and PAWSitive Solutions, Inc., are the defendants in a proposed class action lawsuit that alleges the companies are behind a scheme in which they sell pets fraudulently certified as healthy while offering “sham” services and promises of veterinary care. The 57-page complaint, filed in Georgia, alleges the defendants’ scheme induces customers into buying puppies and kittens at inflated prices which are purportedly “certified” by a vet after being “checked at least twice.” According to the lawsuit, the defendants’ claims are merely the first layer of a multi-faceted sales ruse.
“In reality, Petland does little to ascertain the health of these animals, many of whom are knowingly sourced from inhumane ‘puppy mills’ and arrive at Petland with infectious diseases or other health issues that are never diagnosed by Petland inspections,” the complaint alleges.
The lawsuit wages the supposed inspections performed on pets by the defendants are cursory at best and, at worst, a façade that pumps out false documentation that is often a literal rubber stamp signed by a vet who’s never actually inspected the animal. Coupled with this, the case takes direct aim at the defendants’ alleged knowledge that, given many of their pets are allegedly sourced from puppy mills, the animals often suffer from health defects that cannot be diagnosed with even a proper veterinary inspection, “much less the cursory or non-existent ‘inspections’ actually performed by Petland’s veterinarians,” the lawsuit scathes.
From here, the complaint hints at an inside-job element to the defendants’ relationship with the vets who perform these alleged faux-inspections. The lawsuit claims vets working on the defendants’ animals derive a good amount of their revenue from Petland and its co-defendants, and are thereby financially incentivized to give a seal of approval to pets—the “overwhelming majority” of which the case says are sick as a result of their puppy mill upbringing—based on the parties’ compensation agreement.
Bookending the above allegations are claims that Petland offers its customers sham advisory and vet services as a means to dissuade pet owners from seeking independent veterinary help, while also taking this opportunity to up-sell customers with pet foods and “registration kits.” From the lawsuit, in summary:
“Petland has been able to successfully execute this fraudulent scheme because it conceals from its customers, among other things: (a) that its inspections of animals by veterinarians with financial ties to Petland are inherently unreliable and are performed after Petland has already purchased the animals; (b) that PAWSitive is an affiliate of Petland that exists to maximize store profits, not an independent claims agency for pet owners; and (c) that Petland’s ‘preferred veterinarians’ are likewise incentivized or instructed to act in the best interest of Petland, and not its customers and their pets.”