The City of Auburn and Auburn Valley Humane Society (AVHS) settled a class action complaint in April. The complaint was settled out of court with a combined payment of $30,550.
Kilman v. City of Auburn, Auburn Valley Humane Society, and Phil Morgan
Adam Karp of Animal Law Offices filed the lawsuit on behalf of Jessica Kilman in December 2020. Kilman, an Auburn resident, alleges she experienced severe emotional distress due to AVHS’s refusal to return her emotional support dog, Max. Kilman sued for monetary damages, injunctive relief, and declaratory relief.
Initially filed in King County Superior Court, the complaint was filed as a class action complaint on behalf of “other class members [who] have suffered or will suffer irreparable economic and noneconomic damage, irreversible and adverse declarative and injunctive harm, including violation of their constitutional rights.”
The amended complaint was filed in the US District Court Western District (NO. 21-cv-00026) in January 2021.
Max is Kilman’s emotional support Shih Tzu who was eight years old at the time of the suit. Between 2017-2019, Max was impounded five times by AVHS. When Kilman didn’t pay her previous and existing fees to AVHS, Max was adopted out.
After hiring Karp and threatening litigation, Max was returned to Kilman almost eight months later.
Timeline of Kilman’s Interactions with AVHS
- June 2017- first impound. Max was returned the same day. AVHS voided Kilman’s $51 fee
- March 2019- second impound. Max was returned the next day. Kilman paid AVHS $30 for a pet license and $77 in fees
- May 2019- third impound. Max was returned the next day. Kilman paid AVHS $140 in fees
- June 2019- fourth impound. Max was returned three days later. Kilman paid AVHS $120 of $385 in fees. She agreed to pay the remaining $250 by July 2, but failed to do so
- Nov. 2019- fifth impound. Max was not returned when Kilman couldn’t pay her balance of $250 and her new fee of $602. Max was adopted out that same month to a new owner
- August 2020- Max is returned to Kilman after she threatens litigation
- Dec. 2020- Kilman proceeds with a civil complaint suit in King County Superior Court
- Feb. 2021-The case then moves to United States District Court
- April 2020- AVHS and the City of Auburn settle out of court with Kilman, thus nullifying the intended class action case
Lorrie Kilman, Jessica’s mother, emailed Morgan June 22, 2019, after Max’s fourth impound. In her email she stated, “so her fines are $360 to get my grandchildren’s beloved pet back. My daughter gets $400 a month. She can’t afford to spend her entire income on dog bail.”
When Kilman failed to pay the $250 from Max’s fourth impoundment on time, Morgan emailed Lorrie Kilman. In his July 3 email Morgan warned, “please know that if she does not come in by today and honor her commitment to us, the next time her dog comes into our shelter…she will not get her dog back…no matter the circumstances…no matter how sad the kids are…no matter how many letters you write….”[sic]
Morgan also responded to an email from Kilman’s aunt on November 9, 2019, stating if Kilman did not claim Max and pay the balance of $852 by the next day, Max would become the property of AVHS.
The complaint alleged Kilman, her children, and Max suffered severe emotional distress from the actions taken by the defendants. According to Kilman, the distress was primarily the result of the eight-month separation of Max from Kilman and her children.
“He wasn’t just my support animal he was mine and my childrens family. We love him and miss him deeply,”[sic] Kilman posted in a community Facebook group.
A $100 reward was also offered to anyone who could lead Kilman to the people that adopted Max.
Replying to a comment on her post, Kilman said “the humane society broke our family apart all because Phil was mad at me for calling the mayor. Its not right. I had a 3rd of the money and asked if they would take it n hold him for 5 days and id pay the rest plus boarding fees and he straight up told me cuz i called the mayor he would not do me any favors.”[sic]
Conditions of Settlement
In 2011, the City of Auburn entered an agreement with AVHS to provide sheltering, licensing, surrender, and adoption services for the city. Since then, AVHS has not altered its fee chart to reflect any changes.
“It is unknown if the City in fact ever reviewed the Fee Chart but, if it did, it condoned such unlawful rates and, if it did not, it shirked its duty to the citizens of Auburn and, in any event, improperly delegated legislative authority to a private nonprofit corporation whose decisionmakers are not elected by the public,” states Kilman’s amended complaint.
The amended complaint alleged, “the city, through its designee AVHS, has charged citizens escalating impound fees drastically out of proportion with reasonable, comparable rates throughout the region and, in any event, without lawful authority.”
As part of the settlement, AVHS agreed to remove fee-shifting and liquidated damages clauses from its Return to Owner form. AVHS also agreed to provide city staff with all prices and fees provided by the shelter. City staff then presented the fee schedule to City Council members on May 10 in a public meeting.
The settlement included payment of $5,000 from the City of Auburn and $25,550 from AVHS. AVHS agreed to pay the City of Auburn’s portion of the settlement agreement, paying the full $30,550.
“The City is satisfied with the resolution of this matter and is encouraged by the corrective action being taken by AVHS to better serve their customers, including Auburn residents,” City of Auburn Public Information Officer Kalyn Brady said.
Complete settlement agreement:
ESD Max 2.0
This is not the first time AVHS has adopted out an emotional support animal. In March of this year, AVHS adopted out a German Shepherd mix named Max while his owner was recovering from a hospitalization. Max was reunited with his owner after the new family saw the repeated pleas on social media.
AVHS’ new fee schedule goes into effect July 1.
AVHS and Morgan’s representation, Davis Rothwell Earle, did not return the Auburn Examiner’s request for comment.
To write this article, the Auburn Examiner reviewed the Auburn Valley Humane Society fee chart, the May 10 City Council Study Session, court documents from Kilman v. City of Auburn, along with the settlement documents from this case.