Puppy Mill Protest Fallout: Ex-Owner of Pet Store in High-Stakes Fight with Grossmont Center

Mall sues Richard Fuller for $800,000 over broken lease. Fuller countersues for $400,000, saying shopping center didn't halt weekly protests that led him to close store.

A month after Pet Works shut down at Grossmont Center in the wake of 22 months of puppy mill protests, the mall sued owner Richard Fuller for $800,000 and attorney fees to recover money owed on its 12-year lease.

Then on March 1, alleging that Grossmont Center didn’t protect the pet store from the weekly protests, Fuller countersued for $400,000.

Court documents in the civil case reveal that Fuller, an 82-year-old San Diego resident, blamed the protests led by Sydney Cicourel as causing loss of revenue and eventually the shutdown—even though Fuller said in mid-December that he was closing mainly thanks to the poor economy.

In fact, Fuller modified his lease in January 2010 to reflect his lower income as a result of the protests, says a court filing by his attorney, Philip Dyson of La Mesa.

“The decrease in rent was not able to make up for the severe lost profits and revenues Fuller was experiencing due to the protesters,” Dyson wrote in a cross complaint filed in East County Superior Court.

Dyson wrote that “the successful protests of the animal rights group”—known then as San Diego Stop Puppy Mills—robbed Pet Works of almost all sales.

“Fuller was forced, due to the breaches of the lease on the part of Grossmont Center, and due to ‘civil commotion’ … to shut and abandon the Pet Works store … and to stop paying rent under the lease,” Fuller said in a nine-page filing dated Feb. 24, 2011.

Grossmont Center—represented by Cynthia Stelzer of the San Diego firm Kimball, Tirey and St. John—originally sued Fuller on Jan. 12, a little over a month after Pet Works closed. The mall sued Fuller $400,000 for breach of lease and $400,000 for breach of lease guaranty. Attorney Stelzer also asked for costs of the suit and “reasonable attorneys’ fees.”

The mall, acting as landlord, leased 2,747 square feet of space near the shopping center’s south end in January 2003, signing a lease that was to expire in January 2015. The annual rent started at $59,000 but rose over time. Grossmont Center also charged Fuller (and his wife, Joanne) a “marketing assessment” of $5,494 a year.

Attorney Dyson denied the mall’s allegations in a Feb. 24 “answer” filing on behalf of Richard Fuller Inc.

In Dyson’s countersuit, he argued that Grossmont Center had agreed to keep the common area outside Pet Works in a “neat, clean and orderly condition” and that the mall had the “right at any time to exclude and restrain any person from the use or occupancy of the Common Area.”

As well, Dyson wrote, the mall promised to “provide security officers for the Common Area.”

Dyson said Fuller had the right to quit the lease if it couldn’t operate because of “civil commotion.”

But starting in early spring 2009, Dyson said, Pet Works became the target of picketing and protests alleging the store sold “puppy mill” dogs.

Dyson wrote:

These protestors and picketers stood in front of the Pet Works store with banners and placards which dissuaded customers from buying pet supplies and animals. … The customers blocked the common sidewalk in front of the store and yelled at customers. … The protestors further left placards and signs against the windows … obscuring the puppies, kittens and other animals for sale … and further preventing patrons and customers from walking into the shop.”

Fuller immediately alerted mall management to the disturbances, Dyson wrote, saying security would give protesters written restrictions. But Dyson said security didn’t routinely meet the protesters.

On Sept. 18, 2010, Fuller wrote mall officials that if security didn’t clear the sidewalks of protesters, “Fuller would consider Grossmont Center in breach of lease,” Dyson wrote.

No trial has been set in the case assigned to Judge Joel R. Wohlfeil, according to court records. But many of Fuller’s allegations would be disputed—especially by Cicourel, whose group is now called Companion Animal Protection Society.

In a phone interview Thursday, Cicourel called the court arguments “ridiculous.”  She said protests on private property, especially in shopping centers, won U.S. Supreme Court approval in a 1980 decision called Pruneyard Shopping Center v. Robins.

“We made efforts to never block the sidewalk—and did not block the view of the windows,” she said.

In fact, when she saw members of her weekly protest group harassing customers, “I removed them” and banished them from the group, she said.

Cicourel said she knew the fire codes and complied with Grossmont Center’s requests.

“The mall was very receptive to both of us [the store and protest group],” she said. “We always abided by what [mall security] said.”

Cicourel also reacted Thursday to news that La Mesa’s city attorney warned the City Council about “expensive and protracted litigation” if the city passed an ordinance similar to West Hollywood’s to restrict the animals pet stores can sell.

When told that city staff was instructed only to “monitor” the year-old West Hollywood law, Cicourel lashed out at the council.

She likened the action to events in Wisconsin and the move by Republicans lawmakers to pass an anti-union bill without public notice. She was upset that she hadn’t been notified of the report by City Attorney Glenn Sabine.

“If this is government by the people, you have to have the people present,” Cicourel said.  “We didn’t have a chance to have a discussion with” city officials. “I am frustrated and disappointed.”

She blamed the council for being “pro-business,” and suggested “this was completely political” when it voted in mid-December to have city staff study an anti-puppy mill ordinance.

“I thought all along that they weren’t going to vote [for an ordinance],” she said. “I thought this was the plan all along.”

Meanwhile, Josh McClintock of El Cajon, one of the customers of Pet Works who gained notoriety with his sick Boston terrier Minne Moo, said in a phone interview Friday that he would be moving late this month to Seattle, where he’s found another job.

McClintock, a disabled Marine who served in Iraq, said he and his wife, Erin, had decided not to sue Fuller for veterinarian costs involved with Minnie Moo, who died Feb. 5 from what Cicourel’s group says were remnants of the dog’s puppy mill upbringing.

“I kind of want to let it rest,” he said. “My dog is gone.”

He said he’s grateful for the donations he’s received so far in the wake of a televised press conference outside the La Mesa police station Jan. 27, but also received a pledge from Cicourel to handle the balance of veterinarian costs.

Cicourel said she was waiting for other donations, but expected to donate between $2,000 and $2,300.

McClintock still misses Minnie Moo and “not hearing my puppy,” but will seek another therapy canine after he’s settled in Seattle.

“We’ll be rescuing another dog,” he said.

Kevin Boldin May 27, 2011 at 06:40 AM
WOW!!!! You must really hate the tea party!!! I completely understood the reference and even agreed with you but you can't help but go on the attack. It is so apparent that your narrow view is squarely on the big bad "totalitarian republicans". On the other hand, I take a broader view, I condemn both parties who continually ignore the sovereign rights of the people. Not only with the DC Home Rule but on just about every aspect of our lives. Maybe rereading the thread will help??? Stay with me now, and f-O-C-U-S There is an eerie familiarity about your position, republicans and tea partiers usurping the will of the people, umm?? Kind of like a group of people who launched a sustained 22 month long odyssey to destroy a business that did not agree with them because he refused stop buying puppy mill puppies? Wow, the correlation is striking is it not?
Janet Mercer-Grey May 27, 2011 at 11:49 AM
Extremely passionate people have been known to do extreme things! http://articles.latimes.com/2008/aug/18/news/OE-TRULL18 http://animalethics.org.uk/i-ch5-1-terror.html http://articles.sfgate.com/2009-03-20/bay-area/17215368_1_uc-santa-cruz-uc-berkeley-animal-rights http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,525039,00.html http://www.adl.org/learn/ext_us/ecoterrorism.asp?learn_cat=extremism&learn_subcat=extremism_in_america&xpicked=4&item=eco
Perri May 27, 2011 at 10:41 PM
@Janet, many here are not "ranting and raving" but practicing what I like to refer to as a very healthy debate or discussion. I can speak for myself and say I have learned a great deal here and hope that others have come to understand my position a bit. But your posting/insinuation above regarding animal rights (and those associated with it) and "terrorism" is incredibly offensive. I may be passionate about many things, but do not, will not, and refuse to engage in any behavior that would harm land, property or another living being. Period. To compare all animal activists to "terrorists" is utterly reprehensible. I love this country, I love animals and humans alike, and my efforts in all I do show just that. Many of us are just like you; we have full-time jobs, children, go to church on Sundays, support and volunteer in our communities, pay taxes and enjoy friends and family....without ever resorting to violence, threats, or forcible coercion of any kind. Terrorism and eco-terrorism has no place with me....and no place with the majority of us working on behalf of the voiceless ones.
Kevin Boldin May 30, 2011 at 07:01 AM
@Perri, First off, I’d like to say I’m completely impressed that you practice the concept of the “free market place of idea’s”. Most folks are partisan and will not budge on their position, period. Even when presented with empirical evidence! I learn every time I get into one of these discussions! Although I can’t speak for Janet I do understand where she is going. This is how I view it: When you have a group of people who don’t understand the concept of liberty, that it is, in fact, an individual right (even to make the wrong choice) and not a collective right continue with their actions unabated by any authority is dangerous. Further, when that group cannot and will not see or acknowledge the “line” crossed, they will have little hope making that delineation in the future. Posed in this context, when this group runs across a business owner who understands their rights to conduct legal business with whom they wish and refuses to capitulate and that owners business continues to thieve and maybe even succeeds in winning a law suit brought by this group, what then? It will only be a matter of time until this group faces in part or whole this exact confluence of events. As frustrations mount (and they will) does the group stop? Or will a few hardcore members take the law into their own hands because they believe they have the moral and ethical rights to act on the voiceless ones behalf?
Kevin Boldin May 30, 2011 at 07:17 AM
@Perri, I can clearly interpret your passion, in fact, I even agree with your work in many ways. I really get that you absolutely believe what you’ve stated above “I refuse to engage in any behavior that would harm land, property or another living being. Period.”. What I don’t understand is why this group does not understand that the pet stores are the business owners property?


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