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.

Craig S. Maxwell May 25, 2011 at 09:01 PM
Eat dogs? Well, I wasn't planning to, but who knows? We have a couple in my neighborhood that bark all night. With the right seasoning, I might kill two birds with...ooops!--I mean, solve two problems--at once. And I couldn't have interfered with my cat; he was having so much fun. And I'm not the tough guy, my cat is (to whom, by the way, I never compared myself).
b calvillo May 25, 2011 at 09:08 PM
Of course you would. First, it's animals, then people. The minds of animal abusers are so easy to manipulate to have them admit their intentions. It's too easy.
Craig S. Maxwell May 25, 2011 at 09:20 PM
Hey, maybe the Chinese were on to something(?) Don't knock it 'till you've tried it. I can see it now: dog burgers at McDonalds. Maybe they'll call it the McDogle sandwich
b calvillo May 25, 2011 at 09:36 PM
It's not surprising that you're a racist and generalize an entire culture. Keep talking because so far we know you're a sadist and a racist who just trolls for attention. This is about puppy mills and freedom of speech.
Craig S. Maxwell May 25, 2011 at 09:48 PM
A racist, too? My goodness! I thought I was only a "speciesist." You might be sorry if that McDogle sandwich (with Chinese noodles on the side) turns out to half as tasty as I suspect.
Kevin Boldin May 25, 2011 at 10:27 PM
@Perri, I believe we can see eye to eye on many issues. It seems to me, you actually have read and thought about what’s been posted. Yes, correct, we have right to engage in peaceful protest(s). No, business cannot exploit child labor, that was abolished a long time ago in this country. And yes, many if not all us are very compassionate and loving toward our pets. But let’s be completely honest, no body mounts a concerted and sustained effort spanning 22 months to simply “raise awareness” and educate the public (at the same location). No, this was and continues to be an absolute attack against this business and others like it achieve this groups desired goal. Implied: “If you don’t comply with what we say, we will picket you until you are out of business”. If these people truly wanted to just raise awareness and educate, it would take all of one meeting with the store owner. Then, the owner could make an informed choice. Compelling a group or individual is not “FREE WILL”, I contend it is not up to this group to make the choice for everyone, for our community. It is crystal clear they have no authority to do so.
Kevin Boldin May 25, 2011 at 10:29 PM
@Perri continued..., Further, think of this way. If they continue to be successful, pet stores will not only need to register with city, state and federal officials, they will also need to contact this group for their approval. If that becomes the norm, how many other groups with their absolute moral authority will need to grant approval to operate a pet store? You can see where this leads can’t you? The road to hell was paved with good intentions, this group is another example of a brick on that road…..
Scott H. Kidwell May 26, 2011 at 12:42 AM
If the touring activists "only purpose is consumer awareness" why parade in front of local city councils up and down the state with a sample ordinance to enact? As an interesting addition to this ongoing back and forth how about everyone using their real names and sharing where they live. I'll start. I am a lifetime San Diego East County resident and have been in La Mesa since 1984.
Perri May 26, 2011 at 01:21 AM
@Kevin, again, comments much appreciated. I still think we are looking at this from two different viewpoints. I'm not approaching this as an individual with moral superiority and a desire to grant anyone approval to operate a business. What I, and others, are attempting to do is ensure mills lose their demand for pups; while working on the grander scale to shut them down completely at the source AND working to enact stronger laws to protect these dogs (including but not limited to my local city council and statewide depts., etc.) Unfortunately, a meeting with a business owner is rare if not completely impossible. I have befriended a few who have been incredibly open to my personal experiences with mills, as well as video/USDA documentation and the like, and changes have come and with that and end to their support of these miserable mills. But too many others won't even take a few minutes to give me any floor time whatsoever. What then? If these same businesses knowingly dealt with child labor (for example), would that be enough to stand on moral grounds with those who believe the puppy mill issue isn't deserving of attention on this smaller scale (i.e. protests at local businesses?) I'm all for SBO's and wish them a wealth of success; but cringe at those who refuse to look at the reality and continue to support these mills we all despise, when there are other humane options that can still ensure their success should they choose to sell animals.
Sharon Cooper May 26, 2011 at 02:40 AM
@ Kevin: Your question has been answered. I can't help it if you don't like the answer so you ignore it or pretend it's not there. It is ridiculous to try to get logic from someone like yourself who simply doesn't understand it. Of course our ancestors didn't picket the British government. That would be pretty hard over here when they were across the pond. What they did do is what you hate: they interrupted trade; destroyed businesses; boycotted tradesmen and businesses, including whole industries, etc. Is that a part of our history that doesn't fit into your tea party mentality? Sorry- that is what they did. What, exactly, do you think throwing that tea was exactly? You people spout off a lot of words and haven't got a CLUE what they mean. A totalitarian ideologue is someone who would oppress the weak and powerless, as well as other parts of our society, not attempt to keep a business from profitting off the backs of the powerless or picketing a store. You know NOTHING about American ideals unless they come from a business ledger, and that is NOT what our ancestors gave their lives for when they founded this country. Trying to talk sense to someone who cannot see beyond the end of his own nose or the suffering of others is useless. This man's business didn't fail because of picketers. If failed because of his own stupidity. Had he realized how sensitive HUMANS are to the plight of these dogs, he would have had better success. Bye.
Scott H. Kidwell May 26, 2011 at 02:59 AM
Well I guess Sharon provided the final word so the discussion is over, eh? We have the judgment of complete ignorance by anyone with an opposing view, an charge of being a slack jaw "tea party" type and a condescending moral superiority of a fire and brimstone circuit preacher. All that was missing was the triple dog dare, nail-in-the coffin, coup d'état insult of "you're all poo-poo heads!"
Sydney Cicourel May 26, 2011 at 04:33 AM
So nicely put, Sharon. Thank you! One can get so exhausted trying to speak to someone through a closed door that is painted shut. Hope you stop by our booth this Saturday at the Santee Street Fair!
b calvillo May 26, 2011 at 04:50 AM
Thank you everyone who was a part of changing cruel businesses practices (although the owner was too stupid and greedy to go humane). We hope more retail stores will go humane otherwise they will be shut down and the mills will have no buyers - one day this will happen!
Kevin Boldin May 26, 2011 at 05:55 AM
@Sharon, Clearly the difference between the revolutionaries of our founding is that they "interrupted trade; destroyed businesses; boycotted tradesmen and businesses, including whole industries, etc…" to create freedom! Whereas you do the same to stifle it. You really should invest in a dictionary but let me do the work for you. Totalitarian 1. of or pertaining to a centralized government that does not tolerate parties of differing opinion and that exercises dictatorial control over many aspects of life. 2. exercising control over the freedom, will, or thought of others; authoritarian; autocratic. Ideologue 1. a person who zealously advocates an ideology. Need I say more?
Kevin Boldin May 26, 2011 at 06:30 AM
@Perri, Your approach may be different than the others. Again, you appear to be on the right track and tactics by changing the law. I see no harm in picketing any business either. That's really not the point until the threshold of authoritarian ideology is broken. No one said anything in life was easy, getting the attention of people is difficult. But once you have it and are able to articulate your position, have faith that people are basically good and will move in the right direction. If they choose another direction, then you have done your job, you can rest assured that you have made every attempt at making the world a better place. Look at those around you, I believe you are probably a little brighter and are able to understand my premise. Do you really want to associate with people like 'b calvillo' who state empirically "We hope more retail stores will go humane otherwise they will be shut down and the mills will have no buyers - one day this will happen!" You do understand the implied threat? Does this sound like freedom of thought or expression? Or is this what you understand it to be on its face (Do what we say or you will be made to suffer our wrath).
Kevin Boldin May 26, 2011 at 06:56 AM
@Sydney and Sharon, I know exactly how you feel, you should look to your dwelling for the fresh paint though. Besides, I didn't know your group has the business acumen to interpret why pet stores fail or succeed. Claiming failure due to the owners stupidity does not wash your hands of the damage done. Convincing the rest of us that 22 months of picketing had no ill effect is laughable. You are complicit even if you convince yourselves otherwise.
Scott H. Kidwell May 26, 2011 at 12:45 PM
Hey, here is an idea! Sharon, Sydney and their posse can tap their personal finances to start up a business in competition with the bad guys. She can get a loan, rent a building, purchase inventory, get a license, pay for the various insurance requirements, hire an accountant to help her pay the proper taxes to the city, county, state and federal government, find employees will to work for what she is willing to pay, hire an attorney for the inevitable lawsuits for any number of reasons, work 50-60-70 hours a week herself, and advertise that her puppies are superior to the bad guy's puppies. Then let's say Sharon wins the market place only to have a touring group of activists picket her successful business because truly moral people believe in only free range puppies bred in the wild and not in kennels under the thumb of matchmaking human fascists.
Sharon Cooper May 26, 2011 at 04:40 PM
@Kevin: I had intended to let this go, however, this is too much. The Founding Fathers did all of the above not to create freedom, but to get their point across and overturn UNJUST LAWS AND END OPPRESSION! Freedom was an afterthought created by the Britsh government's unwillingness to grant our forebears the simple right to representation within the government (such as what DC has now). Again, you use the terminology without knowing the whys and wherefores. You also don't need to lecture ME on our founders: believe me, that would be laughable. By YOUR definition, your tea party friends certainly fit the bill of totalitarian ideologues! Look at the way they have undercut a law voted on by the state of Missouri within only a few months of its being voted into law! If that is not anti-democratic and against the principles of this country, then I don't know what is. You people love our system of government, as long as it agrees with your narrow interpretation of facts, most of which you have wrong anyway. In no way do any of the actions of these protests or attempts to end puppy mills smack of totalitarian ideologue behavior. Restraints are put in place to protect the innocent for a reason: a reasonable person understands this. Protests are our rights as citizens, whether protesting an unjust law or a store that sells puppy mill pupppies. Again, using words and terms without understanding does not make you right, but just more wrong.
Kevin Boldin May 26, 2011 at 05:49 PM
@Sharon, What’s’ striking is that you have not once yet denied my assertion of your culpability. I know you can do it, stand proud in your willingness to strip liberty from those that don’t agree with you. Please, tell the world that you are wholly justified in shutting down a business that doesn’t fit your utopian vision. All for the greater good, right.
Sharon Cooper May 26, 2011 at 07:13 PM
This is RIDICULOUS! This has been asked and answered already! You don't like the answer and don't agree with it, therefore you keep insisting I haven't answered it. Either that, or you simply can't understand English (how about a combination of both?). This is it: no more responding to your inane refusals to accept answers to questions you don't like or reminders on what your rights and privileges are as a citizen of this country. I am tired of the whining and ridiculous arguments when you simply won't listen to anyone else except your own extremist viewpoint. Grow up.
Kevin Boldin May 26, 2011 at 08:02 PM
@Sharon, Actually, you’re right, it is ridiculous. You stand on your constitutional rights to protest, to which I’ve agreed with time and time again. What you refuse to accept and acknowledge is the motive that supports your protest. I’ll make it more palatable for you, you protest pet stores that sell puppy mill puppies to either stop the sale of puppy mill puppies or stop the businesses that sell puppy mill puppies?
Kevin Boldin May 26, 2011 at 11:46 PM
And Silence… You see folks, I put this in the simplest of terms. Sharon and the others will not admit that their primary motive is to close down businesses that do not agree with their position. If you are an astute reader, and I know many of you are, you will realize that taking that position is in fact totalitarian. They participate in and strive to control others for their perceived good of the community. All I ask, is if you have this position, be an honest broker. Stand up and admit it, be proud of your position. We can then participate in the free market place of ideas and have a discussion on the merits of your position. Because totalitarian has a negative connotation in our culture they refuse to do so. I would bet that there are more than a handful of these folks who also subscribe to some sort of centralized authoritarian style of government. I.E. Socialism, Communism etc… And you know, that’s ok too. Our country has a long history of folks who believe in these forms of government. I am a firm believer that in all things we can find common ground. Sharon did make a point we both can agree on “(such as what DC has now)” she is completely right, our elected officials in DC are usurping the will of the people daily, that we both can agree on. Again, all I ask, be an honest broker, be proud of your views and state them clearly, only then can we have an open and honest discussion.
Sharon Cooper May 27, 2011 at 02:24 AM
@Kevin: You are an unbelievable idiot! My point about DC, which you DELIBERATELY refuse to acknowledge, is that the DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA has NO VOTING REPRESENTATION in congress even though it has a larger population than a couple of states! They are expected to pay the SAME taxes the rest of us do, yet are at the will of a hostile (right now) congress that frequently dictates what they can and can't do DESPITE home rule! Just this week the toltalitarians (read Republicans) in congress once again usurped home rule in DC to suit their own narrow political purposes. That is why, as I stated before, I CHOSE to not answer you again: because you won't acknowledge when someone has answerd a question and DELIBERATELY misconstrue the answer when one either gives one or tries to make a point. You REFUST to look beyond the end of your own nose to see what is going on around you. Your own narrow viewpoint is the ONLY THING you either see, hear, feel, or wish to perceive as having any merit. You can't even read anything without putting your own 'facts' into something when what is being said isn't related to your crazy tea party mentality. Who but a crazy nut would get a line about DC home rule and turn it into some crackpot tea party blurb? Again: THIS IS IT! I couldn't let your obviouls IGNORANCE on that one pass because it was so APPPALLING. Now open a book; learn something; then try to sound intelligent. It would be a very pleasant change.
Scott H. Kidwell May 27, 2011 at 04:59 AM
And there it is. When others simply don't buy into your brand of logic and all else has failed, go for the throat with the triple dog dare, nail-in-the coffin, coup d'état insult of "you're all poo-poo heads!"
Janet Mercer-Grey May 27, 2011 at 05:12 AM
All this ranting and raving by the protesters reminds me of extreme Churchers like the Westboro Baptist protesters.
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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