Cat accused of trespassing wins $125,000 settlement, owner calls for policy changes
BELLEVUE, Wash. - A Bellevue woman received a settlement of $125,000 after her tabby cat Miska was accused of trespassing in a Bellevue neighborhood.
"This case was about the unjustified and incredible prosecution of a domestic house cat in Bellevue," said Jon Zimmerman, cat owner Anna Danieli's attorney. "This was really an historic settlement involving a cat in the state of Washington."
Attorney Jon Zimmerman says Anna called him after her family's cat was taken away, and she received thousands of dollars in fines. Zimmerman and co-counsel, attorney Jeffrey Possinger, argued in the case that Miska is not a "vicious" cat as had been alleged, but is instead a loving pet. Zimmerman said Miska was just "being a cat" when the citations started rolling in.
"The cat and its owner were issued more than 30 violations," said Zimmerman.
After looking at the number of violations, he believed that Miska was being targeted. "No other cat had been cited that many times in Bellevue or King County," said Zimmerman.
He said animal control took Miska away from Anna and the family at one point, until he stepped in. "Miska had been confined to the King County kitty jail," he said.
The legal team later discovered during the legal process that one of the complainants had a connection to animal control.
"In addition to being the head of animal control, the manager had filed some of his own complaints simply because Miska had lived in his neighborhood. So, that was a real serious conflict of interest," Zimmerman said.
"It wasn't until discovery in the case began to reveal, we began to realize, the scope of what was essentially a neighborhood dispute becomes much more because of the involvement of the government in it," said Jeffrey Possinger.
Both attorneys hope this lawsuit will lead to more transparency for pet owners about who is filing the complaints against their animals. They said in this case, there was a conflict of interest because the head of animal control was one of the neighbors who filed complaints, and the family didn't know it.
"Miss Danieli didn’t even know this individual, who had been the manager of animal control, this individual in her neighborhood had actually been filling these complaints until later on in the case," said Zimmerman.
Zimmerman says they also uncovered issues within Bellevue's city code, the place where Anna was told to go fight the citations didn't match up with the law.
"Where a person would adjudicate and fight a ticket involving one’s cat was essentially, a different place than was authorized under Bellevue law," he said.
"The King County code indicated that the place where tickets involving animals were held, was supposed to be the King County Hearing Examiner. But, the Bellevue city code, indicated that it had actually been another body called the King County Board of Appeals. ,Bellevue had never changed its law, even though they had contracted with King County and there had been a contract between King County and Bellevue to have laws that conformed with one another," Zimmerman explained further.
"We think that there actually may be some pet owners out there that have been unjustly and unlawfully prosecuted," said Zimmerman.
The attorneys say now that a settlement is reached, they are advocating for policy changes.
"A conflict of interest policy definitely needs to be put in place," said Jeffrey.
The two attorneys are also calling for more transparency and information for pet owners.
"Who is making the complaint, that a person had a right to know who is making a complaint against them as well as if that complainant is part of the agency," said Jeffrey.
"In a city that is a right-to-roam restricted city, then pet owners getting licenses for their cats should have the knowledge, and be told, cats are not allowed to roam the city," said Zimmerman. "We have a meeting set with King County and Bellevue as part of the settlement to see if we can achieve some policy changes for pet owners in Bellevue."
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We reached out for information from King County and Bellevue city leaders about the meeting.
Sunday we heard back from Bellevue Chief Communications Officer Brad Harwood. He did not comment on a future meeting. He did send a statement saying, "While this was a unique situation for the City of Bellevue, we are hopeful that our updates to city code -- regarding civil offenses involving animals -- will help ensure that future scenarios are resolved earlier and more clearly so pet owners and their neighbors can live without disruption. We are committed to continually improving our policies in partnership with King County."
On Monday, King County Regional Animal Services gave FOX 13 the following statement: "The feedback meeting has not been scheduled with RASKC at this point."