After breakup, court asked to determine who gets the dog

By Angela Underwood | Dec 5, 2017

HARRISBURG – The state Superior Court has upheld a trial court's ruling in a case involving a separated couple's fight over the ownership of a dog.

A Nov. 13 ruling by Judges Mary Jane Bowes, Carl Solano and Kate Ford Elliott found no favor with appellant Phares L. Huber and denied her appeal from a June judgment against Roger S. Smith to gain ownership of a collie the two shared before they separated.

The case dates back to 2012 when the couple lived together in Lancaster County and Smith purchased the pet from an Amish farm, the opinion states. Though Smith was the considered owner of the dog since he purchased it, Huber helped out with expenses during their relationship. 

When the relationship ended Huber requested two payments of $1,300 and $2,700 in 2015 to which Smith paid in full, the opinion states.

In 2016, after Smith relocated to Clearfield County the year prior, Huber filed a complaint against Smith arguing the collie be returned to her. A 2017, a bench trial was conducted, and Huber’s complaint was dismissed, allowing Smith to keep the dog he bought himself. 

Huber did not give up, filing post-trial motions and appeals that brought the matter before the three judges.

“Our scope of review is quite limited in cases in which the verdict of the trial judge is called into question,” Judge Ford Elliott wrote in the Nov. 15 order. “We are bound by the findings of the trial court which have adequate support in the record, as long as the findings do not evidence capricious disregard for competent and credible evidence.”

Citing Lou Botti Constr. v. Harbulak, the panel of judges deemed “absent an abuse of discretion we will not disturb a trial court’s findings of fact if they are supported by the record,” according to the Nov. 15 order.

Noting that the trial court did not find Huber’s testimony credible due to her licensing the dog after Smith left Lancaster and claiming that Smith owed her money for past animal expenses after they separated.

“Smith’s testimony, as opposed to [appellant’s], appeared credible to the court,” according to the Nov. 15 order. “Moreover, [Smith’s] testimony was overall consistent with claims of ownership of the dog; namely, that [Smith] cared or, licensed, and financially supported the dog.”

Noting that after careful review, the panel of judges deemed “the record supports the trial court’s factual findings,” and “the trial court, as sole assessor of credibility, was free to believe Smith’s testimony over appellant’s testimony,” according to the Nov. 13 order, adding the panel deemed no abuse of discretion.

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