Pennsylvania Record

Monday, December 9, 2019

Discovery battle ongoing in defamation case surrounding fired animal shelter humane officer

State Court

By Nicholas Malfitano | Nov 20, 2019

Griffinpond

SCRANTON – A former animal control officer who sued the animal shelter she once worked in and two members of its board of directors for defamation, claiming the defendants falsely accused her of employing cruel and violent methods to euthanize animals, wants them to comply with her requests for discovery.

Sandy Scala of Nicholson initially filed suit in the Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas on Aug. 31, 2018 against Griffin Pond Animal Shelter (GPAS) of South Abington, its Board of Directors, plus two of its members, Daniel Mahoney of Clarks Summit, and Douglas Boyle of Peckville.

By August 2017, a rescue dog named Midge had been at the shelter for 14 months. At that time, per the shelter’s policies and procedures, Midge was euthanized.

Further, “a social media frenzy occurred, raising wild and unsubstantiated facts surrounding the same” and a “social media blitz by anonymous people and others called for the resignation of GPAS employees.”

In response, members of GPAS and its Board of Directors wanted to inform the public of the actual acts surrounding Midge’s euthanasia and reassure the public that all of the shelter’s proper procedures and policies were followed, according to the lawsuit.

Defendants Boyle and Mahoney took control of the matter, and Boyle placed himself in charge as liaison between the shelter, public and the press, according to the lawsuit.

Boyle refused to allow the shelter to inform the public and the press of the actual circumstances surrounding Midge’s euthanasia, the suit says.

On Aug. 22, 2017, the Board of Directors suspended the executive director of the Shelter, Edward Florentino. Two days later, on Aug. 24, 2017, Florentino resigned due to continued threats and not wanting to jeopardize the safety of his family, the suit says.

The previous day, Scala was informed through a hand-delivered letter that she was being placed on administrative leave during the finance and governance committee’s investigation of allegations against her as the shelter’s humane officer.

An anonymous whistleblower email address and hotline were then set up to solicit information and complaints regarding Florentino and Scala, the suit says.

That September, Mahoney communicated to the board and others that complaints had been received about Scala, alleging she euthanized cats by placing cats in bags and slamming them on concrete, decapitating animals and other forms of torture, the suit says.

Though other members of the board doubted the veracity of the anonymous complaints, Boyle and Mahoney communicated that they had eyewitnesses to the accusations, the suit says. However, the board wanted a neutral investigator to conduct a more thorough look into the charges, according to the lawsuit.

Per the suit, Mahoney and Boyle ignored the requests, but claimed their investigation proved the accusations to be true. During this time, several members of the board either resigned or let their membership terms expire without renewal. Subsequent to the departures, Boyle was made president of the board.

On Oct. 2, 2017, the defendants fired the plaintiff and then communicated to the public the alleged reasons for her departure – in effect, publicly identifying her as violent abuser and murderer of animals, despite the plaintiff claiming those accusations had no basis in fact, according to the lawsuit.

“As a direct result of defendants’ wrongful conduct, plaintiff has been identified as an individual that commits acts which constitute the crime of cruelty to animals, an indictable offense. Plaintiff, Sandy Scala, a person who has dedicated her life to prosecuting those who abuse animals, is now seen in her community as a hypocrite that tortured dogs, enjoyed killing animals, placed cats in bags and slammed them on concrete, indiscriminately put down animals for no reason and enjoyed it," the suit says.

As a direct result of the defendants’ wrongful conduct, plaintiff Sandy Scala has been denied the opportunity to work in a field she has devoted her life to,” the suit reads.

On Nov. 5, 2018, defendants Griffin Pond Animal Shelter, Boyle and Mahoney denied Scala’s assertions and claimed they were barred by a vast number of defenses, including the doctrines of privilege, justification, fair comment, truth, common interest and others, including by the statute of limitations.

In contrast with Scala’s account, the defendants claimed they did not publish the allegations regarding Scala or her allegedly-wrongful conduct to third parties, did not state the allegations were true, that the shelter received complaints from nine individuals who were said to have witnessed Scala’s allegedly-wrongful conduct and did not publish defamatory statements about Scala to the shelter’s employees, volunteers or supporters, among other defenses.

In response, on Dec. 4, 2018, Scala and her counsel replied that the defendants’ new matter consisted of conclusions of law to which no response was required, and that the allegations communicated about the plaintiff were in fact directly under the defendants’ control.

Proceedings remain ongoing in the Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas, where the plaintiff is seeking to compel the defendants to respond to her discovery requests.

For counts of punitive damages, defamation and false light (invasion of privacy), the plaintiff is seeking damages, jointly and severally, in excess of $50,000, plus interest, costs and a trial by jury.

The plaintiff is represented by Christopher P. Caputo of Caputo & Mariotti, in Moosic.

The defendants are represented by John T. Ellis in Scranton, plus W. Christian Moffitt and Joseph A. McNelis of Fox Rothschild, in Blue Bell.

Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas case 18-CV-4974

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at nick.malfitano@therecordinc.com

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Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas

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