Mack the dog was one of the unlikeliest clients of the year and the focus of one of the strangest cases of Timothy Sansone’s career.
Sansone, who heads Sandberg Phoenix & von Gontard’s appellate practice in St. Louis, led a team of attorneys in a pro bono fight for the boxer-mastiff mix. Mack was adopted from Rough Road Rescue in Perry County in 2015 by Jamie Patterson and her family. After the dog escaped several times, the shelter refused to return him, citing a provision in the adoption contract that allegedly allowed the shelter to reclaim the animal if the terms weren’t met.
Both a Perry County trial judge and the Court of Appeals Eastern District said the contract couldn’t be enforced and that Mack must be returned under the doctrine of replevin, a common-law civil remedy used to reclaim wrongfully-held property.
The Eastern District agreed that the shelter couldn’t claim a perpetual right to the dog the Pattersons had adopted.
“‘Every dog must have his day,’” Judge Lawrence Mooney wrote in the appellate court’s July ruling. “And today is Mack’s day.”
The unusual case then became even stranger. Rough Road’s founder, Steve Svehla, was ordered to return Mack. Instead, he claimed Mack had died and handed a devastated Patterson and her children a box allegedly containing the dog’s ashes. That prompted Sansone’s team to ask the appellate court to find Svehla in contempt for apparently allowing the case to proceed despite the dog’s death.
It also sought more information about Mack’s alleged — and suspiciously timed — demise.
“It seemed very odd that all of a sudden that we’d be learning about the dog dying at this juncture, right after the appellate court ordered that Mack be returned home,”
The shelter’s attorneys with Armstrong Teasdale quickly withdrew from the case, and in short order Svehla admitted that Mack was alive and well. The dog soon was reunited with the Patterson family.
Svehla since has been charged in Perry County with felony stealing in connection with Mack’s case. A trial is set for July. The Eastern District, however, ultimately denied the request for contempt.
Sansone wasn’t terribly surprised, though he recalled the frequent updates in the case that he’d relayed to the court’s staff attorney.
“If I were in her shoes, I would certainly have been scratching my head too,” he said.
Sansone said the case came to the attention of Sandberg Phoenix’s pro bono program when Zachary S. Rozier of the Arbeiter Law Offices in Perryville, who had represented the Pattersons at trial, mentioned the matter to Brittany Newell, a Sandberg associate who is from Perryville. Amanda Johnson, a former Sandberg associate now with Tucker Ellis, argued the case in the Eastern District, while Kenneth Goleaner helped handle the post-appeal twist.
“It was quite an experience,” Sansone said. “I was happy to have a role to play in it.”