UPDATE: Judge denies motion brought by [Councilwoman] Hillary Goldberg, to dismiss the action.
(note: Ms. Goldberg was sued in her individual capacity)
UPDATE 2: Counsel for Ms. Goldberg sent a response***. It is appended below in full.
UPDATE 3: Teaneck’s Township manager sent a response****. It is appended below in full.
UPDATE 4: Hillary Goldberg submitted an Answer, Demand for Discovery and Jury Demand on June 5th.
A request for comment was sent to all parties and the post may be updated with replies
For those unfamiliar with the saga that is Wayne Puppies, Teaneck, I will offer a brief recap:
- 2018: Teaneck banned the sale of dogs and cats in retail stores*.
- 2021: Wayne Puppies (which has existed in Wayne, NJ for some time) sought to create a “store” on Cedar Lane. That store would sell dog supplies, food, etc… and would house puppies too young for sale (which would eventually go to the Wayne location when appropriate).
“All puppies will be delivered approx. at the gestational age of 8 weeks and will be thoroughly checked by a licensed veterinarian before classifying as fit for sale. If at any case the animal is not fit for sale, we will set the animal for adoption. The puppies will continue to be under veterinary supervision for weekly checkups. The only supply sold in our store will be the same pet food (wet and dry) that is used in our store to feed the puppies with.”
– email from Alexandra Hofman, owner of Wayne Puppies to Teaneck Zoning Officer dated 9/9/21
The idea was a sort of “take a look at this doggie in the window… and buy it elsewhere” type model.
- The Township initially gave Wayne Puppies a certificate of occupancy, with the understanding of all parties that they could not sell animals in Teaneck.
Description of Work / Use:
LIVE PET STORE – PUPPIES ONLY AS PER DOCUMENTS SUBMITTED THROUGH 10-20-2021.
NO SALE OF LIVE CATS OR DOGS PERMITTED
PER SEC. 6-68
- 2022: The plaintiff alleges that the Township eventually changed positions and the company sued Teaneck and Hillary Goldberg, claiming:
“…the Township of Teaneck is not entitled to any deference in its revocation of its approval of the business plan as it was not based on an interpretation of any statute or Code, but rather based on outside forces, including political pressure placed on the Township members; especially with an election upcoming in November 2022.”
– Complaint at paragraph 39
Why Hillary Goldberg?
According to the complaint, while running for a seat on the council, [now Councilwoman] Hillary Goldberg is alleged to have created a petition on change.org which the plaintiff (Wayne Puppies) claimed was not only defamatory but done in order to raise her position as a candidate.
Hilary Goldberg Defames Wayne Puppies to Gain a Political Advantage:
(emphasis in original)
In the legal action (a copy of the docket is available here), attorneys for Ms. Goldberg sought to dismiss the case, saying that nothing Ms. Goldberg said was, in fact, defamatory or created tortious interference.
The claims made against Ms. Goldberg include:
- Tortious Interference with Contractual Relations
- Tortious Interference with Prospective Economic Advance
Ms. Goldberg filed a Motion to Dismiss the Complaint, contending that:
- The mischaracterization of the Petition is in bad faith and further proves that Plaintiff’s defamation claim is meritless.
- The fact that Plaintiff specifies that the only alleged interference was with prospective clients demonstrates that no actual contracts existed for Ms. Goldberg to interfere with and this claim must be dismissed as a matter of law.
- Ms. Goldberg’s actions are not malicious and do not meet the necessary requirements to be deemed tortious interference with a prospective economic advantage.
The full briefing of the motion is available below.
The plaintiff (Wayne Puppies) states in their opposition to Goldberg’s motion to dismiss:
“Goldberg’s argument reminds me of my childhood teachers accusing “someone” of wrongdoing, staring right at them, and stating “I am not naming names, but you know who you are.” The purpose of the petition is clear, and it was not to simply argue the virtues of adoption. Instead, it was a targeted and purposeful attack on Wayne Puppies, that amounts to actionable defamation.”
– Opposition to Motion to Dismiss
In response, Goldberg states in reply:
“Folksy wisdom aside, this is what is required for a defamation claim as a matter of law, and thus, Ms. Goldberg’s Motion to Dismiss must be granted.
“Unfortunately for Plaintiff, this motion will be decided in a New Jersey Court, not in counsel’s former elementary school. Here, where the Change.org petition does not actually make the alleged defamatory statements about Wayne Puppies, this motion to dismiss must be granted.””
– Reply to Motion to Dismiss
The motion was indeed heard and decided in a New Jersey Court on May 26th.
Unfortunately for Hillary Goldberg, the motion to dismiss the complaint was denied (for the reasons stated on the record**)
A request was sent to all parties to obtain the reasons stated on the record and the post will be updated with additional information / replies / comments.
June 5, 2023: An answer was submitted by Hillary Goldberg
* At the time this law was passed, I objected to the passage because it was poorly written and
could would lead to a scenario such as this one.
** I was not able to watch the proceedings (held via zoom) because they took place over a religious holiday. I did reach out to all sides of the litigation to request the video/transcript as well as if they had any comment on the decision. I will post any responses received, in full, under this post.
*** At 4:40pm on 5/30/2023, Counsel for Ms. Goldberg, John Coyle responded to my request for comment:
This is John Coyle, counsel for Ms. Goldberg.When Wayne Puppies was not able to open up in Teaneck, it filed this frivolous lawsuit against Ms. Goldberg, the Town, and others. Against Ms. Goldberg, the Complaint claims she defamed it by calling Wayne Puppies a “puppy mill.”However, counsel for Wayne Puppies admitted that at no point in the Change.org petition did Hillary Goldberg actually say that Wayne Puppies was a puppy mill. Despite this, he argued to the Court that people who read the petition would have thought she meant it about Wayne Puppies and the motion to dismiss was denied.It is undisputed that the New Jersey Attorney General found that Wayne Puppies committed 27 violations of the Pet Purchase Protection Act for its failure to adhere to laws designed to protect consumers from purchasing unhealthy pets.The truth is the ultimate defense in a defamation action. We fully expect Ms. Goldberg and all defendants to be vindicated and this frivolous lawsuit to ultimately be dismissed.John D. Coyle, Esq.COYLE & MORRIS LLP201 Littleton Road, Suite 210Morris Plains, NJ 07950T: 973.370.3519
**** At 8:50am on 5/31/2023, Township Manager Dean Kazinci responded to my request for comment:
Good morning. The Township possesses no record/transcript regarding the motion recently heard in Court on the matter involving Ms. Goldberg as a private citizen. Also, the Township does not comment on pending litigation in which we’re listed as a defendant.
Dean B. Kazinci, CPM CHR
Township of Teaneck
818 Teaneck Road
Teaneck, NJ 07666
201-837-1600 ext. 1001