$500,000 Default Judgment Issued Against Defendant Over Barking Dog

By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor

howling-wolfIn what certainly will be a good civics lesson taught to high school teenagers to prepare them for the world ahead, Seattle resident Denise Horton’s neighbor was awarded a half million dollars in a default judgment in a dispute over her dog’s barking. Denise failed to report to trial, claiming it was a “bunk.”

The bunk caught up to her after the sheriff’s office arrived to serve her with a writ of execution for her house.

The action stemmed from a dispute between Denise and her immediate neighbor Woodrow Thompson who stated in his thirty six page complaint that her dog Cawper barked loudly enough the sound could be measured at 128 decibels through double-paned windows. For reference, 128 decibels is just under the noise level for the takeoff of a military jet. Woodrow claimed Cawper engaged in “raucously, wildly bellowing, howling and explosively barking” and that he is an outrage, with intentional infliction of emotional distress — and that his barking caused “profound emotional distress.”

Denise said in an interview: “In my head, everything was so bogus that he’d been doing, I don’t know why, I just didn’t think it was real or something.”

After Denise not responding to process, the Superior Court awarded Woodrow the default judgment. She has since retained counsel in an attempt to have the judgment reversed which despite what some believe to be a frivolous case filed by Woodrow this will prove to be a difficult endeavor especially considering how reluctant state courts are to reverse these actions.

Though the original judge declined to reverse his ruling, a subsequent hearing is scheduled.

By Darren Smith

Source: KOMO News

The views expressed in this posting are the author’s alone and not those of the blog, the host, or other weekend bloggers. As an open forum, weekend bloggers post independently without pre-approval or review. Content and any displays or art are solely their decision and responsibility.

61 thoughts on “$500,000 Default Judgment Issued Against Defendant Over Barking Dog”

  1. alan tiger … you make a good point and I admit that I missed it. That’s probably because I have never evaded or otherwise ignored a summons of any kind…just would never occur to me. I’ve had a few, sometimes just as a witness, a couple times as a “hostile” witness, and others to represent my case, with attorney at my side, when the court so ordered.

    Minor exception: with the IRS anything remotely resembling a summons or other appointment was re-sent by me to my attorneys, which the IRS knew as my attorneys of record, and were bound to deal with them exclusively, by their own regulations. BTW..by following the rules, I won that IRS matter.

  2. I was watching television this morning and they had a short clip about this story and showed the dog barking on video. As a dog I can tell you that the dog was complaining about an electrical problem posing fire hazard in the attic. The dog was saying “circle the wagons and turn off the juice”. So when new guy takes over the house do not be surprised when it finally burns down from the wire short in the attic. Woff.

  3. regardless of the opinions of various posters about dogs and their barks, no one has addressed (or even mentioned) the only important legal issue raised in this thread. a judgment was entered against the dog owner on default. what must the dog owner do to vacate this default?

    all states have a procedure in place to do this, whether by statute or court rule. generally, the defaulter must explain to the court why no effort was made to respond to the legal papers. the process servers / private investigators who “serve” legal papers are often scumbags (hence the time-honored phrase “sewer service”). but what kind of dummy receives a fancy pre-printed document with the words SUMMONS AND COMPLAINT on it, and tosses it into the circular file? moreover, most states require that a defaulter on liability be given notice of one last chance to appear at trial and contest the amount of damages.

    washington state has court rule 60, which provides for the vacatur of a default judgment. there are eleven specific possibilities for vacatur (such as a clerk’s error, excusable neglect, fraud, lack of jurisdiction, newly-discovered evidence, etc.) plus a generic twelfth: “any other reason justifying relief from the operation of the judgment.”

    yes, it is almost certainly a frivolous case. but what is the excuse for ignoring it?

    1. Alan Tiger – I think she did not think it was real. That would fall under the last rule. As a former process server I am very proud of the service I did. In Arizona, all I had to do was identify the person and technically they were served. I had people who tried to dodge service and depending how creative they were depended on how obnoxious I was when I finally served them. One guy annoyed me enough that I let the papers deep in his oleander bushes. He was still served.

  4. Something that needs to be remembered here is that this woman is not at risk of losing her house because her dog barked, she’s at risk of losing her house because she ignored service of process…

  5. Jude…you are correct they can’t get to 128 decibels. A rare freak might occur, but the vast majority cannot come close. Not even the most deep throated Newfoundland can achieve that. I have no idea what “evidence” was presented, first the woman cited should have not ignored the summons…if you don’t take your day in court, if it goes badly, it is your fault for not trying. As for the reported “evidence” of a decibel meter, as a long time instrumentation person, and Industry representative to the NIST (formerly the NBS) for 20 years, I’d have immediately challenged the calibration of that meter. If the court accepted it without current verification of calibration it is a fool, and since the woman failed to respond, so is she.

    Paul C… your dog has you well trained. I’d suggest observing the body language when it barks..and strange as it might sound, make minimal eye contact during the episodes. The household pathways we have here are similar to your place…but I can tell what the bark means by the type, and by the body language. All that said is very nice of course, however I also admit I am a well trained handler more often than I like. 🙁

    Tyger..…your situation is not uncommon from small dogs, however, you aren’t the only neighbor who hears it and where I live the Animal Control and Ordnance Enforcement (a subdivision of the local police) would be at their door. Even the yappy Chihuahua can be trained to be more mannerly, and I have a neighbor with a cute one that is every bit as well trained & behaved as any of our dogs, past or present….the little booger knows he can yank “Dera’s” chain when they’re outside at the same time, so he does it…then runs back and forth along the fence as if to instigate play. I have not yet managed to get “Dera” to not be so gullible.

  6. Guys, most of you are talking about real dogs. Big, actual dogs. The bug-eyed barking rats and yapping dustmops so many people have these days are an entirely different sort of critter. They are totally insecure and acting out of pure bravado, and in the process driving everyone within ear-shot crazy. The little monsters next door, worthless toy poodles, screech at anything in sight from their screened front door or back yard gate, including me every time I come out of my house. It annoys the spit out of me, but I say nothing because there is really nothing the neighbor lady can or would do about them short of getting rid of them. It’s one of those aggravations of life that has to be endured. Ear plugs are the only thing that has allowed me to get any sleep because of them. That’s not a perfect solution, but nothing is when it comes to noisy micro-canines.

    1. Tyger – I have to agree with you on yipper dogs. There is something about that high-pitched, you cannot even call it a bark, yelp that sets your teeth on edge. My neighbor has one that goes off every time I go to get the mail. I have to restrain myself from not drop-kicking it into the next neighbor’s yard. 😉

    2. Tyger Gilbert

      I have a theory about mild mannered little ladies with little mops of fur that bark like crazy they can do nothing about. Now, just stop for a minute and be receptive……….————————->>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>They are so nice
      and their dog is so nasty ————you think oh well, I will go buy some ear plugs. lololol. Your a sucker. 😉 I would go over there and introduce myself with my mop of fur maybe or maybe not and find something in common no matter if I had to really force it and pet that monster and find out what kind of treats to sneak it to shut it up .

      The dog wants to play and is bored to death with it’s mistress and is jerking on both of you also.

  7. I think there was some truth manipulation going on. I don’t see how ANY dog could be THAT loud.

  8. Paul C … good luck with your interpretation of the dog sounds. I’ve been around them so long I know them by heart. Whatever noise they make, they are trying to tell you something, even if it is merely the postman dropping off the mail. Miss the serious sounds and you may regret it. Dogs are sensitive beings, and they know what is dangerous and what is not…hence the yapping at the mail guy, and the deep guttural sound when it is someone else. With the later, just be sensible and go and see what it is…it could be important.

    1. Aridog – she stands right by the entrance to the kitchen, but that is also the track to let her out to the back yard or check the front door or get water. I check all of those and she is still barking. So, I think she is just demanding a doggie cookie. So I give her one of those and things calm down. 🙂

  9. Dogs and fences…it is innate in most dogs to defend barriers, from wolves and their territories to domestic dogs and their yard. You can manage it by paying attention to their noise. If you listen carefully you can tell if the reason is serious or spurious. Either way, you should check it out if persistent. A growling low pitched bark is different from a yapping persistent bark, and you are not doing your job if you don’t react to the former sounds. We’ve had one dog who was a sneak attack expert..if the danger was real he’d bark deeply once, then remain silent and wait for the person (it was always a person) to make a false move, like climbing the fence or other provocation. I had to be extra vigilant with him, because his favorite people were little kids age 4-8 years of age, and he’d seek to attack the parents who came out to gather their kids, who if they protested and yowled, he stood ready to defend. When “Ikey” barked low and deep, then fell silent, we went outside to his side immediately, dropping everything, to be sure he wasn’t getting ready to add some parent to his food groups. The day he died we had dozens of the neighborhood kids in our yard, laying flowers where he laid, dead, until I could transport him to the vet for cremation. Then, it continued for days afterward. No one loved “Ikey” boy more than the little kids. He was among our most dangerous dogs, except for the little kids, who seemed to know him better than he knew himself. Each dog is different and you need to know your dog and what he or she is “saying” however obtuse it might seem.

    1. Aridog – my dog and I have settled on the meaning of most of her barks and growls. However, there is one we just cannot settle on. I am sure it is one thing and she is sure it is something else. We are still working on it.

  10. Mongols must have dog that barks. Otherwise lose sheep and yaks. Unless train dog to use computer and send email, so dog is not all bark and no byte. If neighbor dog bark too much, send herd of yaks to visit neighbor dog. They put dog in chimney, have lawsoot, not lawsuit.

  11. When I was a teenager we had a neighbor who would call early in the morning to complain that our dog was barking and had woken her up. She was always threatening to call the police. What never seemed to occur to her was the reason the dog was barking and we were all up to answer her call. Her husband was illegally running a construction business out of their garage and every weekday morning all of his employees would show up with their trucks to get their orders for the day. The large number of people and noisy vehicles just on the other side of the fence were the cause of her barking, and our being awake. Never could figure out why the trucks and men just outside of her bedroom window didn’t bother her, but our dog on the other side of her house and across the fence did.

  12. @ Aridog

    You are a responsible dog owner. Many people are not. The dogs suffer from lack of attention and a lack of discipline. Left outside all day long chained up or in a kennel with no human interaction either out of neglect or because the owners are away at work. As a result the dogs are neurotic and literally insane. They bark their heads off out of frustration and loneliness. I feel sorry for the dogs. They don’t deserve this life. Some people should not own animals at all.

    They bark and bark and bark and bark and bark and bark…all DAY long or all NIGHT long. It isn’t so much the loudness….although that can be a problem……it is the incessant never ending barking. It is enough to drive a person insane. Crazier than the dogs are.

    We now live out in the country so we don’t have people cheek to jowl like you do in the cities so constantly barking dogs and other noise pollution is not that big of a problem. Feral dogs hunting in packs, coyotes as well as mountain lions and other predators are a problem. I’m one of those people who are sensitive to noise so I really appreciate the silence and peace and quiet of our country life.

    Still $500K does seem a bit high for a damage award in this case. On the other hand…..the lady just basically blew off the legal system…..soooooo perhaps a lesson learned? They will likely redo this award to a lower and more reasonable amount.

  13. Groty, the neighbor received a money judgment against the dog owner. The neighbor can then execute against any of the dog owner’s assets, including any property she owns.

    Aridog, while the judgment is high, the judge is limited by the evidence presented. If the neighbor presented evidence that the barking caused that much harm, the judge has a limited ability to reject that evidence.

  14. rafflaw said…

    Something smells in this case. No pun intended. While a dog’s constant barking can be disturbing, I can’t see the how the judge granting a default judgment of $500,000 can be considered reasonable. Even in a default judgment situation when the defendant did not even defend herself. This should be overturned.

    You took the words right out of my mouth. This is insane.

    I have always had dogs and have always controlled them, and if barking incessantly at something I first check what (or who) it is, then I bring them inside and calm them down. My dogs are very loud, German Shepherds, but no where near 128 decibels…and yes I have been very near jet fighters taking off and artillery barrages, so I have a hint of what loud really is in life.

    In my town, it is an animal control ordnance. If a dog is allowed to bark constantly for 30 seconds, you could be cited. Funny how I have always managed to correct the situations when arising in less time than that.

    Still…$500K…that is hogwash. As rafflaw says, this case stinks.

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