Lawsuit against Madison County service dogs company to advance
RICHMOND, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- A lawsuit against a company that claimed to train service dogs will move forward.
Attorney General Mark Herring says the suit against Charles D. Warren, Jr., the founder and CEO of Service Dogs by Warren Retrievers, Inc. in Madison County, will advance.
According to a release, a judge overruled a demurrer filed by Warren.
The company claimed to sell service dogs to people across the country, and Warren is accused of violating the Virginia Consumer Protection Act and the Virginia Solicitation of Contributions law.
The lawsuit says SDWR sold so-called “service dogs” for people with diabetes, autism, seizure disorders, or post-traumatic stress disorder.
However, the purchasers usually got poorly-trained puppies that had behavioral issues and inadequate skills or training.
An amended complaint also says the company and Warren misled customers and charitable donors about certain aspects of the business’ payment structure, its affiliation with local law enforcement agencies, and Warren’s alleged military service.
“Service Dogs by Warren Retrievers and Dan Warren not only allegedly took part in dishonest and unlawful business practices, but their reckless actions put the lives of their customers who were relying on the business’s claims in danger,” said Herring. “I’m really glad that this lawsuit can now move forward, bringing us one step closer to holding Mr. Warren personally accountable for putting the health and safety of consumers at risk. My team and I will continue to take action against businesses who deceive or take advantage of Virginia consumers.”
The lawsuit says SDWR and Warren charged between $18,000 and $30,000 for service dogs that could identify and alert people to life-threatening low or high blood sugar in diabetics; assist children on the autism spectrum; support people with epilepsy or other seizure disorders; and helping people with PTSD deal with emotional overload and comfort.
However, the release says the animals were often poorly training, ill-behaved, and not equipped to help manage a life-threatening situation or disability, which means the animals were pretty much expensive pets.
Shortcomings including an inability to properly walk on a leach, inappropriate chewing and destruction, an inability to respond when called, jumping on people, fear of noises, and frequent barking or whining.
Additionally, dogs that had been billed as potential lifesavers failed to alert customers to dangerously high or low blood sugar levels.
The complaint also says SDWR encouraged customers to solicit charitable donations to help cover the cost of the dog, while the company itself was not properly registered to solicit charitable funds.
Other allegations state SDWR also promoted a “Fall Officer Puppy Program” that used images of state and local police departments and personnel to mislead people about a partnership or endorsement of the company by law enforcement.
The lawsuit also says Warren lied to consumers and donors when he claimed to have served in the U.S. Marine Corps, to have trained dogs for the military, and to have gotten a medical discharge because of a diabetes diagnosis.
Warren did not serve in any branch of the U.S. military.
The release says Herring is seeking restitution from SDWR and Warren, civil penalties, attorneys’ fees, and is asking the court to block the company from further violating the Virginia Consumer Protection Act and Solicitation of Contributions law.
Herring wants civil penalties of up to $2,500 per violation of the Consumer Protection Act and $5,000 per violation of the Solicitation of Contributions law, with the exact number of violations to be determined in future court proceedings.
Herring is also seeking an accounting of all funds obtained through such unlawful solicitations and the establishment of a charitable trust to the funds can be provided to an appropriate charitable organization.
In May 2020, SDWR filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection. Herring was granted permission by the bankruptcy court to continue litigation against the company, and SDWR is not in default because it failed to file a response to the amended complaint and its expanded allegations.
There is a hearing scheduled in May 2021 concerning consumer restitution, civil penalties and attorneys’ fees.
A jury trial against Warren will also be moving forward as scheduled in October.