By Rick Pfeiffer
Niagara Gazette — LOCKPORT — A State Supreme Court judge has dismissed a suit brought by three members of the SPCA of Niagara, challenging new voting membership fees and the election fo the shelter's current Board of Directors.
In a ruling from the bench, Justice Richard Kloch Sr. said the the board acted within its by-laws when it raised the charge of voting membership in the not-for-profit corporation from $25 to $1,000. The judge said he was not gong to "run the Niagara County SPCA."
Kloch also ruled from the bench that the May 2012 election of the shelter's current board of directors complied with both state law and the organization's by-laws that were in place at that time.
SPCA Board President Bryan Barish, who was in the courtroom for the lengthy arguments on the suit Thursday morning, expressed pleasure with Kloch's immediate ruling.
"(The members bringing the suit) asked him for a written decision and (Kloch) said, 'No'," Barish said. "He said it was his order that (the lawsuit) be dismissed. He felt there wasn't any merit to their claims."
The members who brought the suit, including Carol Tutzauer, the president of Buffalo Humane, expressed disappointment in the ruling. Their attorney vowed to appeal the decision.
“Even if everything the board did was technically legal,” Tutzauer said in a written statement released to the news media late Thursday afternoon, “this Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was formed in the 1800s as a collective of the community to serve the public, and does so under legal authority at taxpayer expense. I fear that this will simply drive the community away from participation rather than engage them. That was a key reason for this action on our part.”
Barish called that claim baseless.
"The courtroom was packed with our volunteers. It was standing room only. Some of them cried when the decision was announced," he said. "It goes to show we have fantastic support in this community and they support what we are doing for the animals."
Attorneys for the SPCA said 11 people have now joined the organization at the new $1,000 voting membership level. Another 200 members have joined at lesser levels.
The organization is in the midst of its annual membership drive. Current board members and the shelter's two directors are exempt for the voting membership fee increase.
"This entire (lawsuit) has been so stressful," Barish said. "The board has been working so hard, and to have allegations like those in the lawsuit made against our character, it is nice to be vindicated."
Despite bringing the lawsuit, Tutzauer said her organizations relationship with the SPCA of Niagara should not be strained.
“That is unfortunate, because I’ve always been able to keep the issues separated," Tutzauer said. "I and Buffalo Humane will continue to step up for the animals, and this action regarding process and fairness to members never influenced our efforts to help the animals. I am very supportive of the shelter’s No Kill mission, and I have been their champion in having their efforts recognized among No Kill watchdog organizations."