Luna the Pit Bull

 

A breach of contract or dog racism? It depends on who you ask.

In a complaint filed last week in New York state court against Michelle Kelban-Carteron, the board of managers at the Chelsea Modern condominium in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood allege that the co-chair of Latham & Watkins’ real estate practice committed breach of contract by owning and harboring an aggressive pit bull in her unit.

The suit, which immediately attracted the attention of New York tabloids, saw Kelban-Carteron retain high-profile local real estate lawyer Adam Leitman Bailey. The latter claims this case is one of discrimination, plain and simple.

“I call this dog racism,” Bailey said. “Because of [the dog’s] breed, they’re going after it.”

Luna, the five-year-old pit bull mix in question, has lived in Kelban-Carteron’s unit along with the Latham lawyer’s husband, Gregory, since they bought into the condo in 2012. In June, Luna allegedly attacked a small Havanese mix named Kinje—who once befriended news personality Katie Couric—in front of the condo. This began the legal battle now faced by the Carterons.

Shortly after this incident, Kelban-Carteron secured certification deeming Luna a service dog for her husband. A doctor’s note claims the dog provides emotional support following a cycling injury. Bailey confirmed that Carteron sued the federal government in January after allegedly being hit by a postal service truck while riding in Manhattan. (Edward Steinberg of New York’s Leav & Steinberg, who is advising Carteron in that matter, did not immediately return a request for comment about the case.)

In response to suspicions about Luna’s last minute service dog certification, Bailey said that his client’s dog has not been aggressive in the past, so there had been no reason to officially certify Luna in order to protect her.

“[My clients] couldn’t take precautions because it has never happened before,” Bailey said.

Herbert Cohen, a name partner at New York’s Stiefel Cohen & Foote, is represented the Chelsea Modern condo. Cohen called Luna vicious and claimed he has accumulated evidence suggesting that the canine has been unruly for at least a year. He also said that Luna’s alleged aggression is not the problem at hand.

“The dog issue is a subplot,” Cohen said. “The main issue is that there is a byline that empowers the condo board to exclude the dog.”

The condo board claims in court documents that according to the contract that Kelban-Carteron signed when moving into her unit, the owners of the building may order that any pit bull be evicted from the premises.

Bailey, who periodically writes a real estate column for the New York Law Journal, believes that the complaint against Kelban-Carteron over Luna is a classic case of discrimination worthy of more press. (Pit bull defenders have often notedthat the breed suffers from an undeserved, fearsome reputation.)

“I’m confident that the New York City Human Rights Commission will take this case and prosecute,” Bailey said.

Cohen, the condo board’s lawyer representing the Chelsea Modern, believes this will be an open-and-shut case, with none of the drama that Bailey predicts.

“It should be a simple case,” he said. “The board in its discretion decided to exclude the dog and there’s no reason the dog shouldn’t be excluded.”

Copyright The American Lawyer. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.