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Peace at Last, for the Walden Pond Pet Cemetery
Attorney Kyle Nutt
The owners of more than 200 beloved pets buried in the Walden Pond Cemetery on Market Street can rest easy that the remains will not be disturbed after the property was transferred on Tuesday, preserving the site and ending two years of litigation.
Shipman & Wright has been fighting on behalf pet owners who entered contracts for the burial of their animals in the Walden Pond Pet Cemetery in Wilmington. The cemetery was created by Barbara and Jere LeGwin in 1990 and is the final resting place for over 200 pets.
In October of 2013, the LeGwins sold the property, which was subsequently sold again to Ricky Coates in 2015. Despite the fact that several of the pet owners had continued to pay maintenance fees for the cemetery according to their contracts, (some even prepaying several years’ worth), Coates sent a letter to pet owners after he purchased the property, informing them that he intended to develop the property and that they had 90 days to reclaim their pets’ remains.
Shipman & Wright quickly filed a lawsuit on behalf of several of the pet owners, and was able to prevent the development with a Temporary Restraining Order and a preliminary injunction. In a decisive victory for the pet owners, on July 20, 2016 former New Hanover County Senior Superior Court Judge W. Allen Cobb, Jr. granted a Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Shipman & Wright, ruling that the pet owners had rights to the cemetery, and set for trial the issue of whether Coates had failed to exercise good faith and fair dealing in attempting to hike the cemetery maintenance fees on the pet owners after the lawsuit was filed.
When the case was scheduled to go trial last year, Coates expressed a willingness to negotiate a resolution, which ultimately resulted in a structured sale of the pet cemetery to a neighboring property owner who agreed to keep the graves in place. That sale was closed today, and deeds have now been recorded to reflect the new ownership, preservation of the cemetery, and the rights of those with pets buried therein to visit.
While the Walden Pond Pet Cemetery is not accepting any new burials at this time, those with pets buried there now have the peace of mind that their resting places will not be disturbed, and can be visited as they had in the past.
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