- Associated Press - Friday, December 26, 2014

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - A landlord can’t be held liable as the owner of his tenants’ dogs for injuries they inflicted on a woman, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled in a decision released Friday.

The court concluded 6-1 that owning the property on which a dog resides isn’t enough to establish that person owns the dog. A judge must weigh all the circumstances before deciding whether the property owner has exercised enough control over the animal to be considered the animal’s owner, too, Justice Anne Walsh Bradley wrote for the majority.

According to court documents, George Kontos allowed his daughter and her family to live on his property in Winnebago County for free. Kontos, who didn’t live on the property himself, didn’t feed or provide water for the family’s dogs and rarely went near them.

Kontos’ daughter invited Julie Augsburger to visit in June 2008. As she was walking to a barn on the property, the dogs attacked her, biting her at least 11 times and tearing her pants off.

Augsburger sued, alleging Kontos was liable. A judge ruled Kontos was the dogs’ owner and could be held responsible. An appeals court affirmed that conclusion.

The Supreme Court reversed that finding, though.

“Although Kontos provided shelter for his daughter and family by buying the house for them to live in, he exercised no control over that property,” Bradley wrote. “Ultimately, it was his daughter who provided shelter to the dogs.”

Susan Tyndall, one of Augsburger’s attorneys, referred questions Friday morning to attorney Joseph Troy, a colleague who also worked on the case. Troy had not contacted The Associated Press by early Friday evening and didn’t immediately respond to an email message.

Justice David Prosser wrote in dissent that Kontos sheltered the dogs since he helped pay his daughter’s family’s bills, enabling them to acquire additional dogs, buy food for them and get them licensed. Kontos also could have removed them from the property, Prosser wrote. The majority opinion re-victimizes Augsberger by preventing her from collecting damages, he added.

Prosser and Bradley have long been at odds with one another. Prosser is part of the court’s four-justice conservative majority; Bradley and Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson make up a liberal-leaning minority. Bradley accused Prosser in 2011 of wrapping his hands around her throat during an argument.

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