Animal Law Legal Center home page

May News

  Ringling Bros. Circus set to retire elephant act after last performance in Rhode Island on May 1st. Elephants have been trained to perform in Ringling's shows for more than a century. The decision by Ringling came after years of litigation and pressure by animal welfare advocates who were concerned over the treatment of elephants by the entertainment giant. In 2011, Ringling/FEI paid a fine of $270,000 to the USDA/APHIS by agreement for violations of the Animal Welfare Act though the company admitted no wrongdoing. Ringling's parent company, Feld Entertainment, spent years locked in litigation with animal groups over alleged mistreatment of elephants and eventually received a large settlement over the legally unproven allegations. The elephants are now set to retire to Ringling's own elephant conversation center in rural, central Florida.

  U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service issues rule to close tiger trade "loophole." The new rule closes the exemption for "generic tigers" - tigers of unknown genetic origin or those that are hybrids of two subspecies - from certain permitting requirements. Previously, breeders and traders of these tigers did not have to obtain an interstate commerce permit or register under the Captive-bred Wildlife Registration program for these generic tigers. The Service noted that this new rule does not prevent generic tiger ownership, but hopes the rule creates "a uniform policy that applies to all tigers and will help Service law enforcement agents enforce the ESA." Tigers have experienced a severe reduction in wild numbers due to threats from Traditional Asian Medicine and habitat loss. In fact, the Service notes that "the number of captive tigers in the United States alone likely exceeds the numbers found in the wild, although the exact number is currently unknown." Read the full press release from USFWS.

 The kingdom of Swaziland proposes legislation to legalize the sale of rhino horn to combat poaching. According to The Guardian, a leaked document to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) indicated that the Swaziland's anti-poaching body wants to sell a stockpile of horn to pay for efforts to protect the country's remaining 73 white rhinos. The proposal will be formally brought before the CITES Conference of Parties in Johannesburg in September. Conservationists argue that the proposal could be ineffective because it may further stimulate illegal trade and poaching of rhinos. For more, and to read the legislation, go to The Guardian's story.

SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment Group, Inc. agrees to end captive breeding program for killer whales (orcas). The company came to an agreement with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) in mid-March to end the decades-long captive orca breeding program. The agreement came after the state regulatory body in California (the California Coastal Commission) said it would only approve expansion to the orca exhibit at the San Diego SeaWorld park if the company ended its captive breeding program. While the company took the Commission to court to argue the authority to make such a demand, it eventually agreed to end the breeding program. According to NPR, the company will also phase out its theatrical shows that feature orcas over the next three years.


New archives


Grey v. Johansson, Slip Copy (unpublished decision), 2016 WL 1613804 (E.D. Pa. Apr. 22, 2016). This suit was filed after Grey and Johansson entered into a disagreement about who was the rightful owner of Johansson’s late wife’s horse, Navy. Grey was Johansson’s lawyer and was left responsible for caring for and handling all sales regarding her horses after her death. Grey filed suit for fraud and defamation against Johansson after he publicly referred to Grey as a “horse stealer.” Ultimately, the court held that Grey did not produce enough to evidence to establish a case for either fraud or defamation against Johanasson. Although Johanasson did call Grey a “horse stealer,” the court found that this comment was protected by judicial privilege.

Lowry v. City of San Diego, --- F.3d ---- 2016 WL 1273183 (9th Cir. Apr. 1, 2016). Plaintiff in this case filed suit against the City of San Diego after she was attacked and bit by one of the police dogs. Lowry alleged that the City’s policy of training its police dogs to “bite and hold” individuals resulted in a violation of her Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable seizures. The court remanded the case back to the lower court, holding that a reasonable jury could find that the use of the police dog against Lowry was an intrusion on her Fourth Amendment rights. The court maintained that the officers had reason to believe that letting the dog into Lowry’s office “off-lead” had the potential of creating severe harm. The court also noted that Lowry was not attempting to evade or resist arrest and therefore letting the dog “off-lead” may not have been reasonable. Reversed and remanded for further proceedings.

Robinson v. Pezzat, --- F.3d ---- 2016 WL 1274044 (D.C. Cir. Apr. 1, 2016). Plaintiff filed suit against two police officers and the District of Columbia after the officers shot and killed her dog while executing a warrant to search her home. She brought a § 1983 claim, alleging that the officers seized her property in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The Court of Appeals reversed the District Court’s ruling for summary judgment, holding that a jury could find in favor of the plaintiff based on her witness testimony that the dog was lying down when it was first shot. Additionally, the court maintained summary judgment for the second police officer, McLeod, who shot and killed the dog after it bit Officer Pezzat and charged forward.

Tillett v. Bureau of Land Management, Slip Copy (unpublished decision), 2016 WL 1312014 (D. Mont. Apr. 4, 2016). In this case, plaintiff (proceeding pro se) filed suit against the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) challenging its management of wild horses on the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range (PMWHR). Plaintiff filed suit challenging BLM’s fertility control and gather programs. BLM argued that plaintiff’s claims should be denied as a matter of summary judgment. The court ultimately held that plaintiff failed to provide any “legal authority” or “jurisdictional basis” for the remedies in which she was seeking. The court held that BLM was within its own authority to rely on its own data and surveys of its programs and was under no obligation to review its programs based on plaintiff’s alleged observations. Finally, the court held in favor of BLM as a matter of summary judgment.

Eldorado Cmty. Imp. Ass'n, Inc. v. Billings, --- P.3d ---- 2016 WL 1213269 (N.M. Ct. App., 2016). Eldorado Subdivision sued some residents who kept hens as pets at their homes. The subdivision had a covenant (Section 11) that disallowed “animals, birds, or poultry” on residents' lots unless kept as “recognized household pets." The defendant-residents claimed that their hens were pets and thus met the household pet exception in the covenant. The lower court agreed with the subdivision and ordered the owners to remove the hens. On appeal, this court looked at the actual language of the covenant, which the court did find to be "unclear and ambiguous." However, the court found that if the residents did not want poultry as household pets, it is reasonable to assume the residents would have removed language that anticipates poultry as household pets. The court here found that the lower court applied the wrong precedent and should have applied a case that favored free use of the land because the covenant is ambiguous. The ruling should not be based on what the developer of the subdivision may have had in mind in writing Section 11 or how community members would interpret its meaning. Instead, the court found that the Section 11 does not disallow hens as pets and rebuffed plaintiffs' "Chicken Little-esque view" that "the sky will fall" if chickens were permitted as pets. In fact, the court observed that if the lot owners want a different result, they must change Section 11 through the election process set out in the covenants. The judgment of the lower court was reversed.

Case Archives


Designing a Model Dog Park Law,  John J. Ensminger and Frances Breitkopf, Animal Legal & Historical Center (2016).

Take it to the Limit: The Illegal Regulation Prohibiting the Take of Any Threatened Species Under the Endangered Species Act, Jonathan Wood, 33 Pace Envtl. L. Rev. 23 (2015).

Redefining The Modern Circus: A Comparative Look At The Regulations Governing Circus Animal Treatment And America's Neglect Of Circus Animal Welfare, Jacqueline Neumann, 36 Whittier L. Rev. 167 (2014).

Why Can't I Know How The Sausage Is Made?: How Ag-Gag Statutes Threaten Animal Welfare Groups And The First Amendment, Daniel L. Sternberg, 13 Cardozo Pub. L. Pol'y & Ethics J. 625 (2015).

Interpreting “Enhancement Of Survival” In Granting Section 10 Endangered Species Act Exemptions To Animal Exhibitors, Anne Haas, 32 Pace Envtl. L. Rev. 956 (2015).