Elephants or Ivory: Related Cases

Case namesort descending Citation Summary
American Soc. for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals v. Feld Entertainment, Inc. 677 F.Supp.2d 55, 2009 WL 5159752 (D.D.C., 2009)

This opinion represents the nine-year culmination of litigation brought by plaintiff Tom Rider and Animal Protection Institute (API) against Defendant Feld Entertainment, Inc. (“FEI”) - the operator of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey traveling circus. Plaintiffs alleged that defendant's use of bullhooks and prolonged periods of chaining with respect to its circus elephants violates the Endangered Species Act, 16 U.S.C. § 1531, et seq. This Court held that plaintiffs failed to establish standing under Article III of the United States Constitution and entered judgment in favor of defendants. Since the Court concluded that plaintiffs lack standing, it did not reach the merits of plaintiffs' allegations that FEI “takes” its elephants in violation of Section 9 of the ESA. 

American Soc. for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals v. Feld Entertainment, Inc. 659 F.3d 13 (C.A.D.C., 2011)

The Court of Appeals, D.C. Circuit, affirmed the lower court's finding that plaintiffs lack standing to sue Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus for violation of the Endangered Species Act. Specifically, plaintiffs allege that the use of two training methods for controlling elephants, bullhooks and chaining, constitute a "taking" under the Act. Here, the court found no clear error by the district court as to former employee Tom Rider's standing to sue where Rider's testimony did not prove an injury-in-fact. As to API's standing, the court held that API did not meet either informational standing or standing under a Havens test.

American Society For Prevention of Cruelty to Animals v. Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus 246 F.R.D. 39 (D.D.C.,2007)

In this case, the court considered the parties’ respective motions for reconsideration. On August 23, 2007, the Court granted summary judgment to defendant as to elephants subject to a captive-bred wildlife (“CBW”) permit and denied summary judgment as to elephants for which defendant claimed a “pre-Act” exemption. Defendant has filed a motion for reconsideration challenging the Court's decision regarding the “pre-Act” elephants and plaintiff has filed a motion for reconsideration challenging the Court's decision regarding the CBW permit elephants. Defendant’s motion was granted in part as to the standing of plaintiff, Tom Rider. The court held that Rider’s standing is now limited to those six elephants to which he became “emotionally attached.” Notably, the court ended its opinion with a “hint to the wise” that the court will not tolerate any further filings inconsistent with FRCP.

American Society For The Prevention of Cruelty To Animals v. Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus 2008 WL 3411666 (D.D.C.)

On Plaintiffs’ motion to compel discovery from Defendants, The United States District Court, District of Columbia, determined that “master schedules” and “performance reports” were not documents pertaining to the chaining of elephants, and/or describing practices and procedures for maintaining elephants on the train, and Plaintiffs were therefore not entitled to such documents. The Court could not determine whether certain audio tapes demanded by Plaintiffs pertained to the medical condition or health status of any Asian elephants in Defendants’ custody during a specified time-frame, or pertained to the investigation of Defendants’ operation conducted by the Department of Agriculture, without being given the opportunity to listen to and review the audio tapes. Plaintiffs’ mere speculation that Defendants hired an outside consulting firm to follow and/or counteract a previous employee’s efforts did not entitle Plaintiffs to any further judicial action.

American Society For The Prevention of Cruelty To Animals, v. Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus 502 F.Supp.2d 103 (D.D.C., 2007) Plaintiffs-ASPCA filed suit against Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus and Feld Entertainment, Inc, under the citizen-suit provision of the Endangered Species Act.  Plaintiffs allege that FEI routinely beats elephants, chains them for long periods of time, hits them with sharp bull hooks, breaks baby elephants with force to make them submissive, and forcibly removes baby elephants from their mothers before they are weaned. This conduct, plaintiffs contend, violates the "take" provision of the ESA. In the court's opinion regarding defendants' motion for summary judgment, the court held that the pre-Act exemption does not insulate defendant from claims of taking under the ESA. However, the court found that the captive-bred wildlife (CBW) permit held by defendant does not allow for challenge under a citizen-suit provision.
Born Free USA v. Norton 278 F. Supp 2d 5 (D.D.C. 2003)

The zoo sought to import wild elephants from a foreign country, but advocates contended that the officials did not follow CITES properly for the import. The court held that the advocates failed to show a likelihood of success to warrant preliminary injunctive relief, since no overall detriment to the species was shown.

Elephant, Inc. v. Hartford Acc. & Indem. Co. 239 So.2d 692 (La.App., 1970)

A veterinarian agreed to house, transport, and care for an elephant at no charge other than the actual expenses incurred therewith. One evening, the elephant ingested some poison left in its stall by the veterinarian and later died.  On appeal of the trial court award to plaintiff, the Court disagreed with defendant’s contention that he, as a gratuitous depositary, could only be held liable for gross negligence, willful misconduct, or fraud. In fact, the civil code in Louisiana, states the burden of a depositary is "that of ordinary care which may be expected of a prudent man."  However, an  agreement between the parties was found to release Dr. Cane of liability from negligent acts.

Feld Entertainment, Inc. v. A.S.P.C.A. 523 F.Supp.2d 1 (D.D.C., 2007)

Pending before the Court is Defendant American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, et al.'s (“ASPCA”) Motion to Temporarily Stay All Proceedings. The suit arises from Feld Entertainment, Inc. (“FEI”) claim against the ASPCA and other defendants, including Tom Rider, alleging violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”). The gravamen of plaintiff's complaint is that defendant Tom Rider has been bribed by the organizational defendants to participate in the ESA Action against FEI in violation of federal law. The court agreed that the public interest in the ESA claim weighs in favor of granting the temporary stay.

Fortgang v. Woodland Park Zoo 387 P.3d 690 (Wash. Jan. 12, 2017)

To address the Zoo's growing size and complexity, Defendant Woodland Park Zoo Society (WPZS) entered into an “Operations and Management Agreement” (Agreement) with the City of Seattle. The Agreement gave WPZS exclusive rights and responsibilities regarding many areas such as the care, sale, and purchase of the Zoo's animals. The Agreement also contained several provisions addressing public oversight of the Zoo.  Plaintiff Alyne Fortgang requested several categories of records, all pertaining to the Zoo's elephants. She filed the request under the Public Records Act (PRA), which requires every government agency to make records available for public inspection and copying.  The Zoo's director of Communications and Public Affairs responded to Fortgang's request by asserting that the PRA did not apply because WPZS was a private company. Fortgang filed a lawsuit and alleged that WPZS violated the PRA by refusing to disclose certain records. The trial court granted WPZS's motion for summary judgment and dismissed the action on the ground that WPZS was not an agency subject to PRA disclosure requirements. The Court of Appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court of Washington affirmed the Court of Appeals and held that the Telford test was the proper analytical framework for evaluating the private entity’s disclosure requirement. The Supreme Court reasoned that under the Telford analysis, WPZS was not the functional equivalent of a government agency. The court stated that although the second Telford factor was inconclusive, all the other factors weighed against PRA coverage: (1) WPZS did not perform an inherently governmental function by operating the Zoo; (2) the City did not exercise sufficient control over the Zoo's daily operations to implicate PRA concerns; (3) WPZS was created solely by private individuals and not  government action and (4) because operating a zoo is not a nondelegable, “core” government function, the case did not involve the privatization of fundamentally public services. The Court of Appeals' decision was affirmed.

H.J. Justin & Sons, Inc. v. Brown 519 F. Supp. 1383 (E.D. Cal. 1981), aff'd in part, rev'd in part sub nom. H.J. Justin & Sons, Inc. v. Deukmejian, 702 F.2d 758 (9th Cir. 1983) In this case, plaintiff filed suit challenging the California Penal Code, specifically sections 653o and 653r. Plaintiff manufactured boots from the hides of animals, including the hides of the African elephant, the Indonesian python, and the Wallaby kangaroo. Section 653o and 653r of the California Penal Code prevented plaintiff from selling his boots in California because the provisions forbid the sale of products made from dead bodies, or any part of the elephant, python, or kangaroo. Plaintiff challenged these provisions arguing that the provisions were preempted by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora and by the Endangered Species Act of 1973, thus making the provisions unconstitutional. The plaintiff also argued that the provisions were unconstitutional because of the burden placed on interstate commerce which violates the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Ultimately, the court held that the provisions of the California Penal Code were not unconstitutional and dismissed plaintiff’s claim. The court looked to whether or not the provisions were expressly or impliedly preempted and determined that because the provisions were not expressly preempted the court needed to do an analysis of implied preemption. Looking to legislative history, the court found that Congress did not intend to preempt the provisions of the California Penal Code with the enactment of the Endangered Species Act of 1973. Lastly, the court held that the California statue was not a burden on interstate commerce because Congress was aware of the existence of the California provisions and decided that the Endangered Species Act would not affect the California provisions. As a result, the court dismissed plaintiff’s claim and held for the defendant.
Leider v. Lewis 2 Cal. 5th 1121, 394 P.3d 1055 (2017) The Plaintiffs, Residents of Los Angeles, brought a taxpayer action against the Defendants, the City of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Zoo, alleging elephant abuse in violation of various Penal Code provisions. The Superior Court, Los Angeles County, granted the Defendants summary judgment. The Residents appealed. At trial, the Residents were awarded injunctive and declaratory relief. The Court of Appeals reversed. On remand, the trial court rejected many of the Resident’s claims, but issued limited injunctions prohibiting use of particular forms of discipline, requiring the elephants to have specific amounts of exercise time, and requiring the rototilling of soil in exhibit. Both parties appealed. The Court of Appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court of California granted review and reversed the Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court held that: (1) the prior Court of Appeals decision was not law of the case as to the argument that the Residents was precluded from obtaining injunctive relief for conduct that violated Penal Code, and (2) the Residents' challenge to the city's treatment of elephants improperly sought injunctive relief for Penal Code violations.
Leider v. Lewis 243 Cal. App. 4th 1078 (Cal. 2016) Plaintiffs, taxpayers Aaron Leider and the late Robert Culp, filed suit against the Los Angeles Zoo and Director Lewis to enjoin the continued operation of the elephant exhibit and to prevent construction of a new, expanded exhibit. Plaintiffs contend that the Zoo's conduct violates California animal cruelty laws and constitutes illegal expenditure of public funds and property. The case went to trial and the trial court issued limited injunctions relating to forms of discipline for the elephants, exercise time, and rototilling of the soil in the exhibit. On appeal by both sides, this court first took up whether a taxpayer action could be brought for Penal Code violations or to enforce injunctions. The Court held that the earlier Court of Appeals' decision was the law of the case as to the argument that the plaintiff-taxpayer was precluded from obtaining injunctive relief for conduct that violated the Penal Code. The Court found the issue was previously decided and "is not defeated by raising a new argument that is essentially a twist on an earlier unsuccessful argument." Further, refusing to apply this Civil Code section barring injunctions for Penal Code violations will not create a substantial injustice. The Court also found the order to rototill the soil was proper because it accords with the "spirit and letter" of Penal Code section 597t (a law concerning exercise time for confined animals). As to whether the exhibit constituted animal cruelty under state law, the Court found no abuse of discretion when the trial court declined to make such a finding. Finally, the Court upheld the lower court's ruling that declined further injunctive relief under section 526a (a law that concerns actions against state officers for injuries to public property) because the injury prong could not be satisfied. As stated by the Court, "We agree with the trial court that there is no standard by which to measure this type of harm in order to justify closing a multi-million dollar public exhibit."
Pearson v Janlin Circuses Pty Ltd [2002] NSWSC 1118

The defendant deprived an elephant in a circus of contact with other elephants for years. On a particular day, the defendant authorised three other elephants to be kept in the proximity of the elephant for a number of hours. It was claimed that this act constituted an act of cruelty as it caused distress to the elephant. On appeal, it was determined that mens rea was not an element of a cruelty offence under the statute.

Re The International Fund for Animal Welfare (Australia) Pty Ltd and Ors and Minister for Environment and Heritage (2006) 42 AAR 262

Zoos in New South Wales and Victoria sought to import five Asian elephants. After an initial hearing, further evidence was sought in relation to the condition and nature of the facilities at the zoos. The Tribunal decided that the importation of the elephants should be in accordance with a permit issued under s 303CG of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth).

Safari Club International v. Jewell 213 F. Supp. 3d 48 (D.D.C. 2016) Safari Club International and the National Rifle Association filed suit challenging the federal government’s suspension of imports of trophies from elephants sport-hunted in Zimbabwe. In April of 2014, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (“the Service”) suspended imports of trophies from elephants on the basis that the Service could no longer make the finding required under its regulations “that the killing of the animal whose trophy is intended for import would enhance survival of the species.” Safari Club asserted four main arguments against the Service’s suspension of imports: (1) the agency violated APA rulemaking requirements by not providing for notice and comment; (2) the agency applied prohibited guidelines and the wrong standard in making its findings; (3) the agency failed to overcome a statutory presumption in Section 9(c)(a) of the Endangered Species Act; and (4) the agency violated the APA by failing to explain why it maintained the enhancement finding requirement in the Special Rule after the requirement was eliminated from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The court reviewed Safari International’s arguments and granted summary judgment only with respect to the argument that the Service had failed to publish notice of the changed Zimbabwe enhancement finding in the Federal Register until May 12, 2014. The court dismissed the remaining arguments put forth by Safari International and granted summary judgment in favor of the Service. The court found that the Service had violated its commitment to publish any notice of a change in the Federal Register before the change can take effect. The Service violated this commitment by publishing notice of the suspension of imports of trophies in the Federal Register on May 12, 2014 but making the effective date of the suspension April 4, 2014. For this reason, the court found that the effective date of the suspension must be changed to May 12, 2014. With respect to Safari International’s other arguments, the court found that Safari International was unable to meet its burden and held in favor of the Service.
Sebek v. City of Seattle 290 P.3d 159 (Wash.App. Div. 1,2012)

Two Seattle taxpayers filed a taxpayer action lawsuit against the city of Seattle for violating Washington’s animal cruelty statute and Seattle’s animal cruelty ordinance with regard to a zoo’s elephant exhibit. After the lawsuit was dismissed by the King County Superior Court for lack of taxpayer standing, plaintiffs appealed the court’s decision. The appeals court affirmed the lower court’s decision because the plaintiffs’ complaint alleged the zoological society, not the city, acted illegally and because the operating agreement between the city and the zoological society made it clear that the zoological society, not the city, had exclusive control over the operations of the elephant exhibit. Significantly, the appeals court found that a city’s contractual funding obligations to a zoological society that  cares and owns an animal exhibit at a zoo is not enough to allege a city violated animal cruelty laws.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare (Australia) Pty Ltd and Minister for Environment and Heritage (2005) 93 ALD 594

Zoos in New South Wales and Victoria sought to import asian elephants for conservation and exhibition. The Tribunal considered whether the elephants were being imported "for the purposes of conservation breeding or propagation", the zoos were "suitably equipped to manage, confine and care for the animals, including meeting the behavioural and biological needs of the animals", the importation of the elephants would "be detrimental to, or contribute to trade which is detrimental to ... the survival .... or ... recovery in nature of" Asian elephants and whether the elephants were "obtained in contravention of, [or] their importation would ... involve the contravention of, any law". The importation was allowed.