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.
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. Defendants counter that certain of the elephants are subject to a captive-bred wildlife permit issued by the FWS and others are exempted by the ESA's “pre-Act” exemption. 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. Enforcement of the CBW is exclusively the province of the Department of the Interior according to the pertinent regulations.
The court also considered a motion by defendants to prevent plaintiffs from using materials obtained in discovery to compile press releases and other public media. In support, defendants referenced the court's 2005 order reminding the parties on the purposes of discovery, which also contained an admonishment by court to not abuse the discovery process for publicity purposes. The court, however, declined "defendant’s invitation to treat the Court’s admonishment as a protective order."
The court also denied defendants' Motion for Leave to Amend Answers to Assert Additional Defense and Counterclaim; specifically, a RICO counterclaim based on an alleged elaborate scheme by the organizational plaintiffs and Tom Rider to ban Asian elephants from circuses and defraud FEI of money, as well as an affirmative defense of unlcean hands. The court found that the three and a half years after defendants' filing of their original answer in this case, and almost seven years after the central issues in this case were first brought to the Court’s attention in a companion case reflected a dilatory motive.
Also among the materials is the court's consideration of defendants motion to compel the testimony of Tom Eugene Rider, which was limited by the court so as not to intrude on his privacy outside the scope of relevant testimony.
On March 18, 2009, the defendants presented their closing arguments before Federal District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan after a six-week trial.
On December 30, 2009, the Court issued an opinion. The 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. The Court describes its findings of facts in 104 points as to why former FEI employee Tom Rider failed to establish standing. The Court first noted that Rider's standing was premised on his strong, personal attachment to the elephants and his desire to once again visit the elephants that was frustrated by FEI's continued mistreatment of the elephants. The Court, however, found that Rider was unable to support these general factual allegations in his pleadings at trial. The Court found that Rider's evidence at trial was not credible to support Article III standing where he was "pulverized" on cross examination. According to the Court: "The Court finds that Mr. Rider is essentially a paid plaintiff and fact witness who is not credible, and therefore affords no weight to his testimony regarding the matters discussed herein, i.e., the allegations related to his standing to sue." The Court found the fact that Rider's sole source of income over the past nine years of litigation was from the animal advocacy organizations further impugned his credibility. Finally, the Court also found that API failed to establish informational standing necessary to support its claim.