Cumulative cost of PETA-funded lawsuits against Primarily Primates may reach $1 million

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 2009:

 

SAN ANTONIO–Judge Solomon Casseb III of
the 288th Judicial District Court of Bexar
County, Texas, on March 11, 2009 rejected
Primarily Primates’ motion for a summary
judgement dismissing the latest round of four
years of PETA-funded litigation against the
sanctuary.
Primarily Primates has since August 2006
been a program of Friends of Animals.
“This order only means that Judge Casseb
believes there are issues to be decided by a
factfinder,” FoA president Priscilla Feral told
ANIMAL PEOPLE. “We have not yet discussed a
trial setting with opposing counsel,” Feral
said, “but we believe the earliest jury trial
setting will be in December 2009 or January 2010.”


Plaintiff Carl Hensley, a neighbor of
the Primarily Primates sanctuary in Leon Springs,
Texas, acknowledged in deposition that he filed
the case in 2008 after two attorneys who have
been employed by PETA approached him with the
idea. Hensley also acknowledged that PETA is
paying his legal expenses.
Hensley contends that Primarily Primates
is operating in violation of the Texas Dangerous
Wildlife Act and the Texas legal definition of an
animal shelter. The Dangerous Wildlife Act,
restricting private possession of a list of
species including several kept at Primarily
Primates, includes an exemption for “an injured,
infirm, orphaned, or abandoned dangerous wild
animal while being rehabilitated, treated, or
cared for by a licensed veterinarian, an
incorporated humane society or animal shelter,
or a person who holds a rehabilitation permit.”
Hensley’s lawsuit argues that “The dangerous wild
animals at PPI are not injured, infirm,
orphaned or abandonedŠand therefore the exemption
does not apply to themŠ.the exemption authorizes
only temporary housingŠ.PPI is not a licensed
veterinarian, an incorporated humane society or
an animal shelter.”
Continues the Hensley lawsuit, in
reference to previous litigation involving
Primarily Primates and PETA, “PPI is also
actively seeking to bring additional dangerous
wild animals to its Serene Hills facility. In
May 2007, PPI filed a lawsuit against Chimp
Haven,” a sanctuary in Shreveport, Louisiana.
The lawsuit sought the return to
Primarily Primates of seven chimps who were
retired to Primarily Primates by Ohio State
University in February 2006. The ex-OSU chimps,
two others who died soon after arrival, and an
endowment of $324,000 for the chimps’ habitat and
upkeep were sent to Primarily Primates over the
objections of OSU researcher Sally Boysen.
Supporting Boysen, PETA sued to try to force
Primarily Primates to send the chimps to Chimp
Haven.
While that case was underway, Primarily
Primates founder Wally Swett resigned after 28
years as president, and Primarily Primates
formally became a project of Friends of Animals.
The PETA case seeking to send the chimps
to Chimp Haven was dismissed, but five weeks
later, while FoA was just beginning to
restructure and make improvements at Primarily
Primates, Primarily Primates was placed in
receivership by the Texas Office of Attorney
General, based on allegations forwarded by PETA.
The seven surviving former OSU chimps were
relocated to Chimp Haven during the receivership.
The Texas Office of Attorney General in
April 2007 rejected the PETA claims against
Primarily Primates, ended the receivership, and
agreed to “fully and completely release,
acquit, and forever discharge Primarily
Primates,” Swett, other staff and board
members, and Friends of Animals from “all
claims” brought against them in connection with
the seizure. In addition, the Texas Office of
Attorney General agreed to try to help Primarily
Primates recover the former OSU chimps from Chimp
Haven.
However, Chimp Haven appealed a February
2008 Bexar county court order to return the
chimps to Primarily Primates, and in February
2009 won a Texas Fourth Court of Appeals ruling
that the Bexar county court did not have
jurisdiction over the case.
“Primarily Primates may well be entitled
to the return of the OSU chimpanzees, but that
issue is for the Travis County probate court to
decide,” ruled Appellate Judge Catherine M.
Stone. Rather than incur the cost of refiling
the case, FoA opted at that point to leave the
chimps at Chimp Haven.
Feral told ANIMAL PEOPLE that Primarily
Primates and Friends of Animals spent more than
$50,000 defending against the initial PETA-backed
case; spent more than $240,000 to regain control
of Primarily Primates after it was placed in
receivership; and have already spent more than
$80,000 defending against the Hensley case.
PETA and the plaintiffs aligned with PETA
have not disclosed their legal expenses, but the
American Justice Partnership Found-ation
estimates that plaintiffs on average incur about
60% of the cost of pressing a lawsuit, while
defendants incur about 40%.
This ratio would suggest that total cost
of cases involving Primarily Primates since 2006
now exceeds $925,000–more than the total income
of the sanctuary in all but two years before FoA
annexed it. Under FoA direction, according to
the most recent available IRS Form 990 filings,
Primarily Primates has approximately doubled both
public support and program-related spending.
The cases involving Primarily Primates
and PETA appear to be the longest-running and
most costly series of litigation among animal
charities currently before U.S. courts. However,
a defamation case filed in August 2004 by the
British Columbia SPCA against the Animal
Advocates Society may be as expensive. Animal
Advocates Society president Judy Stone is using
her home equity to fight the lawsuit, due for
trial later in 2009.

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