Ringling wins right to proceed in racketeering case vs. ASPCA, AWI, HSUS, and Born Free USA

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 2012:

Ringling wins right to proceed in racketeering case vs. ASPCA, AWI, HSUS, and Born Free USA

WASHINGTON D.C.–Rejecting motions seeking dismissal, U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan on July 9, 2012 issued a highly technical 87-page ruling that Feld Entertainment Inc., owner of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, may pursue a lawsuit under the federal Racketeer Influenced & Corrupt Organizations Act against the American SPCA, the Animal Welfare Institute, the Fund for Animals, the Humane Society of the U.S., and the Animal Protection Institute. HSUS absorbed the Fund for Animals in 2005, and Born Free USA absorbed the Animal Protection Institute in 2007, while the original case giving rise to the RICO lawsuit was underway. Summarized Sullivan, “This case arises out of a prior long-running litigation over whether Feld Entertainment Inc. violated the Endangered Species Act by its use of Asian elephants. That litigation was brought by [the defendant animal charities] and one individual plaintiff, Thomas Rider, who had worked with several of FEI’s elephants,” as a former Ringling employee, and was the star witness for the co-plaintiffs. “After nine years of litigation and a six week non-jury trial,” Sullivan wrote, “the court concluded that Rider failed to prove that he had standing” to bring the case, and “found that Rider was not credible with respect to his asserted emotional and aesthetic injuries that formed the basis for his claim to standing. The court further found that Rider was essentially a paid plaintiff and fact witness whose sole source of income throughout the litigation was provided by the animal advocacy organizations which had been his co-plaintiffs.” Sullivan dismissed the original case on the last day of 2009. It was Sullivan’s seventh ruling in a major Endangered Species Act case since 2002, and was the first to go against plaintiff advocacy groups. Sullivan had previously ruled against speedboaters on behalf of Florida manatees, against snowmobilers on behalf of wildlife in Yellowstone National Park, and against the U.S. Navy on behalf of wildlife on Farallon de Medinilla, a remote Pacific island long used for bombing practice. Feld filed the RICO case on February 16, 2010, alleging “abuse of process, malicious prosecution, conspiracy,” and other offenses, committed “in order to bring a philosophical debate into federal court to advance a radical ‘animal rights’ agenda and in order to garner publicity and raise money to support their various activities.” Sullivan directed the defendants to file their responses to the Feld RICO case by August 7, 2012. “The judge did dismiss a few pieces of the circus’s case,” noted syndicated legal reporter Zoe Tillman. “Sullivan found that Feld Entertainment lacked standing to bring racketeering claims surrounding the animal rights groups’ legislative and ‘administrative advocacy’ activities. He also dismissed claims of direct liability under the federal racketeering law against two of the lawyers involved in the original litigation. Sullivan dismissed the claim for champerty, whereby someone agrees to support a lawsuit in exchange for a percentage of any money recovered. Sullivan found that the animal rights groups’ lawsuit was a claim for injunctive, not monetary, relief, and also that there was no evidence that a champerty claim could even be brought in Washington.” Feld on February 10, 2012 filed a separate but similar motion seeking recovery of costs in connection with the original case. Not part of the July 9, 2012 ruling, this motion also remains before the U.S. District Court for the D.C. Circuit.  

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