We’ve been following the campaign that animal rights groups have been waging for nearly a decade in federal court against Feld Entertainment, parent company of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Animal rights activist groups claimed that the world’s largest circus was abusing elephants, but a federal court dismissed the complaint. The radicals may have hoped that an appeal would keep their dream of ending the circus (and zoos, and livestock farms…) alive, but the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., upheld the dismissal Friday, ruling the plaintiff in the case did not have standing to sue.
Standing is the legal principle that governs who can sue for any particular damages claim. In order to have standing, a plaintiff must demonstrate that he suffered actual damage (injury), that the conduct of the defendant caused that injury (causation), and that a decision in the plaintiff’s favor will correct or compensate the damage done (redressability).
However, the lower court went further, finding that the various animal rights groups bankrolling the complaint had paid Tom Rider, the lead accuser, $190,000 over the course of the lawsuit. Judge Emmet G. Sullivan wrote at the time:
Beginning in December 2001 and continuing until at least the beginning of 2008, the organizational plaintiffs made payments to WAP [the Wildlife Advocacy Project] for the purpose of funding Mr. Rider. While FFA [The Fund for Animals]/HSUS (Mr. Markarian) testified that it was not certain whether WAP used its “donations” for other purposes as well, this testimony is undermined by the documents underlying FFA/HSUS’s “donations,” which indicate that the money was specifically for use in connection with this litigation. FFA/HSUS’s testimony also is questionable given that in 2003, plaintiffs’ counsel, Ms. Meyer, specifically sent an email to the representatives of the organizational plaintiffs, including Mr. Markarian, requesting funds to support Mr. Rider’s advocacy efforts regarding the elephants and the lawsuit, and expressly suggesting that the funds for Mr. Rider could be contributed to WAP so that they would be tax deductible.
Those findings prompted Feld Entertainment to file a countersuit under the Racketeering Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) in February 2010. (Who says the animal rights movement can’t act like a racket?) That suit is still active, although it could be a while before it’s resolved.
When asked by The Washington Post what he thought about the appellate ruling, one of Feld’s attorneys said, “Feld Entertainment is the target today and some other businesses are going to be targets tomorrow, and at some point it has to stop.” He’s dead-on.
Hopefully, Feld’s RICO lawsuit will cause the animal-rights extremists to think twice next time—but we wouldn’t count on it. PETA, after all, went after Ringling Bros. in 2005 for allegedly infiltrating the organization (hypocrisy much?) and saw that suit dismissed. PETA and other animal rightists also claimed in a 2003 lawsuit against the San Diego Zoo that elephants were better off dead than in captivity. And just last week PETA filed a lawsuit against Sea World claiming that they were keeping killer whales as “slaves.” Thank goodness the courts have seen these lawsuits for what they are—a tactic for activists to harass organizations they don’t like. Too bad taxpayers also end up footing much of the bill for these frivolous lawsuits.