Displaying items by tag: lawsuit

 

Animal Protection Coalition continues fight for transparency

 

SAN FRANCISCO – Today the Animal Legal Defense Fund appealed a court’s recent decision to dismiss its lawsuit against the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for removing tens of thousands of animal welfare records from the agency’s website. As the preeminent legal advocacy organization for animals, the Animal Legal Defense Fund is leading the challenge to the information blackout with a coalition of animal protection groups including Stop Animal Exploitation NOW!, Companion Animal Protection Society and Animal Folks.

The coalition filed suit in February 2017 arguing that the USDA’s decision to remove the records previously posted in the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) database violates both the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). United States District Judge William H. Orrick dismissed the lawsuit on the grounds that FOIA does not provide a remedy to enforce the government’s obligation to publish certain types of records.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund’s claims under the APA were also dismissed. The APA authorizes courts to set aside agency actions if they are "arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law" if there is no adequate alternative remedy available elsewhere in the law. Without addressing whether the USDA’s action was arbitrary or capricious, the court dismissed the APA claim on the basis that FOIA provides an adequate remedy because coalition members could submit a traditional FOIA request to the USDA for records. But obtaining animal welfare records through traditional FOIA requests significantly burdens countless animal protection organizations and other agencies. Records which were previously immediately accessible at no cost now require each individual organization to manage voluminous FOIA requests that take several months or even years to process, not to mention the possibility of large fees.

The removed documents revealed inhumane treatment of animals at thousands of research laboratories, roadside zoos and puppy mills across the country. The coalition used these records to advocate for stronger animal protection policies, confront the USDA over inadequate regulation of substandard facilities, supply evidence for law enforcement action and build legal cases against especially egregious violators.

In August, the USDA unveiled a new limited database to search for inspection reports and research facility annual reports. However, the documents posted have significant information redacted, including the name of some of the permitted facilities, and does not provide previously included information such as animal inventories. To date, the USDA also continues to withhold important enforcement action records such as administrative complaints and official warning letters

“The USDA cites our lawsuit in its announcement of a new public database, so they recognize the importance of providing animal welfare information,” says Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Stephen Wells. “However, the USDA continues to withhold important information under the new system—which is insufficient.”

The organizations are represented pro bono by Margaret Kwoka, Associate Professor at University of Denver Sturm College of Law.

For more information visit, aldf.org.

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About the Animal Legal Defense Fund

The Animal Legal Defense Fund was founded in 1979 to protect the lives and advance the interests of animals through the legal system. To accomplish this mission, the Animal Legal Defense Fund files high-impact lawsuits to protect animals from harm; provides free legal assistance and training to prosecutors to assure that animal abusers are punished for their crimes; supports tough animal protection legislation and fights harmful legislation; and provides resources and opportunities to law students and professionals to advance the emerging field of animal law. For more information, please visit aldf.org.

 

Lawsuit argues removal of online animal welfare records violates the Freedom of Information Act and the Administrative Procedure Act

SAN FRANSICO – Today, the Animal Legal Defense Fund filed suit against the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for removing tens of thousands of animal welfare records from the agency’s website. According to the lawsuit, the USDA’s decision to remove the records violates both the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). The removed documents revealed inhumane treatment of animals at thousands of research laboratories, roadside zoos and puppy mills across the country.

The lawsuit, filed in the Northern District of California on behalf of a coalition of animal protection organizations, contends that the USDA violated FOIA, which requires federal agencies to affirmatively disclose final orders and frequently requested records. It also argues that the USDA violated the APA, which prohibits agencies from taking actions that are “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law[.]” If the coalition is successful with its claim under the APA, the USDA would be required to resume posting the records online so they are available to the public.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund is joined in the lawsuit by Stop Animal Exploitation NOW!, Companion Animal Protection Society and Animal Folks. The USDA’s decision to stop posting records significantly burdens the organizations because they must now manage voluminous FOIA requests to access the same records, potentially pay large fees, and wait for several months or even years to obtain records previously accessible immediately online at no cost.

Public access to these records is especially important in light of the USDA’s chronically lackadaisical enforcement of the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA). The Office of Inspector General, an oversight division of the USDA, regularly finds that the USDA renders its enforcement of the AWA largely ineffective by not aggressively pursuing enforcement actions against substandard facilities and by significantly discounting penalties even when it does pursue enforcement action.

“The USDA itself needs oversight due to its continual failure to adequately enforce the federal Animal Welfare Act,” says Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Stephen Wells. “The information blackout is a tremendous blow to transparency and undermines advocates who are working to protect hundreds of thousands of animals across the country.”

The plaintiffs filing today’s lawsuit regularly utilized the USDA database and enforcement actions page to obtain records about the conditions of animals at facilities regulated under the AWA, such as research laboratories, puppy mills and zoos around the country. In turn, these organizations use the records to advocate for stronger animal protection policies, confront the USDA over inadequate regulation of substandard facilities, supply evidence for law enforcement action and build legal cases against especially egregious violators. The Animal Legal Defense Fund relied on these records in its groundbreaking Endangered Species Act (ESA) victory against the Cricket Hollow Animal Park (previously Cricket Hollow Zoo), a roadside zoo that cruelly confined endangered animals in inhumane conditions. It was the first victory applying the ESA to protect animals in captivity.

The organizations are represented pro bono by Margaret Kwoka, Associate Professor at University of Denver Sturm College of Law, and Perkins Coie LLP.

For more information visit, aldf.org.

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About the Animal Legal Defense Fund
The Animal Legal Defense Fund was founded in 1979 to protect the lives and advance the interests of animals through the legal system. To accomplish this mission, the Animal Legal Defense Fund files high-impact lawsuits to protect animals from harm; provides free legal assistance and training to prosecutors to assure that animal abusers are punished for their crimes; supports tough animal protection legislation and fights harmful legislation; and provides resources and opportunities to law students and professionals to advance the emerging field of animal law. For more information, please visit aldf.org.

About the Companion Animal Protection Society
Founded in 1992, the Companion Animal Protection Society (CAPS) is the only national nonprofit dedicated exclusively to protecting companion animals from cruelty in pet shops and puppy/kitten mills. CAPS addresses animal suffering through investigations, legislation, education, media relations, consumer assistance, and rescue.

About Stop Animal Exploitation NOW!

SAEN (Stop Animal Exploitation NOW!) is a national non-profit animal advocacy organization dedicated to the rights of all animals.  Our mission is to end the exploitation of animals imprisoned in laboratories by educating the public with the reality of what is happening inside the vivisection industry and engaging government agencies to enforce laws, issue citations, and levy fines against criminal labs.  Through in-depth investigations of laboratories and national media campaigns, SAEN exposes and ends the misery of animals.

About Animal Folks

Animal Folks is a nonprofit organization devoted to protecting the lives of animals by modernizing the animal law enforcement system in Minnesota. Animal Folks is focused on systemic change — finding new, innovative ways to prevent animal cruelty and improve how animal law is enforced throughout Minnesota. To achieve this mission, Animal Folks conducts research on animal cruelty issues and cases, creates training materials and resources, files criminal and civil complaints against abusers, and collaborates with state, local and national authorities and organizations for sustainable reforms. www.animalfolks.org.



Eagles and Endangered Kirtland’s Warbler Among the Turbine’s Likely Casualties




(Washington, D.C., January 8, 2014) The Ohio National Guard facility at Camp Perry, near Port Clinton in northern Ohio, is the focus of possible legal action by American Bird Conservancy (ABC), a leading national bird conservation organization, and Ohio’s Black Swamp Bird Observatory (BSBO), which today announced the intention to sue the Ohio National Guard in connection with violations of the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) and other federal laws concerning the planned installation of a wind turbine on the shores of Lake Erie.



The two groups announced their intention to sue via a letter sent by the Washington, D.C.-based public interest law firm of Meyer Glitzenstein & Crystal (MGC), stating that the environmental review process was unlawfully circumvented, and that the development is taking place in violation of the Endangered Species Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act.



“The proposed development of wind power at Camp Perry ignores the many concerns expressed by wildlife professionals in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR),” said Dr. Michael Hutchins, National Coordinator of ABC’s Bird Smart Wind Energy Campaign. “If completed, this turbine would sit in the middle of a major bird migration corridor directly adjacent to a national wildlife refuge. The FWS has concluded it is likely to kill threatened and endangered bird species such as the Piping Plover and Kirtland’s Warbler, as well as other federally protected birds. We are asking the developer to immediately halt construction and take the steps mandated by federal law to prevent the illegal killing of protected species.”



ABC and BSBO consider the placement of the Camp Perry facility to present an extremely high risk to migrating songbirds, especially the federally endangered Kirtland’s Warbler. This imperiled species was nearly extinct less than 40 years ago and, while rebounding due to costly and intensive management efforts, still numbers only in the low thousands. Additional birds at risk include other migrating songbirds, raptors, Bald Eagles, and waterfowl.



According to Mark Shieldcastle, BSBO Research Director: “Long-term research indicates that some of the largest concentrations of migratory birds in North America occur in the Lake Erie coastal region, including Camp Perry. These species, along with one of the highest concentrations of nesting Bald Eagles in the lower 48 states, use the habitat precisely in the risk zone of turbines such as the one proposed. Long-term monitoring of the active eagle nest at the facility indicates extensive use of the area of the turbine by eagles.” Shieldcastle bases his statement on more than three decades of migratory bird research in the area, including as project leader for both wetland wildlife research and Bald Eagle recovery programs for the Ohio Division of Wildlife.




http://www.abcbirds.org/picts/newsandreports/camp_perry_map.jpg


Camp Perry, where wind development is currently progressing, is in the "red zone" of ABC's Wind Development Bird Risk Map, indicating an extreme risk to birds. The red area that crosses Lake Erie is a high-density migration corridor.


“The developers have misled the public about these federal and state concerns,” said Kimberly Kaufman, Director of the BSBO. “This project is the vanguard of a major planned build-out of wind power in what is one of the nation’s greatest songbird migration bottlenecks and a key site for birding and bird tourism. It potentially sets a horrific precedent.”



ABC has created a Wind Development Bird Risk Map that shows the Lake Erie shoreline in Ohio is among the worst possible locations for a wind power project. The configuration of water and land serves to “funnel” large numbers of protected migratory birds through a small area; the birds aim to avoid a long lake crossing by hugging the shoreline or following the shortest cross-water route to the Pelee Peninsula to the north. This is also major stopover habitat, where migrating birds are not merely flying over, but landing and taking off—often during poor weather conditions.



According to Kenn Kaufman, internationally acclaimed author of bird field guides and a local resident, “This funneling effect and stopover behavior can be predicted to put migrating birds precisely in the vicinity of the Camp Perry turbine and other wind energy sites proposed for the area.”



Those concerns have been echoed by FWS, which in a letter to Camp Perry cautioned that there is a high probability of bird mortality caused by turbine strikes from the project and called for a formal Endangered Species Act consultation. That request was ignored by Camp Perry officials. Further, the ODNR cited 23 significant areas of deficiency in the original Environmental Assessment. ODNR also specifically raised concerns about impacts to Kirtland’s Warbler and eagles.



“Unfortunately, the problems with this project suggest that the current voluntary federal guidelines aimed at minimizing impacts to migratory birds are flawed. If we cannot even trust the government’s own agencies to follow them, then it is time for a change to a mandatory permitting system,” noted Dr. Hutchins.



Also of concern to local residents and the birding community is the fact that the area hosts one of the largest birding events in the United States, helping to attract tens of thousands of people annually and injecting $37 million into the local economy.



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American Bird Conservancy (ABC) is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit membership organization whose mission is to conserve native birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. ABC acts by safeguarding the rarest species, conserving and restoring habitats, and reducing threats, while building capacity in the bird conservation movement. www.abcbirds.org



Black Swamp Bird Observatory is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit whose mission is to inspire the appreciation, enjoyment, and conservation of birds and their habitats through research, education, and outreach. www.bsbobird.org


Bat World Sanctuary and Its President Amanda Lollar Awarded $6.1 Million in Defamation Lawsuit Against Mary Cummins FORT WORTH, Texas, June 15, 2012 -- Bat World Sanctuary, an international non-profit organization devoted to rescuing and rehabilitating bats, and its president, Amanda Lollar of Mineral Wells, were awarded $6.1 million in damages by a Tarrant County district judge yesterday in a defamation lawsuit. After a four-day trial the court found that Mary Cummins of Los Angeles, California had committed defamation against Amanda Lollar and had breached her internship contract with Bat World Sanctuary. In 2010 Mary Cummins was accepted for an internship at Bat World Sanctuary in Mineral Wells. While at Bat World she became dissatisfied with the program and left the internship early. According to the plaintiffs she went back to California and began posting "horrific allegations of animal cruelty against Amanda Lollar on the internet." She accused Amanda Lollar of performing "illegal surgeries" on bats without anesthesia, possessing and distributing controlled substances without a DEA license, throwing dead bats in the trash, allowing interns to be repeatedly bitten by rabid bats, breeding bats illegally, giving human rabies vaccinations to interns, and neglecting her pet dogs. She filed reports of animal cruelty with numerous wildlife and conservation organizations as well as humane and animal welfare organizations. She also complained to a foundation that had been providing funding to Bat World but stopped doing so after receiving Cummins' complaint. She filed complaints with the Texas Department of Health, the Texas Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners, Texas Parks and Wildlife, the Texas Attorney General, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the USDA, the Mineral Wells Police and Fire Department, the Palo Pinto District Attorney and other agencies. Every agency that investigated Bat World Sanctuary found Cummins' complaints to be completely without merit. According to Eric Shupps, the plaintiff's expert on information technology, Cummins used "search engine optimization" and "Google bombs" to spread her defamation far and wide across the internet. Judge William Brigham, who was the visiting judge in the 352nd District Court of Tarrant County, announced at the conclusion of the trial that Amanda Lollar is world-renowned and is to bats what Jane Goodall is to primates. He said that Mary Cummins' defamation of Amanda Lollar was "intentional, malicious, and egregious" and ordered her to pay $3.0 million in compensatory damages and $3.0 million in punitive damages. He also ordered her to pay $10,000 for breach of her contract with Bat World and $176,700 in attorney's fees. Lollar's attorney, Randy Turner with the firm Bailey & Galyen said, "This judgment sends a powerful message to cyber-stalkers and others who use the internet to harass people or to harm their reputations. Innocent victims like Amanda Lollar often don't have the resources, expertise, or ability to defend themselves against such vicious internet attacks. Hopefully this judgment will make someone think twice before engaging in an internet smear campaign." With determination, strong will, and the help of an attorney who has never lost an animal rights case, Ms. Lollar has won the fight and can now get on with what she does best - helping bats. "I would like to thank everyone who stood by us during this ordeal and never, ever lost faith in us. Mr. Turner and his paralegal, Kelly Bozeman, worked tirelessly for us and we couldn't have won without them. I will be forever grateful," said Ms. Lollar. About Bat World Sanctuary Ms. Lollar, who has authored both scientific and popular literature, plans to write a book about her personal nightmare regarding this case. She hopes to bring about changes in the legal system regarding internet harassment, because in most states there are no laws that protect the victims. This type of crime is on the rise and she would like to bring it to the forefront. Proceeds from the sale of the book will benefit Bat World Sanctuary. Bat World Sanctuary is a non-profit organization founded by Amanda Lollar. Bat World is accredited by the American Sanctuary Association and verified by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries. Learn more about Ms. Lollar by visiting www.BatWorld.org. Contact: Amanda Lollar, President & Founder www.BatWorld.org This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Facebook.com/BatWorld Twitter - @batworld  # # #