Ringling Brothers on Trial


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  • Lawsuit was brought against parent company Feld Entertainment, Inc. (FEI) by AWI and co-plaintiffs including ASPCA and Fund for Animals, and former Ringling Bros. employee Tom RiderThere was a mountain of evidence establishing the physical, emotional and behavioral harm inflicted upon elephants by the circus.
  • Testimony of elephant abuse was not only elicited from plaintiffs’ witnesses, but from circus witnesses as well. Kenneth Feld, Chief Executive Officer of FEI admitted under oath that “all” of the elephant handlers "strike" the elephants with bull hooks, and Gary Jacobson, general manager of the circus’ breeding farm in Florida, testified that most of the female elephants are kept chained on two legs for at least 16 hours a day on concrete floors, and that some of them are kept on chains for 23.5 hours a day at FEI's "Center for Elephant Conservation."
  • It is the first case ever brought under the Endangered Species Act to protect a captive endangered species.Ringling Bros. maintains that since these elephants are in captivity, the ESA (Endangered Species Act) does not apply, so they cannot look at the issue of taking (i.e., cannot investigate whether these animals were abused).
  • "While we are disappointed that the judge did not address the merits of this case, the public now knows that Ringling Bros.' Asian elephants are systematically abused on a daily basis," said AWI General Counsel, Tracy Silverman.  "We will continue to work through other channels in our efforts to ensure that these endangered animals are protected."
  • For now, it will be up to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to enforce the law to protect captive Asian elephants in the United States.  AWI plans to work cooperatively with the agency to ensure that the animals are protected.
  • Ringling Brothers on Trial

    1. 1. Circus Elephants and the Endangered Species Act
    2. 2. - P.T. Barnum (unsourced)
    3. 3.  If the plaintiffs could establish ―taking,‖ the practice of bull hooks and chain tethers could have been outlawed by this case. ◦ ―Taking‖ an endangered species means to ―harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or to attempt to engage in any such conduct.‖
    4. 4.  The Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA) requires the Secretary of the Interior to identify species that are endangered or threatened. 16 U.S.C.S. § 1533(a)(1). Section 9 makes it unlawful to "take" any endangered species within the United States, or to possess, sell, deliver, carry, transport, or ship, by any means whatsoever any endangered species taken in violation of the Act. 16 U.S.C.S. § 1538(a)(1)(B), (D). The Act defines "take" to mean to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or to attempt to engage in any such conduct. 16 U.S.C.S. § 1532(19). Pursuant to ESA § 10, the Secretary of the Interior may issue a permit for a take otherwise prohibited by ESA § 9, provided that he first gives public notice and an opportunity to comment on the permit application.
    5. 5.  The citizen-suit provision, 16 U.S.C.S. § 1540(g)(1)(A), in the Endangered Species Act, 16 U.S.C.S. § 1531 et seq., by specifying that "any person" may be a plaintiff. A plaintiff still must satisfy U.S. Const. Art. III by showing that he has ◦ (1) suffered an injury in fact (2) fairly traceable to the defendants action (3) and capable of judicial redress
    6. 6.  In 2000, Rider and several other individuals and organizations filed suit against Feld, alleging that its use of bullhooks and tethering violated ESAs "take" provision. Concluding that neither Rider nor any other plaintiff had standing to bring suit under ESAs citizen-suit provision, 16 U.S.C. § 1540(g), the district court dismissed the complaint .
    7. 7.  2. We reversed. Am. Socy for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals v. Ringling Bros. & Barnum & Bailey Circus, 317 F.3d 334, 354 U.S. App. D.C. 432 (D.C. Cir. 2003) ("ASPCA"). ◦ We found that Riders allegations of emotional attachment, coupled with his desire to visit the elephants and his ability to recognize the effects of mistreatment, were sufficient to establish injury in fact. Causation was never in question—Feld clearly caused the alleged mistreatment—and we reasoned that Riders injury could be adequately redressed through the lawsuit, assuming the elephants were likely to cease exhibiting signs of stress once the alleged mistreatment ended.
    8. 8.  Plaintiffs dismissed original action and started a new lawsuit. ◦ Added API – longtime advocate against Ringling ◦ Questions came into play about Rider’s credibility  2009 – District Court found that Rider and API had not established standing
    9. 9. See timeline
    11. 11.  2009 – ASPCA v. Feld, Inc. was heard in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ◦ Plaintiffs – ASPCA, AWI, Fund for Animals, API & Tom Rider, ex-employee of Ringling ◦ Defendant – Feld Entertainment (owner of Ringling)
    12. 12.  ―This case involves two techniques Feld uses to handle its Asian elephants. First, its handlers guide and control the elephants with an instrument known as a bullhook, a two- to three-foot rod with a metal point and hook mounted on one end. Second, Feld tethers its Asian elephants with chains when the animals are not performing and when they are traveling by train. Plaintiffs maintain that these two practices "harm," "wound," and "harass" the elephants within the meaning of ESA section 9, and therefore qualify as a "take" which Feld cannot continue without obtaining a section 10 permit.‖
    13. 13.  Plaintiffs did not have standing to bring the suit ESA does not apply to captive endangered species Ringling Bros. actions did not constitute takings. Even if the ESA does apply, Ringling’s use of bullhooks and chain tethers are generally accepted animal-husbandry practices.
    14. 14.  Credibility issue –-- failed to prove personal and emotional attachment ◦ Difficulty recalling elephants’ names ◦ Use of bullhook in Europe ◦ Lack of forthrightness about payments from organizational plaintiffs
    15. 15.  Section 10c of the ESA requires public disclosure or information contained in permit applications. ◦ A party who applies for a permit must provide details to the FWS (Fish and Wildlife Service) and the FWS must in turn make that information available to the public.
    16. 16.  According to API, Ringling’s treatment of elephants = a ―taking‖ of an endangered species, Ringling cannot first engage in these practices without a permit. ◦ API’s position is that the organization was ―injured in fact because it did not get what the statute entitled him to receive.‖
    17. 17.  Remember, for standing you need an injury in fact. ◦ In Havens Realty Corp. v. Coleman, the Supreme Court held that an organization may establish Article III standing if it can show that the defendant caused a ―concrete and demonstrable injury to the organization’s activities‖ that is ―more than simply a setback to the organization’s abstract social interests.‖  Court is saying API is ―self inflicting‖ this injury by expending resources on litigation.
    18. 18.  ―Nothing in the record supports the key link in API’s standing argument, namely, that Feld’s use of bullhooks and chains fosters a public impression that these practices are harmless.‖ ◦ Fatal flaw in API’s standing is that it fails to demonstrate that Feld’s treatment of elephants contributes to public misimpression that these practices are humane.
    19. 19. Brief DueEndangered Species Act