After I was elected president of The HSUS nearly a decade ago – and right on the heels of our corporate combination with The Fund for Animals – one thing I set out to do was to create a dedicated unit of animal protection lawyers to push forward the organization’s humane agenda in the courts, and to support our legislative and corporate campaigns with the best possible legal advice and analysis.
Over the last eight years, our Animal Protection Litigation team has filed more than 130 legal actions, secured 110 favorable rulings for animals in state and federal courts around the country, and won millions of dollars in judgments, settlements, and attorneys’ fees from animal abusers. Our in-house team has been able to leverage relationships with more than a dozen of the biggest law firms in the United States, and they deliver millions of dollars’ worth of pro bono services – multiplying our impact many times over. We are especially grateful to the incredible roster of high-profile firms that do incredible pro bono work day in and day out for animals, including Hunton & Willams, Latham & Watkins, Milbank Tweed, Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe, Schiff Hardin, Weil Gotshal, and many other firms that contributed to this year’s legal successes.
These accomplishments, and more, led animal law expert David Wolfson to tell the Huffington Post that The HSUS is “definitely the leading shop for litigation for animal protection.”
This year has been another landmark year, with our litigation team helping endangered whales, delaying horse slaughter plants from opening in the United States, and securing the largest court judgment for animal abuse ever entered in a U.S. court.
Here is our top 10 highlights for 2013:
Multi-Million Dollar Judgment for Slaughterhouse Cruelty
After more than six years of intensive litigation working side-by-side with federal prosecutors, The HSUS’ legal team secured the largest penalty for animal abuse ever: a $155 million judgment against the now defunct Hallmark Meat Packing Company, where HSUS investigators exposed shocking cruelty to downer cows in 2008. The owners and investors can only pay $3.1 million of the judgment, which constitutes the bulk of their remaining assets.
World Trade Organization Ruling Upholding European Union Ban on Seal Trade
In November, the World Trade Organization issued a long-awaited ruling holding that countries can ban the import of animal products based on public moral objections to cruelty. Perhaps the most important legal ruling for animals in a decade, the decision upheld the European Union’s ban on trade in products of commercial seal hunts. HSUS and HSI attorneys filed extensive briefing in the case, which could have wiped out many of our key domestic legislative victories.
Upholding California Laws Banning Extreme Confinement, Foie Gras, Trapping, and Shark Finning
Throughout 2013, The HSUS’ litigation team had to grapple with nearly a dozen new lawsuits seeking to overturn the fruits of our legislative victories for animals. In California, we faced down six different lawsuits, bested every challenger, and won rulings upholding the state’s historic bans on cruel trapping methods, force-feeding of ducks for foie gras, shark finning, and abusive confinement of farm animals.
Bringing Captive Chimpanzees Under the Protections of the Endangered Species Act
In June, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service granted a legal petition filed by our lawyers seeking to list all chimpanzees, whether wild or captive, as endangered. Once finalized next year, the regulation will significantly curtail the use of captive chimpanzees in invasive research and the pet and entertainment trade.
Delaying the Resumption of Horse Slaughter in the United States
Kathy Milani/The HSUS
After Congress restored funding for domestic horse slaughter inspections in the fall of 2011, our legal team set out on a two-year legal campaign to forestall the resumption of horse slaughter in the United States. The team filed two legal petitions with USDA and FDA, and then took USDA to federal court. We won a temporary injunction in August, seeking to buy time for Congress to pass proposed legislation to defund horse slaughter. In December, the injunction was lifted, but ongoing state legal actions by the New Mexico Attorney General and others have so far stymied the plants from opening.
Securing Safe Passage for Endangered Whales
Our lawyers scored two major legal victories for some of the world’s most endangered whales. In August, the National Marine Fisheries Service settled our lawsuit over the deadly entanglement of endangered whales in fishing gear. The NMFS will issue new rules to prevent entanglements, and consider closing areas to fishing when whales are present. In December, the NMFS issued a final rule reauthorizing ship speed limits in the habitat of endangered whales in response to a legal petition filed by The HSUS in June 2012. Some of the busiest shipping areas coincide with feeding, breeding, and nursing grounds, and mortality from ship strikes is one of the two primary threats to these species.
Upholding New Federal Regulations Cracking Down on Horse Soring
In July, a federal court upheld new federal regulations to prevent the practice of “soring,” in which trainers abuse horses to force them to perform an unnatural high-stepping gait for competitions. The U.S. Department of Agriculture regulations, which were adopted following a 2010 legal petition filed by HSUS attorneys, require that USDA-certified horse industry organizations impose mandatory minimum penalties for violations of the Horse Protection Act, and authorize the agency to decertify organizations that do not comply.
Blocking Trophy Hunting of Endangered Polar Bears and Antelope
Our litigation team squared off with extreme trophy hunting groups seeking to shoot some of the world’s most endangered animals. A federal court struck a blow in August by throwing out a challenge to a federal rule listing the Scimitar-Horned Oryx, the Addax and the Dama Gazelle as endangered. And then the Court of Appeals turned away the Safari Club’s bid to import trophy heads of endangered polar bears shot in Canada. The hunters’ outlandish arguments triggered a hilarious Colbert Report segment lambasting their absurd ‘shoot animals to save them’ argument.
Holding Puppy Mill Dealers Accountable
In a rare day of reckoning for an unscrupulous puppy mill dog dealer, the owners of a South Florida puppy business were set to stand trial in December for repeatedly selling sick or dying puppy mill dogs to unsuspecting consumers. A last-minute settlement avoided trial, and required the defendants to stop sourcing dogs from puppy mills, follow strict new recordkeeping requirements, and set up a six figure settlement fund to compensate their victims.
First Amendment Victory for Gestation Crate Advertising Campaign
When the Raleigh Transit Authority in North Carolina refused to run our bus advertisement depicting the life of pigs in gestation crates because it was “too negative,” our legal team filed suit under the First Amendment to ensure that consumers would hear our animal welfare message. Shortly thereafter, the city settled the case, agreeing not only to run the single bus ad we requested, but offering to have our ad featured on two city buses for six months.
Indeed, enforcement of the law is as critical as the laws themselves. Our Animal Protection Litigation unit is a fierce force for good, and HSUS backers can take comfort in the knowledge that the best and brightest attorneys are on the case for animals every day of the year. For more information, or to join our legal team for animals, visit our Animal Protection Litigation Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/HSUSLitigation.