Skip to content

Animal Rights Groups Owe Attorneys' Fees in Three-Ring Legal Circus



Remember the legal odyssey involving Feld Entertainment, owner of the Ringling Bros. circus, and a cabal of animal rights groups? If you don’t, here’s the summary: Animal rights groups sued the circus alleging elephant abuse and lost. The court concluded that their key witness was a essentially a “paid plaintiff and fact witness” who was “not credible.” Feld countersued under federal RICO statutes, alleging racketeering, fraud and witness bribery.

The second case is ongoing, but it is in the first lawsuit that there is news. The suit was dismissed in late 2009 after a trial, but the sides have since fought over appeals (which failed) and now attorneys’ fees. Last week, the judge ruled that the animal rights plaintiffs owe attorneys’ fees. The court hasn’t ruled how much yet, but Feld claims that its defense has cost more than $20 million, so it could be a hefty amount. The judge also had strong words, writing that the case brought by animal rights groups “was groundless and unreasonable from its inception” and that the key witness “lied about the payments” and that the “organizational plaintiffs also concealed the payments from FEI [Feld], in whole or in part, by providing misleading or incomplete information to FEI until after the Court granted FEI’s motion to compel complete information.” Read the full opinion for all the details.

The ruling does affect a Humane Society of the United States affiliate, the Fund for Animals. However, the ruling does not assign liability to the Humane Society of the United States, which was not a party in the litigation. (As a side note, according to this court exhibit, it appears HSUS sent four payments to a group identified by the court as a vehicle for paying the witness.)

The door is still open for HSUS to be held liable for attorneys’ fees, however.

According to the ruling, Feld’s Motion for Fees included an argument in a footnote that HSUS should be held liable for fees. But the judge found that this is not a proper method of argument and concluded, “FEI’s request to hold HSUS jointly and severally liable is DENIED WITHOUT PREJUDICE to refile at an appropriate time and in an appropriate procedural posture.”

There seems to be a good case to make, based on our reading of the merger between the Fund for Animals and HSUS. (Click here to view it.) We’re not lawyers, but section 1.3 states, “Subject to the conditions specified in this Agreement HSUS shall assume, defend, discharge, and perform as and when due, all lawful liabilities and obligations of Fund (the “Assumed Liabilities”) of whatever type or kind, including without limitation contingent liabilities whether known or unknown and whether asserted or unasserted.” The following section enumerates “excluded liabilities” and it only deals with the Fund’s real property in three states.

Whether Feld will do so is up to it, and we’ll be checking PACER with some regularity. But if you’re Wayne Pacelle, you have to feel the walls are closing in.

reprinted by HumaneWatch.org

More Stories

  • Obituary - Kenneth Joseph Wulff

    Kenneth Joseph Wulff, 66, died Thursday, April 12, 2018 at his home. Born October 2, 1951 in Jefferson City, Missouri he was the son of the late Victor J. and Coletta (Werdenhause) Wulff. Ken graduated from the University of Missouri and worked as a loan officer for Movement Mortgage locally. Read More
  • WHT Auxiliary Scholarship

    The Walking Horse Trainers' Auxiliary has released their 2018 Scholarship information. Read More
  • Obituary - Joseph Martin Finch

    Joseph Martin Finch of Shelbyville, Tennessee passed away Tuesday April 3, 2018, surrounded by his family. Joe is survived by his wife Gail, his three daughters, Kim Withrow, Suzie Finch and Lisa McMahan, his three grandchildren, Joseph, Brooks and Max Withrow and his brother Bill Finch. In lieu of a funeral service, a Celebration of Life will be held for family and friends at the Blue-Ribbon Circle Club on the Celebration Show Grounds April 22nd from 1-4pm. All friends and family are invited. Read More
  • Latest Issue April 16 18

    Read More
  • Celebration selects Fun Show judges

    The Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration has selected its judging panel for the 48th Annual Spring Fun Show to be held in Calsonic Arena May 24-26.  The judging panel of Jamie Hankins, David Sisk and Johnny Puckett is a blend of experience with a new face to Celebration judging. Read More
  • Gala Glitz

    The second annual FAST Gala was held Thursday evening, April 12 at the Blue Ribbon Circle in Shelbyville, Tennessee. Organizer Kathy Zeis, pictured with husband Steve, said she was pleased with the event. Zeis said there were more local people supporting this year’s event, the food was great, and horse industry folks enjoyed a chance to socialize... Read More
  • HSUS loses charity accreditation

    The Humane Society of the United States has lost its accreditation by the charity arm of the Better Business Bureau. This action follows the resignations, earlier this year, by former CEO Wayne Pacelle and vice president Paul Shapiro... Read More
  • AL Ladies Auxiliary selects Dekle

    The Alabama Ladies Auxiliary Show, scheduled for May 5, has selected Mack Dekle of Shelbyville, Tennessee to mark the cards for this year's event. The show will be held at the Celebration Arena in Priceville, Alabama. Read More
  • Columbia Spring Jubilee selects judging panel

    The Columbia Spring Jubilee, scheduled for May 31–June 2, has selected Jamie Bradshaw, Aaron Self and Brent Grider to mark the cards for this year’s event... Read More
  • Dotson attends Trump’s roundtable

    Walking horse owner Terry Dotson, who is also a passionate leader on behalf of the industry, attended a Presidential Roundtable on the recent GOP Tax Reform bill last week on behalf of Worldwide Equipment, of which he serves as the company’s CEO. Dotson was accompanied by the company’s director of human resources, Carla Stapleton. Read More