Plaintiffs must pay Ringling Brothers
FELD Entertainment is a family-owned business that produces the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which brings joy to millions of children of all ages each year.
It also brought a little justice to the nation's courts. Feld defended itself against a lawsuit filed by animal rights groups and now stands to recover millions from those accusers for legal fees. The company said it has spent $20 million to defend itself.
In 2000, several groups sued Feld under the Endangered Species Act, alleging that the circus mistreated Asian elephants.
The plaintiffs included the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Animal Welfare Institute, the Fund for Animals, and Tom Rider, a former Ringling employee. In 2006, the Animal Protection Institute joined the plaintiffs.
The case went to trial in 2009. Feld prevailed by showing that Rider was not a credible witness.
"Rider's claim that he received written reprimands from [Feld] for complaining about animal abuse was false; he received written reprimands for, e.g., missing work, insubordination, and drunk and disorderly conduct," U.S. District Judge Emmett Sullivan wrote in dismissing the suit in 2009.
The elephant trainer was "essentially a paid plaintiff and fact witness," he said.
The company filed suit against the ASPCA, the
Humane Society of the United States, other animal rights activists and attorney Katherine Meyer of Meyer Glitzenstein & Crystal.
The ASPCA agreed in December to pay the company $9.3 million for its trouble. On Friday, Sullivan ruled the other animal rights groups will have to pay attorneys' fees. He didn't say how much.
This is justice.
The irony is that Ringling Brothers has probably done more to help the cause of Asian elephants than its accusers. It built a 200-acre Center for Elephant Conservation devoted to studying and caring for elephants.
This lawsuit underscores the need for judicial reform. Getting justice in this case was a 13-year ordeal that cost $20 million.
This is what U.S. companies are up against.