Leahy v. Department of Agriculture, Civ. No. 05-1135 (D.D.C.)

Case Summary:

On behalf of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and an individual we sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) over its decision to transfer four mistreated elephants from the Hawthorn Corporation to the Carson and Barnes' Circus ("C&B")– an exhibitor notorious for mistreating elephants.  The case arose as a result of a lawsuit filed by the USDA against Hawthorn and various employees for 47 violations of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), including the failure to establish and maintain programs of adequate veterinary care and the failure to handle elephants with a minimal risk of harm to the animals.   The USDA and Hawthorn entered into a Consent Decision settling the case and requiring the Hawthorn Corporation to donate all 12 of its elephants to a USDA approved facility that has demonstrated its ability to comply with the AWA.   Although the USDA had previously determined that C&B did not meet these criteria, and that the non-profit Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee would be a more appropriate place for the elephants, the agency did an about-face and approved C&B, even though the elephant manager had been caught on videotape instructing elephant trainers and handlers to hit elephants until they scream. The lawsuit challenged the USDA's approval decision as arbitrary and capricious because the agency failed to provide an explanation for its change in position regarding C&B and to justify its rejection of The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee as a better location for the elephants.  The District Court ruled that the USDA's transfer decision was reveiwable under the Administrative Procedure Act, but upheld the agencies' decision. However, as a result of the litigation, several of the elephants were sent to The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee and the PAWS' Sanctuary in California.

Plaintiffs: The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and an individual.

Court: United States District Court for the District of Columbia