Challenge to USDA’s Automatic Licensing Renewal Scheme Reaches the Fourth Circuit

We have filed our opening brief in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals concerning a challenge by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals to the policy of the United States Department of Agriculture whereby the USDA automatically renews the licenses of Animal Welfare Act exhibitors, every year, regardless of whether the exhibitors are operating in violation of the Animal Welfare Act.  On behalf of PETA we have challenged the policy – and five separate license renewal decisions – on the grounds that the policy violates the plain language of the Animal Welfare Act which provides that “no such license shall be issued until the dealer or exhibitor shall have demonstrated that his facilities comply with the standards promulgated by the Secretary” under the statute.  The USDA takes the position that as long at a licensed exhibitor (or dealer) pays its renewal fee on time and certifies that it is in compliance with the statute, the agency has no authority to refuse to renew a license even where evidence before the agency demonstrates that the exhibitor is operating in flagrant violation of the statute – including, for example, by denying food, water, and veterinary care to the animals in its possession.  The same legal issue was decided against animal welfare groups by the Eleventh Circuit in Animal Legal Defense Fund v. U.S. Dep’t of Agriculture, 789 F.3d 1206 (11th Cir. 2005), and is also pending in Animal Legal Defense Fund v. Vilsack, No. 16-5073, in the D.C. Circuit.  A copy of our Fourth Circuit brief can be found here.