Richmond Public Transit Sued for Silencing Anti-Vivisection Ads

Today my office filed suit on behalf of White Coat Waste against the Greater Richmond Transit Company for refusing to run White Coat Waste's advertisement criticizing deadly and invasive dog experiments at the Richmond-based Hunter Holmes McGuire Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

Researchers at the McGuire VAMC have induced heart attacks in dogs, surgically implanted pacemakers in dogs and forced them to run on treadmills, and killed dogs in botched surgeries. The McGuire VAMC is the only federal laboratory conducting maximum pain experiments on dogs in which pain relief is intentionally withheld.

Because the McGuire VA’s dog experiments are funded by taxpayers, White Coat Waste Project attempted to run this ads on Richmond buses in conjunction with Tax Week this past April:

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The transit company rejected the ad citing its vague policy against “political ads.”

Records obtained by White Coat Waste revealed that the transit company has recently run ads for events as "political" as the Vice Presidential debate. 

Those records also revealed that the transit company rejected ads advocating for removal of fast food restaurants from hospitals on the basis that they were "political." But the transit company's same policies would allow those fast food companies to advertise on their buses.

The transit company is operated by the City of Richmond and Chesterfield County, and as a result must follow the First Amendment like any other government actors. By discriminating against advertisers like White Coat Waste  based on their identity or message, and allowing one side of a debate to get its message out while silencing the other side, the transit company is violating the First Amendment. 

You can view a copy of the complaint here.

Two Iowa Newspapers Back Lawsuit Challenging Iowa Ag Gag Law

Since we filed our challenge challenge to Iowa's Ag Gag law earlier this month, two Iowa newspaper editorial boards have weighed in with support for the suit and against the Iowa law.

The Des Moines Register, the state's largest newspaper writes:

[A]g gag laws in Iowa and other states are based on the twisted notion that when it comes to exposing violations and problems in the nation's food chain, the government must protect the private interests of industry even if it means putting the public at risk.

These laws impose criminal penalties even in cases where all of the public disclosures are truthful, accurate and in the public interest. In other words, they make it illegal to speak the truth, which is contrary to the fundamental American principle of free speech.

How is a livestock operation harmed by the reporting of facts, unless those facts reveal uncomfortable truths?

The Quad City Times declared that the "'Ag Gag' is an affront to free speech":

Iowa lawmakers knew they were flogging their oath of office in 2012, when they criminalized filming on farms. Then-Gov. Terry Branstad was fully aware that he was probably stomping on the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution when he signed the colloquially named "Ag Gag" into law. 

None of that mattered, though. Serving special interests -- in this case, industrial farms -- trumped basic respect for constitutional principles. And, now, that disdain for free speech could be exposed for the rank patronage it was.

The public sees these laws for the special interest protections that they are. We hope to show the court that Iowa's Ag Gag law is an unconstitutional restraints on animal rights activists' First Amendment rights.

Lawsuit Filed Challenging Iowa's Ag Gag Statute

Today, my office, along with the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the ACLU of Iowa, PETA, the Center for Food Safety, Public Justice, and others, filed a lawsuit challenging Iowa’s Ag Gag law. The law criminalizes undercover investigations at factory farms and slaughterhouses, silencing animal rights activists and ensuring animal cruelty, unsafe food safety practices, environmental hazards, and inhumane working conditions go unreported. The lawsuit contends that Iowa’s Ag Gag law violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

My office, along with other members of the coalition, have already been successful in striking down Ag Gag laws in Idaho and Utah as unconstitutional.

Iowa is one of the largest states for industrial animal agriculture. Iowa is by far the country’s biggest producer of pigs raised for meat and hens raised for eggs. More than 20 million pigs and 45 million egg-laying hens are raised in Iowa each year, with tens of millions more cows, chickens, turkeys, and goats raised in the state. The vast majority of these animals are raised on factory farms, subject to intensive confinement, routine mutilations, and deplorable conditions.

Undercover investigations are one of the few ways for the public to receive critical information about animal agriculture operations. A 2012 consumer survey conducted by Purdue University’s Department of Agricultural Economics and Department of Animal Sciences found that the public relies on the information gathered and presented by animal protection groups and investigative journalists more than they rely on industry groups and the government combined.

View the complaint here.

The Animal Law Podcast Features Utah Ag Gag Victory

I had the pleasure of being a guest on this month's episode of the wonderful Animal Law Podcast, hosted by Mariann Sullivan of Our Hen House. We discussed the recent victory in defeating Utah's Ag Gag law and the state of Ag Gag laws generally.

The podcast is a consistent and great source for learning about the state of animal law -- as I say in the interview, I've been listening since the first episode. Subscribe to the podcast via iTunes, Stitcher, or the RSS feed for Android devices, or listen to the episode directly from this page.

Thanks to Mariann and the podcast for having me on!

Court Tells Slaughterhouse to Pay Animal Rights Protesters' Lawyers Nearly $100,000 for Filing SLAPP Suit

In May, the Los Angeles Superior Court threw out a lawsuit brought by Pico Rivera cow slaughterhouse Manning Beef against activists who hold vigils outside of its slaughter facility. The Court found that the slaughterhouse's case was a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP)--an action usually filed by a wealthy person or corporation seeking to silence (usually poor) critics by putting them through the costs of mounting a legal defense. California's Anti-SLAPP statute allows for early dismissal of such lawsuits and imposes monetary consequences on the plaintiff to discourage such suits from being filed in the first place and to encourage attorneys to represent people who are sued for exercising their First Amendment rights.

Now the Court has ordered Manning Beef to pay my office, along with the Animal Legal Defense Fund and Ryan Gordon of Advancing Law for Animals, $94,500 in attorneys' fees in defending the activists against Manning Beef's SLAPP suit.

Hopefully such awards will discourage future would-be plaintiffs from suing their critics for exercising their First Amendment rights.

L.A. Sheriff's Department Sued for Refusing to Disclose Communications with Federal Officials on Immigration Enforcement Issues

Yesterday my office filed suit on behalf of National Day Labor Organizing Network and SEIU United Service Workers West against L.A. Sheriff Jim McDonnell and the L.A. County Sheriff's Department for refusing to disclose the Department's communications with federal officials on immigration enforcement issues and on California's proposed Sanctuary State bill, SB 54.

SB 54 aims to protect the safety and well-being of all Californians by ensuring that state and local resources are not used to fuel mass deportations, separate families, or terrorize our communities. SB 54 would prohibit state and local law enforcement from using their resources to investigate, interrogate, detain, detect, or arrest people for immigration enforcement purposes.

Sheriff McDonnell is one of the most, if not the most, politically powerful opponents of SB 54, arguing that it would “force immigration enforcement agents into our communities” and result “in the complete and total loss of trust and communication with any law enforcement agency.”  

Sheriff McDonnell has repeatedly discussed being in touch with Trump officials regarding SB 54 and immigration enforcement generally, including discussing meetings with Attorney General Jeff Session, then-Department of Homeland Secretary John Kelly, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director Thomas Homan.

So the National Day Labor Organizing Network and SEIU United Service Workers West filed a public records act request seeking communications between the Sheriff's Department and Trump administration officials.

A similar request made to the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department unveiled records reflecting Sheriff Scott Jones asking then-Acting ICE Director Thomas Homan for help fighting against SB 54 weeks before the two hosted a town hall meeting on immigration enforcement that drew hundreds of people and erupted in protests.

The L.A. Sheriff's Department stalled and did not turn over any of those communications.

Just hours after we filed suit to compel the Sheriff's Department to reveal its communications, immigrant janitors and day laborers served Sheriff McDonnell with the lawsuit at an event focusing on the Sheriff's Department's role in immigration enforcement. A video of NDLON Executive Director's statement to the Sheriff, and the immigrant workers serving McDonnell, is here:

Federal Judge Declares Utah Ag Gag Law Unconstitutional

Today the United States District Court for the District of Utah declared Utah Code § 76-6-112, commonly known as Utah's "Ag Gag Law," unconstitutional under the First Amendment. The Ag Gag Law was part of a movement among agricultural states to stop undercover investigations by animal rights groups that expose the common, casual, and pervasive violence to animals who are raised for food.

Like other state's ag gag laws, Utah's made it a crime to obtain employment at an animal agricultural facility and then film the mistreatment that the investigator saw with his or her own eyes. It also made it a crime to obtain employment at an animal agricultural facility through misrepresentation, including when an applicant refused to out himself or herself as an animal rights activist as part of the application process.

PETA, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, and Salt Lake City activist Amy Meyer challenged the law in 2014 soon after Meyer was charged with violating the law for standing on a public road and filming the operation of a nearby slaughterhouse. My office, along with Matthew Liebman at the Animal Legal Defense Fund, professors Justin Marceau and Alan Chen at the University of Denver College of Law, and Salt Lake City civil rights attorney Stewart Gollan represented the plaintiffs.

The state attempted to justify the law by saying it was needed to protect the biosecurity of animal agricultural operations and was even needed to protect animals against investigators who could be distracted by their recording equipment and harm the animals in the process. The court rejected these justifications and found the law was tailored perfectly to preventing exposés by animal rights activists, not the state's post-hoc justifications.

The court found that the state has a variety of means available to protect animal agriculture, but "suppressing broad swaths of protected speech without justification, however, is not one of them."

Utah's Ag Gag Law is the second to fall. In 2015, my office, along with many of the same attorneys and organizations, won our case challenging Idaho's ag gag law on similar grounds.

Victory! Court Dismisses Slaughterhouse's Lawsuit Designed to Silence Activists.

In a victory for protester rights, the Los Angeles Superior Court recently dismissed a lawsuit brought by Pico Rivera cow slaughterhouse Manning Beef against activists who hold vigils outside of its slaughter facility.

Animal rights activists operating under the name Los Angeles Cow Save hold vigils outside of Manning Beef, displaying signs, lighting small candles, and, when transport trucks arrive carrying cows, photographing and videotaping the cows' conditions. Manning Beef repeatedly called the police and demanded they arrest the demonstrators, while the police affirmed the activists' right to protest. 

Manning Beef then sued the protesters.

My office, along with the Animal Legal Defense Fund and Ryan Gordon of Advancing Law for Animals, asked the court to throw out the lawsuit under California's anti-SLAPP statute. SLAPP is an acronym for a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation--an action usually filed by a wealthy person or corporation seeking to silence (usually poor) critics by putting them through the costs of mounting a legal defense. Anti-SLAPP statutes are state laws that allow for early dismissal of such lawsuits and impose monetary consequences on the plaintiff.

Finding that the slaughterhouse was essentially trying to use a lawsuit to control a demonstration that law enforcement determined was lawful, the court granted our motion in full. “There is no act attributed to [Los Angles Cow Save],” the court ruled, “to be enjoined since its actions were totally protected with respect to [Los Angeles Cow Save’s] call to protest on the public/quasi public street and sidewalk in issue.”

My office focuses on defending cases brought by belligerent millionaires against activists for exercising their First Amendment rights. If you find yourself or the people who you organize with facing such a lawsuit, contact me.  

Video and News Roundup of Oral Argument in Idaho Ag Gag Appeal

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals heard argument this morning in Idaho’s appeal of our victory striking down the state’s Ag Gag statute, which made it a crime for undercover investigators to obtain employment on factory farms or secretly record instances of animal cruelty or abuse.  

Courthouse News Service provides a summary of the proceedings here. The agricultural industry’s Capital Press gives its take here. Libertarian website Reason.com weighs in on why we should prevail here. And I provide a question-by-question account of the argument on my Twitter account.

Watch the entire video of the argument below.

Idaho Statesmen Details Groups Supporting Challenge to Idaho Ag Gag Law

The Idaho Statesmen today ran an article detailing the lineup of organization and individuals who are supporting the challenge the Idaho's Ag Gag law. My office, together with the Animal Legal Defense Fund, Public Justice, the ACLU of Idaho, and others represent the plaintiffs in their challenge to the statute.

The Idaho statute made it a crime for undercover investigators to obtain employment of factory farms or secretly record instances of animal cruelty or abuse. In 2015, the Idaho district court struck the law down. The state has appealed that ruling to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal, where argument is scheduled for May 12, 2017.

Today's article lists the impressive array of organizations and individuals who have submitted amicus curiae briefs in support of the challengers to the law, including Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, United Farm Workers, Association of American Publishers, Yale Law School's Floyd Abrams Institute for Freedom of Expression, University of California-Irvine Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, New York University Professors Brooke Kroeger and Ted Conover, the Government Accountability Project, and Food & Water Watch. Read the article here.