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.

Los Angeles Slaughterhouse Sues Animal Rights Activists Over Peaceful Sidewalk Vigils

Manning Beef, the last cow slaughterhouse remaining in Los Angeles, has sued peaceful activists who hold vigils on the sidewalk outside of the facility for trespass. Today, my office, along with the Animal Legal Defense Fund and Ryan Gordon of Advancing Law for Animals, are fighting back to maintain the rights of activists to speak out.

Starting in January of 2017, animal rights activists operating under the name Los Angeles Cow Save began holding vigils outside of Manning Beef for the cows who are slaughtered there. The activists hold signs, light small candles, and, when transport trucks arrive carrying cows, the activists photographs and videotape the cows' conditions and provide them water through the trucks' ventilation holes.

Manning Beef has twice summoned L.A. County Sheriffs and demanded the sheriffs arrest the activists, insisting that the facility owns the sidewalk and road and that the activists are trespassing by holding vigils on the sidewalk of a public road. Both times the sheriffs refused and allowed the vigils to continue without so much as a warning to the activists.

The activists even contacted the city about Manning Beef's claim and discovered that the facility shares ownership in the road with the city, but the deed reflects an easement for a public road. In addition, hundreds of cars pass over the road every hour, the road has bike lanes, and the road's signage is indistinguishable from every other road in the city. Other businesses operate on the road and a city bus line even runs over it. Nothing indicates any quasi-private ownership or any restriction on public access.

The City Attorney of Pico Rivera informed the activists that the city treats the road as public and they were within their rights to hold their vigils there.

Unable to convince law enforcement to stop the demonstrations, Manning Beef filed a lawsuit against Los Angeles Cow Save, seeking more than $25,000 in damages from the activists as well as a restraining order prohibiting them from holding vigils in the future.

Today, my office filed a motion to strike Manning Beef's lawsuit under the California “anti-SLAPP” (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) statute. The purpose of this statute is to allow activists to dismiss lawsuits that seek punish them for exercising their free speech rights. The motion argues that the lawsuit is meritless because Los Angeles Cow Save’s vigils are a protected form of free speech and are not conducted on private property, despite Manning Beef’s claims. A hearing on the motion is set for May 3, 2017.

To find out more about Los Angeles Cow Save and attend a future vigil, visit their Facebook page.

 

 

Constitutional Challenge To Mississippi's "Unnatural Intercourse" Law

Today my office filed a constitutional challenge to Mississippi's "Unnatural Intercourse" statue, Mississippi Code Annotated § 97-29-59, which makes it a crime to engage in oral or anal sex, and the state's insistence people with "Unnatural Intercourse" convictions register as sex offenders in the state. 

In 2003, in the landmark case Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003), the United States Supreme Court struck down Texas’s sodomy prohibition on due process grounds because the law furthered no legitimate state interest which can justify its intrusion into the personal and private life of the individual. In striking down the Texas law, the Court resoundingly declared that any criminal statute whose only element is the commission of oral or anal sex is unconstitutional and was not limited to Texas or to laws singling out same-sex couples. Lawrence specifically overruled Bowers v. Hardwick, 478 U.S. 186 (1986), a prior case upholding Georgia's anti-sodomy law, and thus Lawrence necessarily concluded that Georgia’s law was also unconstitutional. 

Fast forward to 2016. Despite the Supreme Court more than a dozen years ago stating that oral and anal sex cannot be the basis of criminal charges, Mississippi continues to require people conviction of such charges to register as sex offenders for at least twenty five years. 

Many states still have these unenforceable anti-sodomy laws on the books, but no one can bring a challenge to strike them down because the states are not enforcing them. Except Mississippi. This case is a rare example of a state still trying to criminalize oral and anal sex despite the Supreme Court's clear command. But it also present the rare opportunity to challenge one of these laws head on with plaintiffs who are directly affected by it.

I'm excited to work on this case with the wonderful attorneys at the Center for Constitutional Rights (where I worked for five years) and Rob mcDuff and Jake Howard of the esteemed McDuff & Byrd in Jackson, Mississippi.