Feld Entertainment, Inc., the producer of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, announced today that the company has reached a legal settlement with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) in connection with two federal court cases.
Under the settlement, ASPCA has paid Feld Entertainment $9.3 million to settle all claims related to its part in more than a decade of manufactured litigation that attempted to outlaw elephants in the company's Ringling Bros. Circus. This settlement applies only to the ASPCA. Feld Entertainment's legal proceedings, including its claims for litigation abuse and racketeering, will continue against the remaining defendants, Humane Society of the United States, the Fund for Animals, Animal Welfare Institute, Animal Protection Institute United with Born Free USA, Tom Rider and the attorneys involved.
"These defendants attempted to destroy our family-owned business with a hired plaintiff who made statements that the court did not believe. Animal activists have been attacking our family, our company, and our employees for decades because they oppose animals in circuses. This settlement is a vindication not just for the company but also for the dedicated men and women who spend their lives working and caring for all the animals with Ringling Bros. in the face of such targeted, malicious rhetoric," said Kenneth Feld, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Feld Entertainment.
The parties filed dismissal papers today in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia as a result of their settlement. The settlement covers only Feld Entertainment's claims against ASPCA for attorneys' fees and damages in the initial Endangered Species Act (ESA) case filed in 2000 by the animal rights activists and the resultant racketeering (RICO) case brought by Feld Entertainment in 2007. Discovery in the initial lawsuit uncovered over $190,000 that these animal activist groups and their lawyers paid to Tom Rider who lived off of the money while serving as the "injured plaintiff" in the lawsuit against the circus.
"Our firm has been defending Feld Entertainment against this onslaught of misguided litigation brought by animal activist groups for years. As their attorneys, it is gratifying to finally have a settlement that begins to make up for the harm inflicted on this company, the family who owns it, and its employees," said John Simpson of Fulbright & Jaworski L.L.P., lead counsel for Feld Entertainment in all of the cases covered by the settlement with ASPCA.
Background of Case
The original complaint was filed in July 2000 by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), the Animal Welfare Institute, the Fund for Animals and Tom Rider, who is a former Ringling Bros. employee. The case was dismissed in 2001 but was reinstated in 2003 after an appellate court ruled that if Tom Rider could prove that he was injured by Ringling Bros.' treatment of the elephants, the case could proceed. The Animal Protection Institute joined the case in 2006.
The trial began on February 4, 2009 and lasted approximately six weeks. The case is ASPCA, et al., v. Feld Entertainment, Inc., No. 03-2006 (D.D.C.)(Hon. Emmet G. Sullivan presiding).
On December 30, 2009, the U.S. District Court ruled in Feld Entertainment's favor (published as ASPCA v. Feld Entertainment, Inc., 677 F. Supp. 2d 55 (D.D.C. 2009)). In its ruling the Court stated that, "the Court finds that Mr. Rider is essentially a paid plaintiff and fact witness who is not credible, and therefore affords no weight to his testimony regarding the matters discussed herein, i.e., the allegations related to his standing to sue." ( www.ringlingbrostrialinfo.com/uploadedFiles/ASPCA%20Memorandum%20Opinion.pdf )
That decision found that the plaintiffs' litigation was based on the untruthful testimony of a paid plaintiff and witness who the Court found received at least $190,000 in payments as his sole source of income over an eight year period by animal special interest groups, including ASPCA, their lawyers and an entity founded and controlled by those lawyers, the Wildlife Advocacy Project.
The Court also ruled, "that ensuring Mr. Rider's continued participation as a plaintiff was a motivating factor behind the payments to him, and that these payments were a motivating factor for his continued involvement in the case." The Court also ruled against the other plaintiffs in the case: "because the organizational plaintiffs have not established an injury in fact, traceable to FEI's actions that can be redressed by the Court, the organizational plaintiffs have no standing to sue under Article III of the United States Constitution."
Furthermore, the Court ruled that "based upon his failure to complain, the Court finds that Mr. Rider either (1) did not witness elephant mistreatment when he was employed by FEI or (2) any mistreatment he did witness did not affect him to the extent that he suffered an aesthetic or emotional injury." The Court's December 2009 ruling was affirmed in its entirety by the Court of Appeals on October 28, 2011.
Based upon what was revealed in ASPCA, et al., v. Feld Entertainment, Feld Entertainment brought suit in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia against ASPCA, HSUS and other animal rights activists and their lawyers alleging violations of the RICO statute and Virginia Conspiracy Act, malicious prosecution, and abuse of process. The court denied the defendants' motions to dismiss that case on July 9, 2012. ( http://www.ringlingbrostrialinfo.com/uploadedFiles/First%20Amended%20Feld%20Entertainment%20RICO%20Complaint.pdf )
Via press release