A federal appeals court on Friday upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit brought by animal rights activists that claims the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus abuses its elephants.
The U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington agreed with a lower court judge that the Animal Protection Institute and a former Ringling employee Tom Ryder did not have the legal standing to sue the circus. The lower court found that Ryder was "essentially a paid plaintiff" because he received at least $190,000 from the animal rights activists pursuing the case.
The lawsuit claimed the circus is violating the elephants' protection under the Endangered Species Act with the use of bullhooks for training and prolonged chaining during train rides between shows.
Feld Entertainment Inc. argued the elephants are not hurt and that the instruments are necessary to keep the animals under control and protect public safety. The Vienna, Va.-based company runs the circus and has an elephant sanctuary in Florida.
Feld attorney John Simpson said the appellate ruling supports the company's $20 million racketeering lawsuit against Ryder, animal rights groups and their attorneys that claims they committed bribery, obstruction of justice and other illegal acts in filing the elephant suit. Simpson said the purpose of the company's suit is to keep animal rights groups from using the federal court system to pursue "radical agendas."
"Feld Entertainment is the target today and some other businesses are going to be targets tomorrow," Simpson said in a telephone interview. "And at some point it has to stop."
The Animal Protection Institute declined to comment on the ongoing litigation. But they are asking a judge to dismiss Feld's racketeering suit, calling it "a transparent effort to stifle any criticism of FEI's elephant treatment practices" and to bankrupt and punish the animal rights groups.