Tag Archives: USARK lawsuit

USARK and the Preliminary Injunction

Seal_of_the_U.S._District_Court_for_the_District_of_ColumbiaThe US Herpetoculture Alliance is getting a lot of private inquiries with questions regarding the preliminary injunction that was entered by the Hon. Randolph Moss on May 19th in lawsuit captioned as United States Association of Reptile Keepers, Inc. v. The Honorable Sally Jewell et al., Civil Action 13-2007 (RDM).

The May 19, 2015 order by Judge Moss (the “Preliminary Injunction”) states in pertinent part that:

  • Effective June 2, 2015, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (“FWS”) is enjoined (stopped) from enforcing the Final Rule promulgated March 10, 2015 (the “2015 Rule”), 80 Fed. Reg. 12,702 (March 10, 2015) against any Plaintiff or member of USARK as of April 8, 2015 with respect to transporting a reticulated python and/or green anaconda between any two States within the continental United States other than Texas and Florida, and
  • with respect to transporting a reticulated python and/or green anaconda from either Texas or Florida to any State within the continental United States other than Texas and Florida.
  • This injunction does not prohibit, among other things,
    • enforcement activity targeting importation of any listed species from the March 10, 2015 Final Rule into the United States from a foreign nation;
    • enforcement of any activity targeting any transportation of the Beni anaconda or DeSchauensee’s anaconda;
    • enforcement activity predicated on a violation of the law of any State pursuant to 16 U.S.C. § 3372(a)(2);
    • enforcement activity targeting transportation of any species between the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, or any territory or possession of the United States and any State within the continental United States.

Click this link for the full text of the Preliminary Injunction.  Judge Moss also issued a Memorandum Opinion, which sets forth his legal reasoning.  It is the Order that enjoins FWS, not the Memorandum Opinion.

Herp Alliance’s formal opinion on this matter is set forth below.

  • Herp Alliance congratulates USARK on this significant milestone.  While the case is not over, preliminary injunction is considered an “extraordinary remedy never awarded as of right. In each case, courts must balance the competing claims of injury and consider the effect of granting or withholding the requested relief, paying particular regard to the public consequences.”  To be clear: this is a huge win for the Reptile Nation.
  • The Preliminary Injunction applies to USARK members as of April 8, 2015.  If you were not a formal member on that date, we recommend against claiming membership based on donation status.  USARK will lose credibility (and may be committing fraud) if it now claims to have thousands of members who did not apply for membership between April 8, 2014 and April 8, 2015.
  • The Lacey Act carries criminal penalties.  Herp Alliance recommends against risking criminal penalties in order to take advantage of the preliminary injunction.
  • USARK is not at fault for the limited scope of the preliminary injunction.  Judge Moss is the ultimate arbiter of this lawsuit. USARK sought a blanket injunction against FWS in terms of enforcing the Final Rule.  The fact that it was granted at all is a victory.  The battle is not over.
  • Support USARK now.  The Humane Society of the United States and the Center for Biological Diversity have filed motions seeking to intervene as defendants on the side of FWS.  There is a lot of legal runway ahead of us and USARK will need all the donations it can get for the battles ahead.

 

The Elephant in the Room with the Reptiles

As a litigator myself, I have always told clients that litigation is like finding a piece of string on the floor that leads out a closed door. Sometimes, when you pull on that string, a ball of yarn rolls to your feet.  But sometimes, you pull that string, and an elephant walks into your sitting room.

boa constrictor elephant2On December 18, 2013, USARK filed its Complaint against Sally Jewell, Secretary of the Interior, and US Fish and Wildlife Service challenging the Constrictor Rule to the Lacey Act.

The Defendants responded with a highly technical Motion to Dismiss and USARK responded with an even more technical Response containing a tortured explanation of how USARK is now a conservation organization.  We await the government’s Reply which is due within the week.  So far, all of the legal wrangling pertains to pleading deficiencies alleged by the government in USARK’s Complaint.

As Herp Alliance has stated repeatedly, we think that USARK will be able to amend its Complaint to correct those pleading deficiencies such that it can overcome the hurdle of standing.

So far, this has little to do with arbitrary and capricious rule making or a reach by the government through the Lacey Act to try to restrict interstate commerce, which is the meat of USARK’s complaint.

We have been asked repeatedly for our opinion of USARK’s case.  The strength of a lawsuit does not lie solely in the application of facts to the law.  We like USARK’s legal argument.  Nonetheless, the case is weak, very weak, and for one major reason:  money.

If the rumors on Facebook are true, USARK has raised $137,000 toward the lawsuit.  If this lawsuit goes to trial, it will easily cost more than ten times that amount, which is far more money than USARK has.  Without the funds to continue the fight, the case will die on the vines.  The government knows that USARK is underfunded, and their legal team is probably acutely aware that USARK is going to labor intensely just to make it through discovery, much less early dispositive motions like the pending Motion to Dismiss.

Individuals who are invested in the interstate commerce of large constrictors should reach deeply into their pockets now and donate to USARK’s Legal Defense Fund if they want this lawsuit to continue, otherwise there will be little chance to succeed.

USARK's lead attorney, Shaun Gehan, announced today that he has left Kelley Drye and started his own firm.
USARK’s lead attorney, Shaun Gehan, announced today that he has left Kelley Drye and started his own firm.

Another problem for USARK is that their lead counsel, Shaun Gehan, the attorney who has so far signed all of USARK’s pleadings, announced today on LinkedIn that he is no longer with Kelley Drye and has started his own firm.  Although Kelley Drye is a very large firm with tremendous legal resources, the abrupt departure of USARK’s lead counsel and presumably the attorney most knowledgeable about the case, is very bad news for USARK.  Yes, another attorney can step into those shoes, but it will be expensive to bring that attorney up to speed.

But the frailties of the federal lawsuit are not the elephant in the room with herpetoculture today.  We have a much bigger problem on our hands, and that problem is the landslide of state ballot initiatives that are marching unfettered across the country right now.  Even if USARK wins the federal lawsuit, it will be immaterial if it is illegal to own herps at the state level.

USARK has not testified at any of the state level committee hearings in 2013 or states2014.  Andrew Wyatt, former President and CEO of the Herp Alliance, testified at the Committee Hearing of Maryland House Bill 1124 (Criminal Possession of Dangerous Wild Animals), where the bill sponsor had Debbie Leahy (Captive Wildlife Regulatory Specialist, HSUS) seated at his side to present the bill to the House Committee.  Prior to joining HSUS, Leahy founded the animal rights group Illinois Animal Action, which she headed for eight years. She then joined PETA and lead their nationwide campaign against circuses and roadside zoos. PETA has bragged about Leahy that she “has dashed onto killing fields to disrupt pheasant hunts,” and “dressed as a giant rabbit to protest cruel animal tests.”

stop_sign_HSUSDebbie Leahy is not an attorney.  She is an extreme animal rights activist.  And she sat in the Maryland General Assembly aside Representative Eric Luedtke and presented a piece of legislation to the House Environmental Matters Committee and helped deliver a first reading of a bill.  This is a single example.  Lousiana is currently trying to outlaw carpet pythons, among others, and the enormous, over-reaching West Virginia Dangerous Wild Animals Act sailed through both chambers virtually unopposed and now sits on Governor Tomblin’s desk.  HSUS is clear on its web site that it believes all reptile ownership should be forbidden:

“Captive snakes and other reptiles are difficult and dangerous to care for, and released or escaped snakes wreak havoc on the environment.”

HSUS (http://www.humanesociety.org/issues/exotic_pets/).

The animal rights industry is winning the war against reptiles with bill after bill going unopposed across the United States.  Being allowed to ship Burmese pythons between states will be an expensive and meaningless victory if it is a criminal act to own them privately.

2014 may be a turning point for herpetoculture and the time to act is upon us.

Reptiles and Advocacy and the Long Road Ahead

The 2014 legislative session has opened with a bang this year, with multiple bills affecting herpetoculture introduced in Wisconsin, West Virginia, Louisiana, Indiana, Missouri, and Maryland.  Bills introduced in New York, New Jersey and South Carolina in 2013 started moving again.

At this time, there is no national organization that is representing private keepers of herpetofauna directly at the state level.  PIJAC faded out with the departure of its CEO and president, Michael Canning.

Herp Alliance ceased its state level engagement (testifying and advocating directly with legislators) at the end of 2013 when it also stopped accepting donations and memberships.

Although USARK insists that it is engaged in statehouse disputes, no one from the organization has been testifying against state ballot initiatives impacting herpetoculture.  On information and belief, USARK has not testified at a single state level legislative committee hearing since Andrew Wyatt’s departure in 2012.  USARK recently stated on its Facebook page that, “the reason USARK has requested that state constituents speak up is because those are the voices that matter most.”

Lacey Act quoteThis leaves no national organization advocating for the Reptile Nation at the state level.  The outcome of the Lacey Act Rulemaking will be irrelevant if it becomes illegal to own reptiles in every state.  The interstate transport of Burmese pythons will no longer matter if their ownership and breeding becomes illegal.

The Reptile Nation needs advocacy and it needs it now.  Advocating against the avalanche of animal rights legislation that is burying this industry and this hobby requires more than a flurry of Facebook status updates and blog posts in a helter skelter rush without any interpretation or organization.  In fact, that method only creates confusion and chaos.Peta Exotic Animals

Stakeholders within a jurisdiction are always critical to a fight. However, there are many situations in which those stakeholders cannot or will not speak.  Ohio has taught us many lessons, and one of those lessons is that every exotic animal owner who had the courage to suit up and show up in those unending committee hearings and deliver their carefully prepared testimony received a notice from the Department of Agriculture as soon as SB 310 became law that they had to bring themselves into compliance with the new, prohibitive regulatory scheme or their animals would be confiscated.  Their testimony made them targets.

hsus reptilesIt’s in those situations that a national organization can bring to bear the weight of its numbers under the cloak of safe anonymity.  It is the role of a trade organization to collect the data, to make the arguments, to lead, and to advocate on behalf of its constituents.  Advocacy happens when your back side is not in your easy chair with a computer screen shielding you from both legislatures and the people whose passions, hobbies and livelihoods depend on your competence and your determination.

Consider the biggest heavyweight in the animal rights arena, the Humane Society of the United States, that quarter billion dollar behemoth that decided that reptile ownership is inhumane.  (By the way, HSUS counts its total victory in Ohio as its #3 accomplishment for 2012.)

HSUS claims to “connect people of awareness with the reality of what’s advocacyoccurring with animals.”  HSUS does not sit on the sidelines and tell “people of awareness” in their respective states that they should lead their own legislative disputes.  HSUS operates like a finely tuned machine, with a network of attorneys and lobbyists doing the heavy lifting of engaging on ballot initiatives.  That is our model.  That is what is required.

What the Reptile Nation needs is simple:  advocacy.

USARK may have a very good reason for its apparent recalcitrance to personally engage in state level disputes:  the federal lawsuit challenging the Constrictor Rule of the Lacey Act.

logo5USARK used to publish its quarterly and annual financial statements on its web site.  As of now, its last financial report is from 2012 and no quarterly reports were published in 2013.  Although its total donations from 2012 were $244,485, its net income was -$35,766.

Facebook fans claim that USARK raised $137,000 to fund its federal lawsuit. USARK MoneyAssuming that figure is exclusively for its legal fund, it is a drop in the bucket.  A federal lawsuit, if it goes to trial, will easily run into the millions, and you can be sure that the defendants, whose pockets are deep with taxpayer money, will push it there.  USARK has never come close to raising a million dollars in a year.  The money simply doesn’t exist, and part of the government’s defense strategy has to be grinding USARK out of money to fight its legal battle.

If USARK is funneling all of its donations to try to fuel the federal lawsuit, then it makes sense that it cannot afford to fight at the state level as a matter of economics.  This will be a death knell for the Reptile Nation.  Under this scenario, even a hard fought victory against the US Fish & Wildlife Service will be meaningless if large constrictors are outlawed piece by piece.

In the vacuum of national representation, stakeholders in every state need to organize and now, and they need to start directing their donations toward their own organizations to fund their own legal defense funds.  Terry Wilkins and Polly Britton in Ohio emerged as industry and community leaders, retaining an attorney, finding named plaintiffs, and seeing a lawsuit all the way through to a federal appeal.

This is the model that the Reptile Nation is going to have to follow in order to have any chance at all because there is no one left at the national level with the talent and the resources to combat the tenacious march of legislation that is being pushed by the animal rights industry.

 

 

 

USARK v. Sally Jewell et al. Part One: Procedural Posture

logo5Herp Alliance is receiving a lot of inquiries regarding the complaint filed by the United States Association of Reptile Keepers on December 18, 2013 against Sally Jewell, Secretary of the Interior, and US Fish and Wildlife Service challenging the Constrictor Rule to the Lacey Act.  We are not involved in the litigation and are not consultants on the litigation.  However, we are glad that USARK has taken affirmative action on behalf of herpetoculture to challenge what we agree is a completely aribitrary and capricious rulemaking.

This will be a series of blogs intended to help clarify the proceedings for non-lawyers.  These blogs are not intended as legal advice; we are simply reporting on the case progression and offering opinions as we see the issues.

Procedural Posture:  Where do we stand?

What is the Constrictor Rule?  On March 12, 2010, the US Fish & Wildlife Service (“FWS”) proposed a rule to add nine large constrictors to the list of injurious species under the Lacey Act.  On January 23, 2012, Defendants enacted a partial rule, adding four of the nine species (Burmese python, North African python, South African python, and yellow anaconda) to the injurious list.  The Constrictor Rule prohibits not only importation, but all interstate transport of the four species of large constrictors.  Defendants have yet to act on the remaining five constrictors, but it appears that a finalization of the Constrictor Rule to add additional species is imminent.

USARK files its lawsuit.  

What is USARK asking for?

USARK filed a complaint for injunctive relief and declaratory judgment.  This means that they are asking the Court to enter an order stating:

  • That in issuing the Constrictor Rule, Defendants violated the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”) and the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”);
  • That the Defandants lack legal authority to ban interstate transportation and commerce in the listed species because the ban on interstate transportation and commerce of injurious species is through administrative rule making and exceeds the expressed language of the Lacey Act;
  • That the Defendants enactment of the Constrictor Rule is ultra vires (meaning beyond their powers) and contrary to law;
  • Enjoining (barring) Defendants from applying the Constrictor Rule;
  • That FWS be required to prepare a lawful environmental impact statement and rational basis for any new rule proposed; and
  • Awarding USARK its costs and attorneys’ fees.

USARK is not seeking monetary damages in its action for injunctive relief and declaratory judgment.  This means that if USARK were to win, the provisions set forth above are what it has requested in its prayer for relief.  That is what USARK is asking for from the Court.

USARK’s arguments.

USARK argues that FWS was arbitrary and capricious in its enactment of the Constrictor Rule under NEPA and APA.

NEPA argument.  USARK alleged that Defendants failed to follow NEPA’s statutory requirements in that FWS did not prepare an environmental impact statement (“EIS”) and that its environmental analysis (“EA”) was inadequate.

APA argument.  The APA provides a right of review to persons adversely affected by an agency action within the meaning of a relevant statute.

  • USARK is claiming that in prohibiting interstate transport of the four species of constrictor snakes, FWS has exceeded its authority under the statutory provisions of the Lacey Act.
  • It also argues that Defendants failed to provide  reasoned bases for the enactment of the Constrictor Rule.

The Motion to Dismiss

Once a complaint is filed, the defendants have a proscribed amount of time in which to respond or otherwise plead.  In this case, Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss.  A motion to dismiss is a predictable response.  It is the first volley from a defendant to see if they can get rid of a case due to pleading defects or other bars to a cause of action.

Defendants brought their Motion to Dismiss under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6).

FRCP 12(b)(1) states that a case should be dismissed when the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction.  Subject-matter jurisdiction is the authority of a court to hear cases of a particular type or cases relating to a specific subject matter.

FRCP 12(b)(6) allows a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted (pleading deficiencies).

Defendants first attack USARK’s standing to bring the complaint.  In very general terms, standing is the ability of a party to demonstrate to the court sufficient connection to and harm from the law or action challenged to support that party’s participation in the case.  There are some nuances that fall under the umbrella of standing.  Here, Defendants claim that USARK lacks prudential standing as well as constitutional standing.

Without getting into a lengthy legal discussion on standing, Defendants make a good argument about USARK’s lack of standing and Herp Alliance believes that the USARK complaint will be dismissed without prejudice on the basis of standing.  

This is not a fatal flaw.  It means that there are marks of haste in the USARK complaint and it was not drafted as carefully as it could have been.  If the Court dismisses the Complaint without prejudice, USARK will be given leave to amend its Complaint in order to cure its pleading defects.  The net result is that some time and money are wasted but USARK will likely be given a “do-over” for at least its actions under the APA, but only under NEPA if it can allege facts that establish that it has an environmental interest .

Defendants next argue that the statute of limitations has run on USARK’s challenge to the interstate transport issue because the regulation was established in 1965 and USARK is now time barred.  Herp Alliance believes that this argument is nonsensical and Defendants will not prevail on this argument.

Finally, Defendants argue that Count IV is duplicative of Counts I, II and III, which it likely is.

Conclusion

Herp Alliance believes that the Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss will be granted in part and denied in part.  As a result, we believe that USARK’s Complaint will be dismissed without prejudice and USARK will be granted leave to amend its complaint to cure the deficiencies that exist in the original pleading.

The net result is some lost time and money on attorneys’ fees without yet getting to the merits of any claim that can be asserted by USARK once its complaint is properly pled.  At this point, it is premature to conjecture as to Defendants’ responses to USARK’s substantive allegations because their Motion to Dismiss is technical and not a response to the factual allegations in USARK’s Complaint.