Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus wants the animal rights groups that unsuccessfully sued over allegations that the circus was mistreating elephants to pay its legal fees, which could run in excess of $20 million.
After more than a decade of litigation, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit found in October that the animal rights groups could not proceed with their claims against Feld Entertainment Inc., which runs the Ringling Bros. circus. In a motion (PDF) filed yesterday afternoon, Feld Entertainment argued that the animal rights groups and their attorneys should pay its legal bills.
The motion didn't specify an amount, but Feld Entertainment did state that it had spent upwards of $20 million fighting the case.
The animal rights groups, which include the Animal Protection Institute, first sued Feld Entertainment in 2000 in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The groups, along with a former circus elephant handler named Tom Rider, accused the circus of abusing and mistreating its Asian elephants.
Following a bench trial, U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan found (PDF) in 2009 that the animal rights groups and Rider did not have standing to pursue the claims. Sullivan found that because Rider was paid by the animal rights groups, his testimony and claims of having a strong attachment to the elephants were not credible. The judge didn’t reach the merits of the claims regarding any alleged abuse of elephants.
The animal rights groups appealed, but a three-judge D.C. Circuit panel affirmed Sullivan’s ruling in October. The case went back to Sullivan for briefing on whether Feld Entertainment should be entitled to fees and, if so, how much.
In the motion filed yesterday, Feld Entertainment argued that Rider and the animal rights groups were to blame for the “decade of needless and expensive litigation.” The plaintiffs deliberately withheld the fact that Rider was being paid, Feld Entertainment argued, dragging out litigation and forcing the defendants to “overcome a fraud on the court to win the case.”
Feld Entertainment also accused the plaintiffs of other tactics that delayed litigation, including changing plaintiffs and shifting claims on short notice.
“The conduct in this case is egregious, and, based on FEI’s research, is far worse than the conduct reported in any caselaw in this Circuit, or any other. This case is unprecedented, but for the worst of reasons,” Feld Entertainment argued in its brief.
Feld Entertainment also wants plaintiffs’ attorneys to be part of any finding in favor of fees, arguing that “[f]raud on the court undeniably occurred here, where a paid plaintiff told critical lies upon which the courts had to rely, and counsel sat at the center of those lies and payments.”
Lead counsel for Feld Entertainment, Fulbright & Jaworski partner John Simpson, declined to comment on the motion, stating in an e-mail that: “We will let our filing speak for itself and will await a ruling from the Court for further direction.”
A lead attorney for the plaintiffs, Katherine Meyer of Washington’s Meyer Glitzenstein & Crystal, along with other attorneys for the plaintiffs, could not immediately be reached for comment today.
Feld Entertainment is also pursuing a racketeering case against the animal rights groups in Washington federal court, related to the elephant litigation and other alleged unlawful activities Feld Entertainment claims are aimed at stopping Asian elephants from appearing in circuses. A motion to dismiss filed by the animal rights groups is pending before Sullivan, the presiding judge in that case as well.