A Washington federal appeals court will decide whether an animal rights group has standing to challenge the alleged mistreatment of Asian elephants by handlers at Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.
After a six-week bench trial in 2009, Judge Emmet Sullivan of U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia said the non-profit advocacy group Animal Protection Institute and a former circus elephant handler do not have standing to pursue the abuse claims.
Sullivan in December 2009 ruled in favor of Feld Entertainment, Inc., which produces the Ringling Bros. circus. The judge did not rule on the substance of the abuse allegations.
The API, represented by Sidley Austin partner Carter Phillips, today asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to reverse Sullivan’s decision.
In the appeals court, Phillips, who manages the firm’s Washington office, argued the animal rights group has spent significant resources in its effort to “uncover and combat” alleged mistreatment of Asian elephants in the Ringling Bros. circus.
But for the alleged mistreatment of the elephants, Phillips argued, the Animal Protection Institute would dedicate funds to other causes.
Arguing before D.C. Circuit judges Merrick Garland, David Tatel and Janice Rogers Brown, Phillips tried to convince the panel that Feld Entertainment’s action has harmed the Animal Protection Institute and that the group therefore has standing to challenge the circus’ practices.
Brown expressed some concern about opening the door in providing standing to everybody who advocates against a particular cause or issue. Phillips said API spends money specifically to fight the alleged abuse of Asian elephants in the Ringling Bros. circus.
The suit, originally filed in 2000 in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, seeks to stop chaining and “bullhooking” of Asian elephants.