PETA Hog-Catching Case Fails for Lack of Standing

On February 8, 2023, the Texas Fourth Court of Appeals affirmed a judgment dismissing a lawsuit that animal rights group, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), and a former PETA employee had brought seeking to enjoin the “Bandera Wrangler’s Hog Catch,” a feral hog-catching contest held annually in Bandera, Texas.  PETA v. Bandera Wranglers, No. 04-21-00466-CV (Tex. Civ. App. — San Antonio 2023).  The court ruled that neither plaintiff had standing to sue under Texas law.

As described in the appellate court’s opinion:

The hog catch involves approximately eighty feral hogs each year.   The feral hogs are caught by local ranchers, farmers, or other persons who loan, donate, or sell the hogs to Bandera Wranglers.  Members of the public are eligible to compete in the hog catch.  The object of the hog catch is to catch and bag a hog in a burlap sack and drag the bagged pig across a designated line in the fastest time possible.  During the hog catch, a team of two human adults or teenagers chase and attempt to catch and bag an adult or juvenile hog inside a fully-enclosed arena, surrounded by spectators and other hogs held in adjacent pens.  A children’s event also occurs where young children chase a large group of piglets in an effort to touch any piglet as quickly as possible.  Slip op. at 2.

Texas standing law, like federal standing law, requires that the plaintiff suffer a concrete injury traceable to the defendant’s conduct that is redressable by court order.  Relying upon the federal standing theory of “resource drain” organizational injury, as set out in Havens Realty Corp. v. Coleman, 455 U.S. 363 (1982), PETA argued that it was injured by defendant’s actions because PETA had to divert resources from its “ordinary charitable activities” in order to address the alleged mistreatment of the animals in the hog catch.  As the appellate court ruled,  however,  “no Texas state court has recognized the concept of organizational standing.”  Slip. op. at 6.  As the court observed:

We begin with the principle that “[m]ajor changes in established law should be made by our Supreme Court.” . . .  Havens creates an entirely new standing test (mission impairment and diversion of resources) that, if adopted, supplants Texas’s longstanding rule (concrete injury, traceability, and redressability).  In the trial court, PETA argued it was relieved from establishing standing in the same way as individuals on the basis that organizational standing has “different elements.”  Moreover, PETA’s assertion that federal courts have forty years of jurisprudential experience applying organizational standing also cuts the other way: Texas courts have had forty years of opportunity to adopt organizational standing but have not.  Relying exclusively on organizational standing as a basis for jurisdiction, we hold PETA failed to affirmatively demonstrate the trial court’s jurisdiction.  Slip. op. at 6-7 (citations omitted).

The individual plaintiff, Waples, asserted that she had standing because she had a “present, genuine fear” that the hog catch “will result in a zoonotic disease outbreak in Texas” and that the hog catch “desensitize[s] persons to violence by exposing them to acts of cruelty to animals, thereby increasing Waples’s risk of being a victim of crime in Texas.”  Slip op. at 3.  Assuming these assertions to be true, the court ruled that they did not establish Waples’ standing:

[S]he cannot establish a substantial risk of either an outbreak of zoonotic disease or increased violent crime because of the hog catch.  For example, she pleads no facts demonstrating either having occurred in the nearly two decades that the hog catch has been held.  Waples also cannot show an actual or imminent threat of either zoonotic contagion or increased violent crime as a result of the hog catch. . . . Stated differently, the alleged health and safety threats posed by the hog catch (and Waples’s concomitant fears) are hypothetical—particularly given Waples’s residence approximately 120 miles away from the location of the hog catch.  Slip op. at 8 (citations omitted).

The individual plaintiff’s standing claims were speculative and their dismissal was was not much different than what would have occurred in federal court.  But it is interesting that the court of appeals had no interest in adopting the “resource drain” theory of organizational standing.  This has become a popular theory with animal rights groups in pursuing agenda-driven litigation in federal court.  Apparently not so much in Texas state court.  Whether this case goes to a higher level in the Texas appellate system remains to be seen.

Regardless of one’s views about the fate of 80 feral hogs in a hog-catching contest, it is well to note the observations of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) that “[w]ild pigs are now the United States’ most abundant free-ranging introduced ungulate,” with a population that increased from 2.4 million to 6.9 million between 1982 and 2016.   Furthermore, “[w]ild pigs have been listed as one of the top 100 worst exotic invasive species in the world,” inflicting significant damages on crops and the environment and precipitating substantial annual control costs.  Wild-pig-related agricultural losses in Texas alone are estimated at $118.8 million annually.  According to TPWD, “[a]ssuming that the cost-per-wild pig estimate has remained constant, the annual costs associated with wild pigs in the United States are likely closer to $2.1 billion today.”

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The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the author and are not to be construed as legal advice.

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