by John M. Simpson.
As many lawyers representing animal-related businesses regulated by U.S. federal government agencies can attest to, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) litigation by animal activist interests has become what amounts to a cottage industry. Animal activist groups are prolific in their FOIA requests to various federal animal-related agencies — such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which regulates animal exhibitors and researchers under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) — for information on the persons and entities subject to USDA regulation. This quest for business information typically unfolds as follows: a business will mark its internal commercial and financial information “confidential” when submitting it to the agency in connection with an agency proceeding; the information is then requested through FOIA; the agency withholds it under FOIA Exemption 4; and then the fight becomes whether the release of the information will inflict “substantial competitive harm” on the submitter. This all changed today with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Food Marketing Institute v. Argus Leader Media, No. 18-481, Slip opinion (U.S. June 24, 2019). Continue reading Significant U.S. Supreme Court FOIA Decision Likely To Complicate Activist Agendas
by John M. Simpson.
On June 3, 2019, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia granted in part and denied in part cross-motions for summary judgment in a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) case that the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) had brought against the U.S Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, et al. (APHIS). Humane Soc’y of the U.S. v. Animal and Plant Health Insp. Serv., et al., No. 1:18-cv-00646 (TNM) (D.D.C. June 3, 2019). HSUS’s FOIA request was for site-inspection reports and other inspection records for specific animal dealers and exhibitors who are subject to regulation by APHIS under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). Continue reading HSUS Gets Mixed Result in D.C. FOIA Case
An advocacy group called the White Coat Waste Project has filed a lawsuit in federal court arguing that the United States Department of Agriculture (“USDA”) has wrongfully withheld documents related to experiments conducted on cats at its Beltsville, Maryland Agricultural Research Center. White Coat Waste Project v. United States Department of Agriculture, No. 1:18-cv-02070 (D.D.C.). Using the federal Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”), the White Coat Waste Project requested records related to the USDA’s “Toxoplasmosis in Cats” study, including veterinary records for all cats and kittens used in the experiment, as well as a complete project budget. Having received no response to its FOIA request within the statutory time limit, the White Coat Waste Project filed the lawsuit seeking a declaration that the USDA’s failure to respond to its FOIA request was unlawful, ordering USDA to produce the requested records, and for its attorneys’ fees. Continue reading A Bipartisan Challenge to Animal Experimentation
by John M. Simpson
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit recently affirmed a summary judgment in favor of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) which had denied a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) for information about the importation of nonhuman primates. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals v. U.S. Dep’t of Health and Human Serv., No. 16-5269 (D.C. Cir. August, 17, 2018). The appellate court agreed with the lower court that the release of such information would cause substantial competitive injury to the importers who had provided such information to HHS and therefore was properly withheld under FOIA Exemption 4, which exempts “trade secrets and commercial or financial information obtained from a person and privileged or confidential” from disclosure. 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(4). Continue reading D.C. Circuit Rejects PETA Nonhuman Primate FOIA Claim
by John M. Simpson
In Animal Legal Defense Fund v. U.S. Dep’t of Agriculture, 2018 WL 23987812 (N.D. Cal. May 25, 2018), the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California recently granted summary judgment to the government in a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit in which the plaintiff challenged the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “policy and practice of interpreting the statute to exclude nonhuman animals.” The case arose out of a FOIA request by an animal rights organization for inspection records of USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service concerning Tony the Tiger — a Bengal tiger maintained at a truck stop in Louisiana. Continue reading Court Rules Bengal Tiger Is Not An “Individual” Under FOIA