WASHINGTON, May 16, 2014— The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), along with other animal rights groups, are paying a court settlement of almost $16 million to Feld Entertainment Inc., the parent company of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.
The $15.75 million settlement ends nearly 14 years of litigation between the parties from a lawsuit the groups brought against Ringling Bros. over the care of its Asian elephants.
“We hope this settlement payment, and the various court decisions that found against these animal rights activists and their attorneys, will deter individuals and organizations from bringing frivolous litigation like this in the future,” said Kenneth Feld, CEO of Feld Entertainment.
HSUS and other animal rights groups including the Fund for Animals, Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), Born Free USA and the Wildlife Advocacy Project were involved in the case brought under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
In December 2012, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), a former co-defendant in the case, settled by paying $9.3 million. Thursday’s settlement brings the total to more than $25 million in legal fees, which Feld said it spent defending the case.
U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan in Washington dismissed the animal rights groups’ claims under the ESA in 2009. He discredited a key animal rights groups’ witness, finding that they had paid the former circus elephant trainer over $190,000 to testify. In 2013, Sullivan said the groups would have to cover Feld’s legal fees.
Josh Simpson, Feld Entertainment's legal counsel, said the case “was a colossal abuse of the justice system” and that it is the first time a judge awarded fees to a defendant in an Endangered Species Act case.
The animal rights groups admit no wrongdoing in the case, but said the projected attorneys’ fees were too high to continue with the litigation. Michael Markarian, president of The Fund for Animals, said the court never ruled on the question of the abuse of circus elephants, so the groups decided to settle rather than pay additional fees.
Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, said donor dollars from HSUS will not go toward the settlement, which he said should be covered through insurance.
“But with the funds Feld is receiving, we urge the company to combat the killing of tens of thousands of elephants for their ivory,” Pacelle said. “Circuses say they are good to elephants. Help these elephants in crisis, and you’ll help your company’s reputation as simply profiting off the lives of these creatures.”
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