Judge Dismisses SLAAP Suit Against ALDFAugust 1st, 2006
It was a blatant act of desperation, and the
Court saw right through it. In an attempt to silence those who have
exposed his abusive practices, animal "trainer" Sid Yost recently filed
a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation—or "SLAPP
suit"—against ALDF and four other plaintiffs who last year filed suit
against him in Los Angeles federal court for abusing the chimpanzees he
profits from when they are forced to appear at Hollywood parties and in
commercial productions. Yost claimed defamation and economic injury
after ALDF filed its complaint against him last November. In March, the
Court dismissed Yost’s countersuit, even finding that Yost should pay
legal fees ALDF had incurred to defend against this SLAPP suit. The
judge thus exposed Yost’s retaliatory action as another example of a
complaint without merit, filed primarily to deter ALDF’s exercise of
its constitutional right of freedom of speech—but mainly as an effort
by Yost to keep the truth about his years of abuse out of the public
eye. SLAPP suits are often used by corporations and by individuals like
Yost as an attempt to suppress opposition to their activities.
ALDF’s suit against Yost is the result of testimony from primatologist Sarah Baeckler, who worked alongside Yost for more than a year. She said the chimpanzees at Yost’s animal-training compound in Malibu, California, live in small cages and that she observed them routinely being beaten to break their spirits and make them submissive so that they became fearful and withdrawn when a trainer approached. Over several months, she said, a three-year-old chimpanzee named Sable was punched in the back, kicked in the head, and had objects—including a rock, a mallet, and a broom handle—thrown at her.
In ALDF’s complaint to rescue chimpanzees Angel, Apollo, Cody, and Sable from the frequent abuse meted out by Yost and his employees, ALDF is claiming that by physically injuring animals listed as "threatened" by the Endangered Species Act, Yost is in direct violation of the Act.
In its decision to dismiss Yost’s SLAPP suit, the Court also noted that the humane treatment of animals is an area of public concern, and the viewpoint of animal welfare proponents, like ALDF, contributes to the public debate.
"Eyewitness testimony will prove that Yost uses vicious beatings and intimidation to force terrified chimpanzees to perform in the spotlight," said ALDF attorney Bruce Wagman. "It is unconscionable—and illegal—for him to abuse our closest relatives for our viewing pleasure and his profit. If there is justice for these animals, ALDF’s efforts will see to it that they no longer suffer the pain and fear of being subjected to his cruel ‘training’ techniques."