ALDF's Landmark Cases
Since the very beginning, cutting-edge lawsuits have been at the heart of ALDF’s work to protect the lives of animals. From pushing government agencies to do their jobs to protect animals to shining a national spotlight on issues like factory farming and dissection in schools, here are some of the cases that have put the Animal Legal Defense Fund at the forefront of animal law:
The Burros of China Lake
In March of 1981, the U.S. Navy secretly shot and killed 648 feral burros at the Naval Weapons Center in China Lake, California. In the organization’s first big case, ALDF, representing the Animal Protection Institute and the Fund for Animals, argued that the Navy had violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The Navy subsequently released a draft environmental impact statement under NEPA, in which it advocated the shooting of all 2000-5000 burros in the China Lake area. After months of negotiation, a settlement was reached on October 20, 1981, and the Navy agreed to allow the Fund for Animals to remove the burros (with the Navy paying them $50 per burro removed) and the Animal Protection Institute to adopt them out to safe new homes. There was no further shooting of burros.
MOL, Inc. v. the People’s Republic of Bangladesh—Monkeys in Peril
In 1977, MOL, Inc., an Oregon corporation, was granted an exclusive license from the government of Bangladesh to export 71,500 rhesus monkeys to the United States to be used exclusively for medical and scientific "research." Bangladesh later terminated the contract, and MOL sued the Bangladeshi government in U.S. District Court for $15 million in damages. Throughout the course of the litigation, Bangladesh, an impoverished nation, did not attempt to defend itself; in 1983, ALDF stepped in and filed an amicus curiae ("friend of the court") brief on their behalf. The U.S. District Court, citing ALDF’s brief, dismissed the lawsuit. MOL appealed the decision all the way to the United States Supreme Court, where ALDF filed the last of several amicus briefs relating to the case. The Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal, bringing the suit to an end. As a result of ALDF’s intervention, 71,500 monkeys were free to live out their natural lives in their native land.
ALDF v. Provimi Veal Corporation
In 1985, ALDF sued the Provimi Veal Corporation, the originator and instigator of the "special fed" (or "milk fed") veal industry, alleging that the manner in which calves were raised for Provimi was cruel and that, because the calves were intentionally kept anemic, the resulting meat was iron-deficient and "unwholesome," in violation of the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act. This lawsuit marked the first time in American legal history that the incredibly cruel intensive farming of special fed veal calves, in which calves are deprived of iron and kept completely confined so that their flesh remains pale and soft, was challenged in court.
ALDF sought to stop the cruel factory farming of veal calves for Provimi and to bar Provimi from selling, within the State of Massachusetts, the meat of intensively confined special fed veal calves raised in a manner that is unfair or deceptive. ALDF also sought to require all sellers of milk fed veal in Massachusetts to display a truthful statement on the package as to how the calves are raised. Despite the Court’s finding that federal law preempted ALDF’s claims under Massachusetts law, granting judgment for Provimi, the suit galvanized national attention around the plight of veal calves.
Steel-Jaw Traps on Trial
In a first-of-its-kind legal action, ALDF filed suit in 1985 in New York for a statewide permanent injunction against the use of steel-jaw leghold traps on the grounds that the trap violates state anti-cruelty laws. The complaint was filed on behalf of 38 plaintiffs, including guardians of animals caught in traps, veterinarians who had treated trapped animals, and environmental and animal rights organizations representing one million people nationwide. Dozens of veterinarians filed affidavits testifying to the horrific injuries animals caught in leghold traps endure, including deep gashes in the flesh, shattered bones, massive hemorrhaging, and displaced jaws, shoulders and hips.
In deciding against the plaintiffs, the Court narrowly interpreted New York’s fish and game law, but nevertheless noted: "If this Court could substitute its own personal feelings and emotions in place of the law and legal precedent, we could end this opinion here with a decision favoring the protection of animals."
Patent Pending Cruelty
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office had never granted a patent on an animal; in fact it had a long-standing practice of denying the patentability of animals. In April of 1987, the Patent Office abruptly reversed its policy and agreed to accept patent applications for new species of animals created by genetic engineering. Concerned about the serious potential for increased harm to farmed and other animals through patenting, ALDF oversaw the introduction of federal legislation to place a two year moratorium on the patenting of animals. When Congress failed to pass legislation to halt the U.S. Patent Office’s policy of granting patents on animals, ALDF sued the Patent Office in August 1988 on behalf of itself, humane groups, and family farmers to stop the patenting. The Federal Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that ALDF lacked standing to bring this lawsuit.
Behind the suit was the concern that animals genetically “designed” to be patented would endure unnecessary pain and suffering. For example, a human growth gene placed in pigs to make the animals grow faster and leaner also created chronic arthritis in the pigs as muscle tissues grew disproportionately to the rest of the animals’ bodies.
First-Ever National Dissection Hotline
After California high school student Jenifer Graham made national headlines for refusing to dissect a frog in her biology class, her ensuing lawsuit prompted the first state law that protects a student’s right not to harm animals in the classroom. Believing that students should have a right not to dissect, ALDF began sponsoring a national, toll-free Students Against Dissection hotline.
Under the direction of Jenifer’s mother, Pat Graham, the hotline provided students with information on alternative methods of study, as well as personalized guidance on how to approach teachers and other school officials. ALDF also produced handbooks directed toward students discussing objecting to dissection in practical terms and a handbook for teachers on alternatives to dissection. The hotline logged more than 10,000 calls in the project’s first year and drew national attention to dissection as a critical animal protection issue. The National Anti-Vivisection Society eventual took over sponsorship of the hotline.
Victories for Mountain Lions and Bears—Oh My!
Between 1987 and 1989, ALDF, working with the Fund for Animals and other groups, successfully challenged the State of California’s plan to hunt mountain lions and paved the way for a legislative moratorium. ALDF and the Fund went on to halt the 1989 black bear hunt in California. A superior court judge agreed with ALDF’s position and called a halt to all black bear hunting until the California Fish and Game Department conducted a full environmental review of the bear’s population and habitat. In response to the Fish and Game Department’s failure to conduct a meaningful review of the black bear population since at least 1976, Judge Cecily Bond stated: "Simply continuing bear hunt levels year after year could well spell disaster for California’s black bear population. It’s a prescription for extinction, not a polity of sound management."
In 1990, using a law that mandates that the Fish and Game Department consider the welfare of individual animals, ALDF and the Fund won another lawsuit against the agency and the same judge halted the bear bow hunting season in California. Finding that state Fish and Game officials had violated the law by failing to consider the welfare of individual animals who might be crippled or wounded by arrows, Judge Bond ruled that Fish and Game failed to acknowledge the large number of wounded animals who would suffer slow, painful deaths from pierced organs or from infections caused by arrows. This was the first time that a California court applied the section mandating the state agency to consider the welfare of individual animals in setting hunting seasons.
ALDF v. Glickman—Barney’s Legacy
When ALDF discovered a chimpanzee named Barney in a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)-licensed roadside zoo, he was languishing in solitary confinement on the cement floor of a cage. Deprived of companionship and veterinary care, he suffered from severe psychological and physical distress until he escaped from his cage and was shot and killed by a zoo employee. On behalf of Mark Jurnove, a frequent zoo visitor disturbed by the isolation and neglect that marked Barney’s daily life, ALDF sued the USDA for failing to set standards to protect primates under the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA).
In October 1996, a U.S. District Court Judge found the USDA in violation of the AWA and ordered the agency to develop stricter standards, emphasizing the need to address the psychological well-being of primates in captivity. U.S. District Court Judge Charles Richey called the USDA’s failure to issue such standards. "egregious." "This case involves an abject failure in the rulemaking process…to enforce the AWA," he stated.
ALDF v. Glickman was the fourth in a series of five lawsuits ALDF brought against the USDA aimed at getting the agency to do its job of providing humane standards for animals covered by the AWA. While the Court of Appeals later held that the "standards" set by the USDA were already adequate, they upheld the decision that Jurnove did have legal standing to sue to protect the interests of animals under the AWA. This decision established that animal activists have standing to sue under the Animal Welfare Act and has been cited frequently in subsequent litigation promoting humane treatment of animals.
ALDF v. Woodley—Hoarding Horror
When ALDF was notified about more than 300 dogs suffering in filthy conditions on the property of Barbara and Robert Woodley, ALDF went to court to gain custody of the animals in the largest civil action challenging animal cruelty in American history. In 2005, the judge presiding over ALDF v. Woodley found the animal hoarders guilty of multiple counts of animal cruelty and ordered the removal of their hundreds of dogs – many of whom had been living in their own excrement and urine, denied appropriate human contact and care, and kept for their entire lives in dark packing crates. In the landmark victory, custody was awarded to ALDF, which houses the dogs at an ad hoc shelter facility and in the homes of foster families, until permanent custody was granted in 2007 and the dogs could finally be officially adopted by their new families.
The North Carolina law utilized by ALDF in this case allows private litigants to take the burden off of municipalities and assist by civilly enforcing cases of animal cruelty. While all states have criminal statutes governing animal cruelty, prosecutors and animal control agencies in most jurisdictions can be overwhelmed by the demands of prosecuting such a case. The court ruled that North Carolina's Civil Remedy for Protection of Animals statute (Chapter 19A) allows organizations like ALDF to utilize the law on behalf of abused animals. In this case, the Woodleys were also convicted of 10 counts of animal cruelty in a parallel criminal trial.
Find a chronological list of ALDF's Landmarks & Victories here.