Animal Legal Defense Fund’s Lawsuit over Illegal Permitting of Monkey Breeding Facility Moves ForwardPosted on March 5, 2015
Hendry County Court Refuses to Dismiss Lawsuit Regarding Secretive Approval of Breeding Facility for Biomedical Research
For immediate release:
Megan Backus, ALDF
Lisa Franzetta, ALDF
LA BELLE, Fla. – Today, Circuit Judge James Sloan refused to dismiss the national nonprofit Animal Legal Defense Fund’s (ALDF) lawsuit against Hendry County on behalf of local residents left out of the decision making process in the approval of a monkey breeding facility in their backyard. The lawsuit was filed in October 2014, after the county approved a primate breeding facility that could reportedly hold as many as 3,200 long-tailed macaques of a species linked with prior outbreaks of infectious disease. According to the plaintiffs, Hendry County approved the controversial project (“SoFlo Ag”) behind closed doors with only the facility’s supporters present and failed to hold the public hearing required by the state’s “Sunshine Law.” ALDF is asking the Twentieth Judicial Circuit for Hendry County to revoke the County’s approval of the facility as a result of its failure to hold mandatory public hearings.
In today’s hearing, ALDF attorneys countered Hendry County’s argument that approval of the proposed facility is not subject to the state’s open meeting laws. Judge Sloan ruled that the County’s interpretation of the Sunshine Law was too narrow, thereby protecting the Sunshine Law from a slippery slope where the County could evade a public meeting requirement simply by allowing low-level staff to make important decisions instead of the Board of County Commissioners.
The lawsuit will now move to the discovery phase where ALDF may seek to obtain additional information about how the monkey-breeding facility was approved without a public hearing.
Possession of nonhuman primates like macaques is regulated by federal and state agencies due to threats of disease posed by these animals, including Ebola, Herpes B, tuberculosis, and parasites. Long-tailed macaques were responsible for an outbreak of the “Reston” strain of the Ebola virus at a Virginia research facility—detailed in the bestseller The Hot Zone—and a tuberculosis outbreak. The macaques in question will reportedly be transported from Mauritius to a traditionally rural agricultural community in Hendry County. The monkeys will be bred at SoFlo Ag and sold to animal testing facilities for use in experiments.
Under Florida’s Sunshine Law, state and local government bodies must hold public hearings for high-level decisions—like the decision to authorize construction of a wild primate breeding facility near residential homes when county zoning ordinances do not permit such facilities. “The courts have long recognized Florida’s Sunshine Law as a reflection of the public’s right to be involved in decision making processes in their own communities,” said Stephen Wells, executive director of the Animal Legal Defense Fund. “We look forward to moving forward with this lawsuit on behalf of the Hendry County residents seeking the transparency they are legally entitled to.”
Copies of the complaint are available upon request.