Animal Welfare Records Blackout

In 2017, the Animal Legal Defense Fund sued the United States Department of Agriculture for removing tens of thousands of animal welfare records from the agency’s website. Referred to as the Animal Welfare Blackout.

Updated

July 1, 2018

Work Type

Litigation

Status

On Appeal

Next Step

Awaiting Decision on Appeal

In February 2017, the Animal Legal Defense Fund sued the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for removing tens of thousands of animal welfare records from the agency’s website. The removed records include enforcement actions taken by the USDA against chronic Animal Welfare Act (AWA) violators, and inspection reports of facilities regulated by the AWA. These documents revealed inhumane treatment of animals at thousands of research laboratories, roadside zoos and puppy mills across the country.
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The lawsuit, filed in the Northern District of California on behalf of a coalition of animal protection organizations, challenges the USDA’s decision to remove the records as violations of both the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). The lawsuit contends that the USDA violated FOIA, which requires federal agencies to affirmatively disclose final orders and frequently requested records. It also argues that the USDA violated the APA, which prohibits agencies from taking actions that are “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law[.]”

The lawsuit was dismissed by the Northern District of California in August 2017. In September 2017, we filed an appeal of the dismissal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. That appeal is fully briefed and pending oral argument or opinion as of July 2018.

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