Demanding USDA Respond to Petition Seeking to Establish Animal Relocation Procedures
Animal Legal Defense Fund v. USDA
The Animal Legal Defense Fund filed a complaint to require that the USDA provide a substantive response to a rulemaking petition the organization submitted in 2016, which urges the agency to establish animal relocation procedures through APHIS.
Complaint filed January 20, 2022
USDA to Answer Complaint (Late March)
On January 20, 2022, the Animal Legal Defense Fund filed a complaint to require that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) provide a substantive response to a rulemaking petition the organization submitted in 2016, which urges the agency to establish animal removal and relocation procedures through the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). The petition seeks to close a fatal gap in the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) regulations that allows the USDA to abandon animals at a facility after the agency revokes an exhibitor license due to persistent illegal and inhumane conditions. The failure of the USDA to enforce the law and rehome animals it knows are suffering has led to a national crisis of serial ‘revoke and run’ cases.
The USDA often issues damning inspection reports and enforcement actions against facilities that chronically flout AWA regulations but then refuses to remove barriers to removing and relocating the animals from the facilities, even in situations when animals are dying. Such was the case at a northeast Iowa roadside zoo, the Cricket Hollow Zoo, where hundreds of animals were kept in conditions so inhumane that the USDA initiated an enforcement action to fine the facility and revoke its AWA license. Throughout the proceedings the agency refused to seek animal relocation as a remedy, essentially committing to leave the animals in decrepit and unlawful conditions at the facility without any continuing USDA oversight. A USDA administrative law judge revoked Cricket Hollow’s AWA license in 2017 but did not require the animals to be moved to sanctuary — in fact, the USDA stated that the administrative law judge could not order relocation. The Animal Legal Defense Fund, refusing to abandon the remaining animals, brought an Iowa state court lawsuit, which resulted in the court finding Cricket Hollow Zoo to be a public nuisance that violated state cruelty laws and ordering the animals’ removal.
The USDA’s flawed interpretation of the AWA contends the agency is prohibited from removing and relocating animals — even if they are suffering — during and after agency actions to revoke or terminate facilities’ AWA licenses. This interpretation is contrary to Congress’ purpose of ensuring humane animal care and treatment through the AWA.
Who is being sued, why, and under what law? U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for declaratory and injunctive relief to require the agency to provide a substantive response to a rulemaking petition that the Animal Legal Defense Fund submitted in 2016.
The Administrative Procedure Act (APA) requires federal agencies to respond to all rulemaking petitions within a “reasonable” period of time. The USDA has violated this provision by failing to provide the Animal Legal Defense Fund with any substantive response in over five years.
What court is the lawsuit filed in? U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia
Why this case is important: The failure of the USDA to acknowledge it has the authority to remove and relocate animals during and after AWA license revocation and termination proceedings is resulting in animals being abandoned to suffer at facilities whose conditions and care are so dire the agency itself brought enforcement actions to shut the facilities down.