The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has paid a $9.3M settlement to circus producer Feld Entertainment, giving Feld a PR and legal victory after 12 years of litigation.
The ASPCA sued Feld, which runs the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, in 2000 alleging violations of the Endangered Species Act. Feld brought a racketeering action in 2007 against the ASPCA and other groups and won a dismissal of the ESA case in 2009, later sustained on appeal.
The settlement announced today applies only to the ASPCA, Feld said, adding its claims against the Humane Society of the United States, the Fund for Animals, and others continue.
Feld chairman and CEO Kenneth Feld said the groups attempted to "destroy our family-owned business with a hired plaintiff who made statements that the court did not believe." He called the deal a "vindication" for the company and the circus workers.
The ASPCA confirmed the settlement, noting it does not admit any liability or wrongdoing.
ASPCA president and CEO Ed Sayres said the case was decided on standing and the court never ruled on the merits of the elephant abuse allegations. "After more than a decade of litigating with Feld Entertainment, the ASPCA concluded that it is in the best interests of the organization to resolve this expensive, protracted litigation," he said. "We are glad to put this matter behind us so we can focus most effectively on our life-saving work, preventing cruelty and improving the welfare of animals."
Feld said discovery in the initial 2000 lawsuit uncovered more than $190,000 that animal rights groups and lawyers paid to an individual, Tom Rider, a former Ringling Bros. employee who served as the "injured plaintiff" in the suit against Feld. The case was dismissed in 2001 but reinstated in 2003. It went to trial in 2009 and Feld won in federal court, which found Rider to be a "paid plaintiff" who was not harmed by any alleged animal cruelty.
Animal rights activists are a constant PR issue for Feld. The New York Times reported Dec. 26 that Los Angeles is considering a ban on elephants performing in circuses, a signature feature of the Ringling Bros. circus. L.A. would join six other Southern California cities if it enacts a ban early next year.