Animal Legal Defense Fund v. Great Bull Run, LLC, 2014 WL 2568685, No. 14–cv–01171 (N.D. Cal. June 6, 2014)
ALDF and PETA sued defendants under California’s UCL to enjoin them from operating a bull run. The court denied the motion to dismiss for lack of standing.
Plaintiffs alleged that Great Bull Run organizes events in which “panicked and agitated bulls chase down fleeing runners,” while defendant Lone Star Rodeo supplies bulls and steers for the events, transporting them thousands of miles in trailers. According to plaintiffs, the events involve
people on horses using ropes as whips to scare as many as three dozen bulls—each of which weighs approximately 1,500 pounds—to charge towards as many as 1,000 people arrayed along a quarter-mile track. As the bulls approach at speeds faster than humans can run, the participants try to keep up while avoiding the stampede at their heels. Many runners intentionally run as close to the bulls as possible to provoke them. An eyewitness at the most recent bull run event in Florida reported that several runners taunted and punched the bulls as they ran by.
Plaintiffs alleged that these events subjected bulls to needless suffering, distress, and unnecessary cruelty. Bull runs are allegedy dangerous for the animals because bulls “may become entangled with other bulls or runners, causing them to slip and break their legs or get gored.” They are also inherently stressful to the bulls, “who find themselves in an unfamiliar location surrounded by loud noises, often after having travelled for days in cramped transport trailers.” GBR and Lone Star allegedly take advantage of this fear and confusion to motivate the animals to stampede.
Moreover, bull runs are allegedly dangerous for humans; three participants in prior events were trampled and hospitalized. GBR’s emergency plan still allegedly provides that if someone is injured on the track, the bulls will still be released and no medical personnel will be allowed to enter the course area. GBR requires contestants to sign a waiver form acknowledging that the event is hazardous and presents serious physical and mental dangers.
ALDF alleged that it has invested time and money to prevent these events, “committing staff time and resources to educating the public about the animal welfare concerns, mobilizing opposition such as petition drives, researching permitting requirements, submitting public records requests to local governments, reviewing responsive documents, and speaking with state agencies and local officials about the event.” PETA made similar allegations.
According to plaintiffs, defendants were unlawfully “‘promot[ing] [and] advertis[ing] [a] … bloodless bullfight contest or exhibition, or … similar contest or exhibition,’ in violation of section 597m of the California Penal Code. In addition, the bull run would violate 597b, which prohibits making bulls fight with humans, and section 597(b), which prohibits causing ‘needless suffering’ to animals.”
Defendants argued that plaintiffs lacked an injury in fact. But “[a]n organization suing on its own behalf can establish an injury when it suffered ‘both a diversion of its resources and a frustration of its mission.’” This was sufficiently alleged. Redirected resources/staff time investigating defendants’ practices wouldn’t be necessary but for defendants’ actions, and plaintiffs diverted these resources not just in response to defendants’ activities “but also to counteract the effect these events have on Plaintiffs’ own outreach and education efforts designed to prevent animal cruelty.” Taken as true, these allegations were enough to plead that defendants’ acts perceptibly impaired plaintiffs’ outreach and education efforts by diverting resources to fight defendants’ allegedly unlawful acts. Although this diversion resulted from a voluntary choice, that’s not dispositive. What matters is “whether they undertook the expenditures in response to, and to counteract, the effects of the defendants’ alleged [unlawful acts] rather than in anticipation of litigation.” Defendants argued that plaintiffs were just trying to set up this litigation, but that’s not what the complaint alleged.
What about UCL standing? Did plaintiffs lose money or property? They alleged that they spent money and organizational resources to send agents to witness and record the GBR in other states, and also spent staff time requesting and reviewing public records, incurring costs in both money and payroll expenses. This was enough: “Organizational plaintiffs have standing under the UCL where they divert resources as a result of a defendant’s alleged unlawful business practices.”
Did plaintiffs state a valid claim? Defendants argued that there was no private right of action to enforce the California Penal Code, and that it was improper to use the UCL to circumvent this restriction. The first part is true, but the second isn’t. The UCL provides for a private cause of action for “unlawful” acts, which is to say violations of other laws. It is a “sweeping,” “intentionally broad” borrowing provision. The limitation is that a plaintiff can’t plead around an absolute bar to relief, as when another rule or law provides immunity for particular conduct. (E.g., conduct subject to a litigation privilege.) But the animal cruelty laws don’t have any immunity or absolute privilege of that sort.