Born Free USA and Others Sue USDA over Website Blackout
Litigation - Article Series: from Articles Archive

February 2017

The lawsuit can be seen here. The plaintiffs are represented by Washington, D.C., public interest law firm Meyer Glitzenstein & Eubanks.

Coalition tells court that concealing records and Animal Welfare Act violations is illegal...

Washington, D.C. -- A coalition of leading animal-protection groups—including Born Free USA, PETA, Beagle Freedom Project, and the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals—along with public health advocacy group the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and Harvard Animal Law & Policy Fellow Delcianna Winders—filed a lawsuit this morning in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to compel the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to return to its website all records related to puppy mills, laboratories, roadside zoos, traveling animal shows, and other enterprises that use and exploit animals. Such records are required to be publicly available.

According to Adam M. Roberts, CEO of Born Free USA:

The USDA data purge is an outrageous obstruction of the work that journalists, lawyers, animal advocates, and private citizens do in the interest of protecting animal welfare. The inspection reports, lists of licensees, and data on Animal Welfare Act violations are the product of an enforcement system that is funded with taxpayer money, and therefore taxpayers have a right to access the information. USDA's decision has now shielded the worst animal exhibitors, breeders, and researchers from the public eye, enabling them to violate federal law and perpetrate animal abuse in relative secrecy. Born Free USA is proud to join with the other organizations on this lawsuit as we demand a return to rightful government transparency.

Our lawsuit seeks to compel the USDA to reinstate the records, which it had no right to remove from its website in the first place," Winders says. "The government should not be in the business of hiding animal abusers and lawbreakers from public scrutiny.

The lawsuit contends that the sudden February 3 removal of these documents was illegal because the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requires agencies to post frequently requested records on their websites. The USDA itself has acknowledged that inspection reports were the most frequently requested records before they were made available online years ago.

These inspection reports, research facility reports, and other records, the complaint explains, are essential for the groups' work to expose cruelty to animals and to monitor the USDA's enforcement of the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA). The removal of the records also jeopardizes state and local laws prohibiting sales of dogs by businesses with AWA violations.

The lawsuit refutes the USDA's suggestion that it's sufficient for the agency to provide records in response to FOIA requests, a process that can take months or even years. According to the USDA's most recent annual FOIA report, it can take as long as 836 days—i.e., more than two years—to process a "simple" FOIA request and up to 157 days for an expedited one.

The lawsuit can be seen here. The plaintiffs are represented by Washington, D.C., public interest law firm Meyer Glitzenstein & Eubanks.

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