An embattled Cumberland zoo is urging the U.S. Supreme Court to review and vacate a judge’s order removing a lion and two tigers from the facility for their safety, saying the animal rights group that successfully sued for their removal had no standing to bring suit because none of its members had visited the zoo.
The Tri-State Zoological Park of Western Maryland’s appeal to the high court came a year after the three cats were transferred to a Colorado sanctuary by order of a federal judge who found that deplorable conditions at the zoo contributed to four animal deaths since 2016.
In papers filed with the Supreme Court Feb. 23, the zoo’s counsel said lower courts erroneously held that People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals had standing because its mission is to protect animals and the group had to divert money and other resources toward achieving that goal in Cumberland.
The attorneys argued that an organization’s mission and its diversion of resources are insufficient to confer legal standing to the group. The organization’s lawsuit must include at least one person who was injured by the defendant’s actions, such as a visitor to the zoo who saw and was repulsed by the mistreatment, wrote Nevin L. Young and Lynn T. Krause.
“At no time in this case did PETA make any claim to stand in the shoes of its members, or that any of its members had visited the zoo, were upset by the zoo, had any aesthetic interest in or personal attachment to the animals at the zoo, or that any of its members would benefit from injunctive relief,” such as removal of the animals, Young and Krause wrote in the petition for Supreme Court review.
“Neither was there any contention that the zoo had taken any actions against PETA, other than carrying on its usual business, to which PETA takes exception,” the Annapolis lawyers added. “A claim of injury must be more than a talismanic invocation of an organization’s mission statement. This (Supreme) Court should intervene to clarify when an organization can claim an injury-in-fact, and to declare that voluntary mission advancement and voluntary expenditures do not constitute injury-in-fact.”
Norfolk, Virginia-based PETA has until March 29 to reply to the zoo’s request for Supreme Court review. The justices have not said when they will vote on the request.
The case is docketed at the high court as Tri-State Zoological Park of Western Maryland Inc. v. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals Inc., No. 20-1183.
Krause is serving as the zoo’s counsel of record at the Supreme Court. He is with Kagan, Stern, Marinello & Beard LLC.
Brittany Peet, PETA’s deputy general counsel for captive animal law enforcement, said in a statement Friday that the group “remains confident about its lawsuit, its standing to bring it, and the United States District Court for the District of Maryland’s ruling—upheld by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit—describing the roadside zoo’s conditions as ‘fetid and dystopic.’”
Robert L. “Bob” Candy, the zoo’s owner, did not immediately return a telephone message Friday seeking comment on the litigation and appeal to the Supreme Court.
PETA sued the 16-acre zoo in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt in 2017 amid reports of mistreatment of animals at the facility.
Judge Paula Xinis found the group had standing to sue and after a six-day trial ruled in December 2019 that the zoo had engaged in “flagrant and persistent violations” of the federal Endangered Species Act.
“Rotting vegetables spilled over large receptacles, decaying meat sat in piles outside the kitchen and in the furnace room under the nearby reptile house, and decomposing carcasses were left for days in the enclosures for the tigers and lions,” Xinis wrote in ordering that the lion and two tigers be transferred to The Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keenesburg, Colorado.
At least four animals died amid these woeful conditions between 2016 and 2019, Xinis stated: Mbube the lion was euthanized after “a slow painful demise” from an unknown disease; Bandit the lemur died following a two-year respiratory infection and “chronic stress;” and tigers Kumar and India died of a stroke and sepsis, respectively.
In January, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Xinis’ decision — including her finding of PETA’s standing — in an unpublished per curiam opinion, prompting the zoo to seek review by the Supreme Court.