Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

PETA urges justices to deny Cumberland zoo’s animal abuse appeal

An animal rights group is urging the U.S. Supreme Court to reject an embattled Cumberland zoo’s effort to reverse a federal judge’s order that removed a lion and two tigers from the facility for their safety after other animals had died

Tri-State Zoological Park of Western Maryland has pressed the justices to hear its claim that the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals lacked legal standing to sue the zoo because no PETA member had ever visited the facility and witnessed the alleged abuse, which a federal judge said led to the death of several big cats.

PETA in papers filed with the high court last week said lower federal courts correctly held that the group had legal standing to sue the zoo for its mistreatment of the animals and seek their release. PETA said it has “organizational” standing because its mission is to protect animals and it sustains a compensable injury whenever it must take someone to court to safeguard wildlife.

“(A)n organization has standing when the defendant’s unlawful conduct causes injury to the organization by frustrating its mission, requiring the organization to respond by diverting resources to address that harm,” PETA’s counsel of record, Marcos E. Hasbun, wrote in the group’s brief to the justices.

“Particularly given the gravity of Tri-State’s uniquely egregious conduct, PETA’s mission required the organization to divert its limited resources away from other programs in order to protect its own mission,” added Hasbun, of Zuckerman Spaeder LLP in Tampa, Florida. “In addition to staff time, PETA incurred numerous costs related to these efforts, including attorneys’ fees; research expenses; filing fees; phone charges; fees for shipping and printing services; and travel expenses.”

Tri-State Zoological Park, in its bid for Supreme Court review, argued 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 the zoo’s attorneys, Nevin L. Young and Lynn T. Krause, both of Annapolis.

“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 pending petition for Supreme Court review.

“A claim of injury must be more than a talismanic invocation of an organization’s mission statement,” they added. “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.”

The justices have not stated when they will vote on the zoo’s request for their review. 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.

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.

To purchase a reprint of this article, contact