United States District Court, D. Maryland
PEOPLE FOR THE ETHICAL TREATMENT OF ANIMALS, INC. Plaintiff
TRI-STATE ZOOLOGICAL PARK OF WESTERN MARYLAND, INC., et al. Defendants
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER RE: MOTION TO DISMISS
J. GARBIS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Court has before it Defendants' Motion to Dismiss
Pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and
12(b)(6) [ECF No. 15] and the materials submitted relating
thereto. The Court has conferred with counsel and finds that
a motions hearing is not necessary.
The Parties and the Claims
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Inc.
(“PETA” or “Plaintiff”), a 501(c)(3)
organization specializing in animal protection, brings a
citizen lawsuit alleging violations of Section 11(g)(1)(A) of
the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”). Defendants
are Tri-State Zoological Park of Western Maryland, Inc.
(“Tri-State Zoo” or “Zoo”), Animal
Park, Care & Rescue, Inc. (“Animal Park”),
and Robert L. Candy (together,
“Defendants”). The animals on whose behalf the action
is brought are two ring-tailed lemurs, five tigers, and one
I and II of the Complaint assert the unlawful
“take” and “possession” of protected
species, respectively. Among other requests, Plaintiff seeks
declaratory and injunctive relief (1) enjoining Defendants
from owning or possessing endangered or threatened species in
the future and (2) transferring Defendants' ownership of
the animals at issue to reputable wildlife sanctuaries for
appropriate placement. By the instant motion, Defendants seek
dismissal of the Complaint for failure to state a claim.
Statement of Facts
Zoo is a zoological park in Cumberland, Maryland that
exhibits many species of animals. Compl. ¶ 23, ECF No.
1. At issue in this case is the Zoo's treatment of two
ring-tailed lemurs, five tigers, and one African lion.
Id. ¶¶ 3, 24. According to the Plaintiff,
the Zoo has previously been subject to some administrative
actions for failing to meet the requirements of care of
animals under the Animal Welfare Act. Id. ¶ 26.
Plaintiff alleges that the Zoo lacks the resources and
ability to adequately accommodate its animals and must rely
on inadequately trained volunteers to care for these animals.
Id. ¶ 27, 28.
lemurs are highly social animals that require the
opportunity to socialize with other lemurs to maintain their
physical and psychological health. Id. ¶ 30-31.
Plaintiff alleges that although the two ring-tailed lemurs
are housed in the same enclosure, "a single companion is
not an adequate social group for these highly social
animals." Id. ¶ 35. Additionally,
ring-tailed lemurs require "extensive, varied, and
well-planned environmental enrichment, " which
Defendants allegedly do not provide. Id. ¶ 37,
40. Moreover, these lemurs must be housed in sanitary spaces
with temperatures between 64.4 and 78.8 degrees Fahrenheit,
and Defendants allegedly do not provide them with adequate
heating in winter or sanitary spaces in which to live.
Id. ¶¶ 43, 46, 47.
"require large, environmentally rich, natural spaces
that allow them to express a wide range of behaviors."
Id. ¶ 51. Defendants allegedly deny these
tigers appropriate housing and adequate enrichment by
“confining them to a pit . . . with adjacent dens,
” providing them only “a small tub of water and
bowling balls” or a “tire” for enrichment,
failing to clean and evaluate the enclosures, failing to
provide access to clean pools, and failing to provide them
appropriate shelter from the elements. Id.
¶¶ 53-58. Additionally, tigers require specific
social conditions that Defendants have failed to provide
(i.e., by inappropriately housing sibling female
tigers in the same enclosure as a related sexually mature
male tiger), which may lead to physical or psychological
injury. Id. ¶¶ 62, 64. Moreover, tigers
require adequate nutrition and water, and Defendants have
allegedly failed to provide “adequately implemented
nutrition protocols.” Id. ¶ 72.
Defendants also allegedly fail to keep the enclosures clean
from animal and food waste. Id. ¶ 72. Finally,
Plaintiff alleges that Defendants harm and harass the tigers
by granting members of the public “access to the
‘off-exhibit' areas of the enclosures and
facilitating direct contact with adult tigers, ”
resulting in increased psychological stress for the animals.
Id. ¶ 75, 77.
are highly social, live in prides, and require enriching
environments that “provide sufficient cover to
facilitate hunting and denning.” Id. ¶
83. The lion at the Tri-State Zoo is confined to a barren
enclosure in social isolation with no visual privacy from the
public. Id. ¶ 88. She is allegedly denied a
veterinary-approved diet and fresh water. Id. ¶
93. Her enclosure does not have adequate shade, which
“exposes her to many associated ailments, including
overheating, serious eye problems, and blindness.”
Id. ¶ 96. Moreover, Plaintiff alleges that
Defendants fail to timely remove animal and food waste from
her enclosure. Id. ¶ 98. Finally, members of
the public are granted access to her primary enclosure,
“allowing members of the public to make physical
contact with her, ” which is allegedly harmful to her
physical and psychological health. Id. ¶ 105.
Plaintiff also alleges that Defendants failed to provide
adequate veterinary care for their exotic cats, which led to
the death of another lion in Tri-State Zoo in 2016.
Id. ¶ 106-08.
brings this suit “on its own behalf to protect its
programs.” Id. ¶ 111. Plaintiff states
that Defendants “directly frustrate PETA's mission
to eliminate the abuse and neglect of animals for
entertainment” and “falsely present themselves
as a refuge for abandoned and unwanted endangered and
threatened animals.” Id. ¶¶ 112-13.
PETA allegedly has been “forced to divert resources in
order to counteract the public impression that Tri-State
Zoo's practices are consistent with the ESA and animal
welfare.” Id. ¶ 115. This has
“impaired PETA's ability to advance its
mission.” Id. ¶ 118.
motion to dismiss filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of a
complaint. A complaint need only contain “‘a
short and plain statement of the claim showing that the
pleader is entitled to relief, ' in order to ‘give
the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the
grounds upon which it rests.'” Bell Atl. Corp.
v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (alteration in
original) (citations omitted). When evaluating a 12(b)(6)
motion to dismiss, a plaintiff's well-pleaded allegations
are accepted as true and the complaint is viewed in the light
most favorable to the plaintiff. However, conclusory
statements or “a formulaic recitation of the elements
of a cause of action will not [suffice].” Id.
A complaint must allege sufficient facts “to cross
‘the line between possibility and plausibility of
entitlement to relief.'” Francis v.
Giacomelli, 588 F.3d 186, 193 (4th Cir. 2009) (quoting
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557).
into whether a complaint states a plausible claim is
“‘a context-specific task that requires the
reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common
sense.'” Id. (quoting Twombly,
550 U.S. at 557). Thus, if “the well-pleaded facts
[contained within a complaint] do not permit the court to
infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the
complaint has alleged - but it has not ‘show[n]' -
‘that the pleader is entitled to relief.'”
Id. (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S.
662, 679 (2009) (alteration in original)).
brings this action under the Endangered Species Act
(“ESA”) claiming that Defendants have violated
the ESA by improperly “taking” the animals at
issue. Defendants contend that the ESA is inapplicable to the
instant case because it does not apply to animals that are
held in captivity. Rather, Defendants argue, the Animal
Welfare Act (“AWA”) preempts, supersedes, or
nullifies an action brought under the ESA. Defendants further
argue that even if the action could be brought under the ESA,
the Plaintiff has not alleged facts sufficient to state a
claim that Defendants have engaged in a “take” of
a threatened or endangered species, and that any relief
Plaintiff requests is speculative and conjectural.
Court will first address the statutory backgrounds of the ESA
and AWA and the applicability of these statutes to this
action. Next, the Court will determine whether PETA has
stated a plausible claim for its action to proceed and for a
remedy from Defendants.
The Statutes: the ESA and the AWA
The Endangered Species Act ...