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People for Ethical Treatment of Animals, Inc. v. TRI-State Zoological Park of Western Maryland, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Maryland

November 2, 2018



          Paula Xinis United States District Judge

         Pending before the Court are Defendants Tri-State Zoological Park of Western Maryland, Inc., Animal Park, Care & Rescue, Inc., and Robert Candy's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, Motion for Sanctions, and Interim Motion to Seal Filed in Support of Defendants' Motion for Sanctions. ECF Nos. 55, 71, 72. The motions are fully briefed, and no hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6. For the reasons that follow, the Court denies Defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings, grants in part and denies in part Defendants' motion for sanctions, and grants the joint motion to redact a portion of the motion for sanctions.

         I. Background

         Defendants own and operate a zoological park in Cumberland, Maryland (“the Zoo”). ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 12-15. The Zoo houses many animals, including five tigers, one lion, and two lemurs.[1] ECF No. 1 ¶ 3. Plaintiff People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Inc. (“PETA”) filed suit under the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”), seeking, inter alia, to enjoin the Zoo from owning or possessing endangered or threatened species. Id. at 38. According to the Complaint, the animals at the Zoo live in unsanitary and unsafe conditions, are not fed sufficiently, and are not provided adequate enrichment in the Zoo habitat . Id. ¶ 25.

         PETA is a nonprofit organization “dedicated to protecting animals, including animals used in entertainment, from abuse, neglect, and cruelty.” Id. ¶¶ 11, 110. To advance this mission, PETA educates the public on animal-welfare issues, rescues animals, advocates for protective animal-welfare legislation, and organizes mission-related protests and fundraisers. Id. ¶ 111. For purposes of standing, PETA avers that the Zoo's public mistreatment of animals has frustrated PETA's mission by contributing to the increasing population of animals in need of rescue and by “making it harder to persuade the public that it should not tolerate the use of animals in entertainment.” Id. ¶¶ 112, 113. Similarly, PETA avers that it has diverted its resources toward investigating the Zoo and engaging in a public-relations campaign aimed at exposing the Zoo's adverse treatment of the animals. Id. ¶¶ 115-16. PETA contends that the effort expended in the name of protecting the Zoo's animals has diverted resources away from its other animal rescue missions and campaigns. ECF No. 1 ¶ 118.

         PETA undertook this investigation at the direction of its counsel, and in anticipation of filing this lawsuit. ECF No. 71-3 at 1. Specifically PETA deployed undercover investigators who posed as volunteers offering their services to the Zoo. ECF No. 71-1 ¶ 10. PETA's volunteers gained entry to Zoo, and subsequently denied to Defendant Candy any affiliation with an animal-rights organization. Id. ¶ 11; ECF No. 87 at 4 n.4. The volunteers surreptitiously took over 300 photographs and 70 video recordings. ECF No. 71-1 ¶ 2; ECF No. 71-3 at 1. At least some of the video recordings also seem to include audio of conversations between PETA investigators and Defendant Candy. ECF No. 71-4 at 10.

         Defendants initially moved to dismiss the Complaint, arguing that the Animal Welfare Act preempted PETA's claims, that the treatment of the animals did not rise to the level of actionable harm, that the Complaint was vague, and that the Court did not have power to award the requested relief. ECF No. 15-1. The Court denied Defendants' motion in its entirety. ECF No. 23. Defendants now attempt to relitigate several of the same claims, which, for the reasons discussed below, will not be revisited. Defendants also now contend that PETA lacks standing to bring the claims and that dismissal is warranted as a sanction for PETA having “illegally obtain[ed] evidence.” ECF No. 55; ECF No. 71-1 at 3.

         II. Standard of Review

          Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c), a party may move for judgment on the pleadings after the pleadings are closed. Fed. R. C. P. 12(c). A motion under Rule 12(c) “is assessed under the same standards as a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6).” Occupy Columbia v. Haley, 738 F.3d 107, 115 (4th Cir. 2013). The well-pleaded allegations are accepted as true and viewed most favorably to the party pursuing the allegations. ImpactOffice, LLC v. Siniavsky, No. TDC-15-3481, 2017 WL 1410773, at *3 (D. Md. Apr. 19, 2017). The motion will not be granted unless “no genuine issues of material fact remain and the case can be decided as a matter of law.” Bell Atl.-Md., Inc. v. Prince George's Cty., 155 F.Supp.2d 465, 473 (D. Md. 2011).

         In resolving a motion brought pursuant to Rule 12(c), the court “considers the pleadings, which consist of the complaint, the answer, and any written instruments attached to those filings.” Impact Office, 2017 WL 1410773, at *3. The court, may, in its discretion, also consider evidence beyond the four-corners of the pleadings. A.S. Abell Co., 338 F.2d at 193. However, in that circumstance, “the motion must be treated as one for summary judgment” and “the parties must be given a reasonable opportunity to present all the material pertinent to the motion.” Jones v. Nucletron Corp., No. RDB-11-02953, 2013 WL 663304, at *4 (D. Md. Feb 20, 2013) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d)) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         III. Analysis

         A. Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings

         1. Grounds for Dismissal Previously Decided

         Defendants seek to re-litigate whether the ESA is preempted by the Animal Welfare Act and whether the harm to the tigers, as pleaded in the Complaint, is actionable. Compare ECF No. 55-1 at 4, 17; with ECF No. 15-1 at 5, 12, and ECF No. 23 at 15, 19. The Court will not allow Defendants a second bite at the dismissal apple. As a preliminary matter, the Court notes that Rule 12(g) prohibits the refiling of a motion already brought pursuant to Rule 12, absent limited exceptions set forth in Rule 12(h)(2) and (3). Smith v. Integral Consulting Servs., Inc., No. DKC 14-3094, 2015 WL 4567317, at *1 (D. Md. July 27, 2015). Challenges to the Court's subject matter jurisdiction or a defense of failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted are two such exceptions. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(h)(2)-(3).

         However, Defendants have previously sought dismissal on these grounds, which the Court rejected. Accordingly, the Court will only reconsider its previous decision based on: (1) a change in controlling law; (2) additional evidence that was not previously available; or (3) a showing that that the prior decision was clearly erroneous or manifestly unjust. See Boyd v. Coventry Health Care Inc., 828 F.Supp.2d 809, 814 (D. Md. 2011); Paulone v. City of Frederick, No. CIV. WDQ-09-2007, 2010 WL 3000989, at *2 (D. Md. July 26, 2010). The Court cannot discern any of the ...

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