Friday, January 15, 2016
C.A. Denies Bid to Shut Down L.A. Zoo’s Elephant Exhibit
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The Court of Appeal for this district yesterday upheld trial court orders mandating that the Los Angeles Zoo take specified measures to improve the conditions of its elephants, but declining to shut the elephant exhibit entirely.
Div. Eight, in a 2-1 decision, held that a taxpayer suit is a proper vehicle to enjoin the violation of criminal statutes. But the also said there was substantial evidence to support Los Angeles Superior Court Judge John Segal’s ruling that some of the statutes the plaintiffs accused the zoo of infringing were either inapplicable or not violated.
Segal has since been elevated to the Court of Appeal.
The litigation goes back to 2007, when Brentwood realtor Aaron Leider and actor Robert Culp sued to stop the continued operation of the elephant exhibit, as well as the planned construction of a new, expanded exhibit. Leider and Culp complained that the zoo had been abusing and neglecting the elephants for years, and that they had violated various animal-cruelty statutes and wasted taxpayers’ money.
Leider continued to litigate the case after Culp died in March 2010. The new elephant exhibit opened later that year.
Among the complaint’s allegations, according to news accounts, were that Billy—the zoo’s lone elephant after its one female was sent to a sanctuary—was sexually frustrated. In 2010, however, the zoo acquired two females from the San Diego Zoo, which had acquired them after the government confiscated them from an individual in Texas.
The city responded that the zoo pampers its elephants with a two-story barn with radiant-heated floors, carrot-tossing games, daily “elephant pedicures” and an animal psychiatrist on hand. Deputy City Attorney John Carvalho told the Los Angeles Times: “If only people were treated so well.”
The city initially prevailed on summary judgment, but the Court of Appeal reversed in an unpublished 2009 opinion. It held that there were triable issues of fact as to whether the city was illegally condoning animal cruelty or neglect by spending money on the exhibit.
On remand, Segal ruled that practices alleged in the complaint, including electrical shocking and the use of bull hooks, would violate Penal Code §596.5. He also ruled that a new argument by the city—that Civil Code §3369, which prohibits the issuance of an injunction to enforce a penal law, bars the relief sought by the plaintiff—was foreclosed by the first Court of Appeal decision.
Following trial, Segal issued an injunction, limited to prohibiting certain forms of discipline, requiring specific amounts of exercise time, and requiring the rototilling of the soil in the exhibit in response to evidence that the ground was hard and caused cracked toes and weary joints.
While the elephants were not “thriving,” the judge wrote, the city’s treatment of them was “not abusive,” nor was it “cruel beyond the ‘ordinary’ circumstances of captivity.”
Justice Laurence Rubin, writing for the Court of Appeal, said neither Leider nor the city had shown any basis for reversal of Segal’s decision.
He agreed that under the law-of-the-case doctrine, the city could not rely on §3369. And even if the doctrine did not apply, he concluded, the result would be the same because that section was not intended to bar taxpayer suits.
The court declined to follow a recent First District Court of Appeal decision rejecting the use of a taxpayer suit as a vehicle for enforcing animal cruelty laws, Animal Legal Defense Fund v. California Exposition and State Fairs (2015) 239 Cal.App.4th 1286. The court there held that the right to enforce those laws is limited to public prosecutors and humane societies.
“Because the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office has apparently declined to prosecute the Zoo for animal cruelty, the Zoo’s mistreatment of its elephants as found by the trial court has gone unchallenged,” Rubin wrote. “To hold that the power of a local humane organization to file a complaint bars a taxpayer action where the City refuses to prosecute itself undermines the very purpose of taxpayer actions.”
Justice Madeleine Flier concurred in the opinion.
Presiding Justice Tricia Bigelow dissented, arguing that the ruling “will empower Leider to bring endless contempt proceedings against the Los Angeles Zoo, all based on injunctions that are contrary to California law.” She agreed with the city that the entire case should have been thrown out under §3369.
The case is Leider v. Lewis, 16 S.O.S. 244.
Copyright 2016, Metropolitan News Company