June 29, 2021

Victory for Animal Law Litigation Clinic and Students

With help from dedicated law students, the Animal Law Litigation Clinic has defeated the Government’s motions to dismiss two lawsuits challenging the Government’s deregulation of pig slaughterhouses and its failure to protect downed pigs.

A ruling from the U.S. District Court for the Western District New York on June 28, 2021 held that animal and environmental protection organizations (Plaintiffs) adequately pled that they have standing to sue in two lawsuits against the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) regarding regulations at pig slaughterhouses.

The ruling is a first litigation victory for the Animal Law Litigation Clinic (ALLC)—a law school clinic launched by the Center for Animal Law Studies in 2019 to train law students in litigation skills while advancing legal protections for farmed animals.

The ALLC filed the separate lawsuits on behalf of a coalition of animal and environmental protection nonprofit organizations. The first lawsuit, filed December 2019, seeks to stop the USDA from allowing increased line speeds at the slaughterhouses with less oversight. The second lawsuit, filed in February 2020, challenges the agency’s failure to ban the slaughter of all non-ambulatory, or “downed” pigs. The USDA filed motions to dismiss both lawsuits, alleging a lack of standing to sue.

Law students, Brittany Rowe ’21 and Ellie Nicoletta ’21, argued against the USDA’s motions to dismiss in separate oral arguments before the federal court earlier this year. Additional clinic students worked on the cases behind the scenes. Pamela Hart, Executive Director of the Center for Animal Law Studies, says “Our goal when launching the ALLC was to provide critical litigation skills to students, while doing good in the process by challenging the lack of legal protections for farmed animals. This victory shows that we can accomplish both. We’re grateful these cases will now proceed to the merits.”

The 2019 lawsuit against the USDA challenges the agency’s decision to reduce oversight at pig slaughterhouses and eliminate limits on the slaughter speeds, exposing pigs to greater suffering and flouting federal humane slaughter, meat inspection, and environmental protection laws. In the 2020 lawsuit, the ALLC sued Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and the USDA for failing to protect pigs who are too sick or injured to walk at slaughterhouses, posing serious risks to animals and food safety.

Every year, well over half a million pigs arrive at U.S. slaughterhouses too sick or injured to stand or walk. Downed pigs are at a heightened risk of carrying a host of human-transmissible pathogens, including Listeria, Campylobacter, Salmonella, swine flu, and Yersinia. They are also at a heightened risk of inhumane handling, including being excessively electro-shocked, prodded, kicked, shoved, and dragged by workers attempting to force them to move.

The ruling was issued by a U.S. District Court judge for the Western District of New York.