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Federal Judge Allows Circus’s Racketeering Suit Against Animal Rights Groups

Posted Jul 13, 2012 6:00 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A federal judge is allowing a racketeering case filed by the parent company of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus against a coalition of animal rights groups.

U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan ruled earlier this week on behalf of corporate parent Feld Entertainment Inc., according to The BLT: The Blog of Legal Times. Feld’s suit claims the animal rights coalition violated the Racketeer Influence and Corrupt Organizations Act when it paid a former Ringling Brothers trainer who was a plaintiff along with the groups in a prior suit against the circus alleging that elephants were mistreated.

Sullivan dismissed the prior suit in 2009, saying the trainer was “essentially a paid plaintiff and fact witness” whose only source of income during the litigation was provided by the animal advocacy organizations.

Sullivan’s July 9 opinion (PDF) said litigation activities alone can’t support a RICO claim. In this case, however, Feld is alleging an entire lawsuit was based on bribery of the lead plaintiff and witness, the judge wrote.

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