with Horse and Hound

Were Donor Millions Squandered in “Groundless” Lawsuit?

nodh.klmDonors to animal rights organizations like the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) need to think hard about how their charitable dollars can best be spent to improve the welfare of animals. Recent events suggest that local animal welfare shelters might put those dollars to better use for animals than does the HSUS and their cohorts. Driven by the fanatical certainty of their ideology, HSUS and others risked ethical misconduct and wound up losing millions of dollars in a frivolous and groundless lawsuit.

HSUS vs. Circus
A lawsuit brought in 2000 by HSUS and other animal rights organizations against Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus turned out to be so tainted that twenty-five million dollars have been paid by the plaintiffs to the circus owners in settlements. In 2012 the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) paid $9.3 million in a settlement for its part in the false claims made. As the lawsuit fell apart, other animal rights groups abandoned the action.

In May of this year, HSUS and others paid another $15.7 million in settlement fees as part of the same failed lawsuit, bluntly described by Judge Emmet G. Sullivan of the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia as “groundless and unreasonable from its inception.”

The main witness for HSUS, a former employee of the circus, self-destructed on the witness stand under cross examination by opposing counsel, but the case really imploded when, according to the *Washington Examiner,* it was discovered that Katherine Meyer, lead attorney for the plaintiffs, had secretly funneled $190,000 in payments from her own firm and from some of the animal rights groups to the witness.

“The funds…appeared to be paid in such a way to avoid ready detection,” said Sullivan, who sanctioned Meyer for “bad faith misconduct” with “deliberate intent to harm.”

Meyer has filed hundreds of animal rights and environmental cases on behalf of activists.

HSUS vs. Insurers
The latest issue to arise in the case is the *source* of the funds paid by the animal rights organizations in the $15.7 million settlement. When the settlement was announced last May, officials of HSUS and Fund for Animals claimed that the settlement costs would be covered by insurance, and that “no donor dollars” would be used.

What HSUS failed to disclose at the time was that they had been told four years ago by their insurers—among them the National Union Fire Insurance, the Travelers, and Charter Oak Fire Insurance—that the insurance companies would not provide such coverage.

Now the animal rights groups are suing their insurers. More donor dollars are at risk for more legal expenses and possibly more settlement costs, not a dollar of which might ever be available to help a single animal.

Click for more details in the Washington Examiner’s article by Richard Pollock. Donors, please consider your local humane shelters!

Posted August 8, 2014