People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) takes great pride in its championing of animal rights in court. The organization has a team of 19 attorneys who zealously work to ensure animals’ rights are respected.
However, PETA’s actions in the courtroom have been ineffective at best, and sinister in some cases. Indeed, its slogan of “Animals Are Not Ours” is downright hypocritical when some of the organization’s past arguments are considered.
Two cases, in particular, illustrate the magnitude of PETA’s impotency in front of a judge. The first is Tilikum et al v. SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment, Inc. et al. (2012).
In the Tilikum case, PETA brought suit as the next friend of five orcas owned by SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida and San Diego, California. PETA alleged SeaWorld was holding the orcas as slaves as they were “held physically and psychologically captive; without the means of escape.” The organization sought declaratory and injunctive relief under the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which abolished the institution of slavery in most cases.
The case was correctly thrown out, as the historical context of the Thirteenth Amendment made it abundantly clear “only human beings, or persons, are afforded the protection of the Thirteenth Amendment.” However, there was another glaring flaw in PETA’s case.
PETA had no standing to sue on behalf of the orcas as their next friend. To establish next friend standing, the purported friend must show they hold “some significant relationship with, and [are] truly dedicated to the best interests of, the petitioner,” according to Coalition of Clergy v. Bush (2002).
The organization showed no special interest in the plaintiffs — that is to say, it did not claim to have a relationship with the plaintiffs which was more significant than its relationships with any other animals.
Three of their fellow next friends were equally distant from the orcas. Ingrid Visser is the founder of Orca Research Trust, but she cannot claim to have had a relationship with these particular orcas before this case began. The same can be said for Howard Garrett, who launched the Orca Network, and Richard O’Barry, the founder of the Dolphin Project.
Fellow next friends Samantha Berg and Carol Ray are, at least, closer to the plaintiffs. They worked at SeaWorld during the same timeframe the plaintiffs were held there. However, the complaint only alleges two of the five plaintiffs worked with Berg and Ray.
Berg and Ray could make an attempt to sue for the two orcas they interacted with. However, they did not have standing to sue for all five without a direct relationship, and PETA certainly had no right to sue for any of them.
This is, of course, assuming the court would accept the expansion of next friend standing to suits filed on behalf of non-humans. The case of Naruto v. Slater (2018) indicated such an expansion would not take place.
In the Naruto case, the Ninth Circuit Court declined to recognize the right of next friends to sue on behalf of animals, “absent express authorization of Congress.” Judge Carlos Bea, who wrote the opinion, cited Whitmore v. Arkansas (1990), where the Supreme Court ruled “the scope of any federal ‘next friend’ standing doctrine, assuming that one exists absent congressional authorization, is no broader than the ‘next friend’ standing permitted under the federal habeas corpus statute.”
The Tilikum case was decided in the District Court for the Southern District of California, and the Naruto case was decided in the Ninth Circuit — the direct appellate court for the Southern District of California. Thus, it is very probable that, if the district court had ruled in favor of Tilikum and his fellow orcas, the decision would have been overturned on appeal with this same rationale.
However, as stated in Judge Bea’s opinion, “PETA’s deficiencies in this regard go far beyond its failure to plead a significant relationship with Naruto.”
PETA attempted to settle the case with Slater, reaching an agreement where Slater would donate “25 percent of any future revenue derived from using or selling the monkey selfies to charities that protect the habitat of Naruto and other crested macaques in Indonesia.”
Indeed, PETA hailed the settlement as “groundbreaking,” which is a prima facie lie.
It is unclear what claims PETA was apparently settling. As the organization was suing as a next friend, all claims and disputes were Naruto’s. As stated in the Ninth Circuit’s opinion, “Naruto was not a party to the settlement, nor were Naruto’s claims settled therein.” Due to this settlement, Naruto was left without an advocate or any way to seek relief.
PETA states to the world “animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, use for entertainment, or abuse in any other way.” There is quite a disconnect between this platitude and the organization’s substantive actions in court: abandoning the interests of the helpless animals it represents to pursue its own interests.