Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Pigs and Proposition 64

I want to thank DHN for letting me join the Axis during his absence. I'm brand-spanking new to this blogging thing, so let me apologize in advance for my technological incompetence.

Now that that's taken care of, let me add that as the member of the Axis from Southern California who spends way too much time with animal issues I've been struck by how a recent story in the L.A. Times marks, perhaps, the beginning of the end of the ability of non-profit groups to bring lawsuits in the public interest. After a typically deceptive, teflon-roots campaign, Californians approved Proposition 64 in November 2004 by a 59-41 percent vote.

An early test of this law, which limits the rights of individuals to sue under the California Unfair Business Competition Law to claims that the individual was actually injured by, and suffered financial/property loss because of, an unfair business practice, was brought by Farm Sanctuary, an animal rights group, against Corcpork, Inc., which houses its 9000 pregnant sows
in the town of Corcoran in individual metal stalls barely larger than the pigs. According to Erica Williams' account in yesterday's L.A. Times (here), "The group hoped to apply a provision of the state's anti-cruelty statute, which makes it a misdemeanor to deprive an animal confined in an enclosed space of 'an adequate exercise area.'"

While this certainly would have been an interesting case, as of now it will never make it to court. According to Williams' follow-up article in today's paper (one that can apparently only be accessed by subscribers thus far--sorry), Superior Court Judge Joanne O'Donnell said the New York-based group was barred from suing the farm by Proposition 64. According to Corcpork spokesman Steve Duchesne:
We said from the outset we didn't believe the law allowed for this type of case, and the judge agreed.
While most Americans could probably care less about the specific issue at hand here (about which more later in this blog, as I'm currently working on a book about pigs for which I've been wading through the voluminous literature on factory farming), this looks to be yet another case where voters were (mis)led to approve something that will likely come back to bite them in the ass. As Taimie Bryant from the UCLA School of Law noted in today's Times:
This isn't just a case about the gestation crates [individual stalls]. This is a case about … the ability of the public to bring forward litigation in the public interest against business practices that cause harm to public values.
The California Supreme Court will eventually take up the legality of this proposition, of course, but I'm sure corporate leaders are chuffed about the potential of this ruling to prevent future suits about worker safety, consumer rights, etc.