Court Says Citizens Can't Stop Inhumane Treatment Of Animals Under Prop 64
Santa Monica, CA -- A citizen lawsuit, charging a Central Valley industrial pork farm with animal cruelty for caging pregnant pigs without room to move, was thrown out of court this week by corporate defendants using a November ballot measure that big business proponents claimed would stop "shakedown lawsuits," not public interest cases. The animal cruelty case joins at least one hundred other cases, already in court when Proposition 64 passed, in which corporate defendants are trying to apply Proposition 64 retroactively to escape accountability.
Big business proponents of Proposition 64 explicitly stated the measure was not retroactive during the campaign, and told the public that the initiative was aimed at stopping baseless suits against small businesses, not legitimate public protection cases against big business. It is, however, large corporations that are now aggressively seeking to dismiss unfair competition lawsuits filed against them prior to the election, according to consumer advocates.
"Proposition 64's big business backers explicitly told voters that the initiative would not stop public interest cases and would not be retroactive, but now they are attacking already filed lawsuits brought by public interest groups to protect the public health, consumers, and in this case, animals from harm," said Carmen Balber, a consumer advocate with the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights which opposed Proposition 64. "Proposition 64 took away citizens' ability to protect animals, the environment and the public health -- none of which can protect themselves. It will have to be repealed by voters at the ballot to make sure large corporations can be held accountable when they endanger the public by breaking the law."
Proposition 64 bars any citizen from bringing suit using the unfair competition law unless he personally lost money or property because of a company's unfair or illegal practice. In a case like this involving animal cruelty, citizens are effectively barred from court because only the animal, that cannot go to court for itself, has been directly harmed. Such animal protection laws are now unenforceable, except by overburdened government prosecutors, because of Proposition 64.
The case, brought by the non-profit animal rights organization, Farm Sanctuary, aimed to stop Corcpork, whose products are sold under the Farmer John label, from confining pregnant pigs to 2 x 6 foot metal crates that don't allow the pigs to move more than a step or two in either direction. It was brought before the November election, using California's unfair competition law, to enforce animal cruelty laws requiring animals have the opportunity to exercise. Pigs confined to "gestation crates" barely larger than themselves are nearly immobilized, unable to turn around or even lie down comfortably. The pregnant sows can suffer crippling bone loss and joint damage, as well as cardiovascular problems and other maladies, because of the confinement, according to the complaint.
California law holds that initiatives cannot be applied retroactively unless the measure's language explicitly states it is retroactive. Proposition 64 does not, but defense attorneys have seized upon a procedural argument that process changes can be applied retroactively, and some judges have agreed. California Courts of Appeal have issued conflicting decisions on Prop 64's application to pending cases and the California Supreme Court agreed in April to decide the issue.
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