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Pork Farm Wins Suit Dismissal

June 15, 2005|Erica Williams | Times Staff Writer

A Los Angeles judge Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit brought by an animal rights group that accused a Central Valley farm of mistreating pregnant pigs, saying a ballot measure passed last year rendered the case invalid.

Farm Sanctuary, which operates a shelter for rescued farm animals in Orland, Calif., sought to force Corcpork Inc. of Corcoran to stop housing its 9,000 pregnant sows in individual metal stalls barely larger than the pigs. 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."

But Superior Court Judge Joanne O'Donnell said the New York-based group was barred from suing the farm by Proposition 64, which set curbs on lawsuits against businesses. The measure contained no exception for pending cases, she said.

"We said from the outset we didn't believe the law allowed for this type of case, and the judge agreed," Corcpork spokesman Steve Duchesne said.

Gene Bauston, president of Farm Sanctuary, said it was considering an appeal. "We do believe it's clear that the animals at Corcpork are not allowed to exercise, and that is a clear violation of California law," he said.

In the months since Proposition 64 passed, businesses have attempted to use it to scuttle pending lawsuits targeting corporate behavior. The measure bans private parties from suing a business unless they were harmed personally and financially by the alleged misconduct.

Activists have argued that Proposition 64 was meant to block future suits and shouldn't be applied retroactively.

Courts have issued conflicting opinions on the matter, and the California Supreme Court said in April that it would review several cases in an effort to resolve the question.

Taimie Bryant, who teaches a course in animal protection law at UCLA School of Law, expressed concern that broad rulings such as O'Donnell's could bar lawsuits in the public interest such as those involving civil rights and worker safety laws -- something voters may not have intended.

"This isn't just a case about the gestation crates [individual stalls]," Bryant said. "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."

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