SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - Animal rights groups can go after The Great Bull Run and its bull supplier over an imitation stampede held in California, a federal judge ruled.
The event is modeled on the famous bull run at the Festival de San Fermín in Pamplona, Spain. Though the San Fermín bull run concludes with a slaughter in the bull ring, the U.S. events do not include bullfighting.
Bullfighting, including bloodless bullfighting, is illegal in California, and it is also proscribed to make bulls fight people, antagonize a bull, or make a bull hurt or antagonize another bull.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) sought
an injunction against The Great Bull Run and Lone Star Rodeo this past March, claiming the bull runs are dangerous and illegal.
In their original complaint, the groups described the bull runs as "people on horseback using ropes as whips to scare up to as many as three dozen bulls ... to charge towards as many as 1,000 people arrayed along a quarter mile track. As the bulls approach at speeds faster than humans can run, the participants try to keep up while avoiding the stampede at their heels. Many runners intentionally run as close to the bulls as possible to provoke them. An eyewitness at the most recent bull run event in Florida reported that several runners taunted and punched the bulls as they ran by."
Both animals and people are hurt during the events, the groups claimed. The bulls risk slipping and breaking legs or getting gored by other bulls during the stampede, while several runners have been trampled, suffered deep gashes, bruising and concussions.
The defendants argued that the groups failed to allege actual injury, such as lost money or property, and instead relied only on hypothetical harm.
In keeping the claims alive Friday, however, U.S. District Judge Maria-Elena James pointed out that the 2010 decision
by the 9th Circuit in La Asociacion de Trabajadores de Lake Forest v. City of Lake Forest
lets groups sue for injury if they are forced to use time and resources that could be used for other purposes to offset a defendant's activities that oppose their mission.
"In this case, plaintiffs allege that they have redirected resources and staff time investigating defendants' practices, and these employees would have otherwise worked on other projects to further plaintiffs' missions," James wrote. "Plaintiffs' investigations would not be necessary but for the actions of defendants. Further, because plaintiffs diverted these resources not only in response to defendants' activities but also to counteract the effect these events have on plaintiff' own outreach and education efforts designed to prevent animal cruelty, defendants' practices prevented them from pursuing other preferred avenues to advance their mission."
Rob Dickens, chief operating officer of the Great Bull Run, said in an email that the denied dismissal has "simply delayed the inevitable ruling in our favor and in doing so continues to waste the valuable time of the court."
Great Bull Run's CEO Brad Scudder expressed similar disappointment, saying in an email that the ruling "demonstrates serious flaws in our legal system, which should concern private citizens and business."
"We've no relationship with PETA or The Animal Legal Defense Fund," Scudder added. "We've done nothing illegal and, in fact, we've never held an event in California. Nevertheless, we're being forced to spend significant amounts of money defending this suit simply because these groups oppose our proposed activities."
The court's ruling says the plaintiffs sufficiently alleged facts to establish standing under Article III and California's Unfair Competition Law (UCL).
Though the plaintiffs also claimed that the bull runs violate California Penal Code sections banning bloodless bullfighting and cruelty to animals, Great Bull Run argued that these claims were invalid under the 4th Circuit's ruling in Animal Legal Defense Fund v. Mendes
because the penal code sections at issue "cannot be enforced through a private right of action in civil court."
Judge James disagreed, pointing out that the groups are not advancing claims under the penal code, but are "borrow[ing]" sections of the penal code to advance their unlawful competition claims.
"Because the Mendes
court held that the animal cruelty law contained no private right of action, but did not bar civil causes of action that invoke the animal cruelty law, the court finds defendants' argument unpersuasive," James wrote. "Further, the UCL provides for a private right of action against any unlawful business practice, including violations of laws for which there is no direct private action."
As of March, when the complaint was filed, activists said the Great Bull Run had staged four bull runs this year and planned to hold nine more, including two in California.
The groups noted in a statement on the ruling that those future events are scheduled to be held on July 26 at the Alameda County Fairgrounds and on Nov. 8 in Southern California.
"Organizers have repeatedly failed to secure a location for their Southern California event," the group said. "The city of Lake Elsinore and Riverside County each refused to grant necessary permits for the event, out of concern for public safety."
Animal Legal Defense Fund executive director Stephen Wells said the groups "will move forward to shut down these illegal, dangerous, and cruel excuses for a sport."
The groups are represented by Cory Allen Evans with Evans and Page.
Lone Star Rodeo transports steers and bulls from its ranch in Kentucky, keeping the animals in trailers for "thousands of miles back and forth across the country," according to the complaint.
As many as 3,000 people pay $49 a head to join a Great Bull Run, giving the organizers as much as $147,000 per event - without counting the money from beer and other concession sales, the complaint states.