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Animal Legal Defense Fund v. Lucas

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

October 9, 2019

KIMBERLY ANN LUCAS doing business as FARMERS' INN, Defendant.



         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         Plaintiff, the Animal Legal Defense Fund ("ALDF"), a national non-profit organization, commenced this action on behalf of its members in January 2019, alleging inadequate conditions of captivity of numerous animals housed at the facility of Defendant Farmers' Inn ("Farmers' Inn"), and sought injunctive relief under the Endangered Species Act ("ESA") and the Pennsylvania Public Nuisance Doctrine. (ECF No. 1). Farmers' Inn subsequently moved for dismissal of the Complaint. In an Order dated March 7, 2019, the Court dismissed Count III of the Complaint, which set forth a claim for Public Nuisance, and denied the motion as to Counts I and II. (ECF No. 21). In the accompanying opinion, the Court explained that although ALDF had plausibly alleged that a public nuisance existed, the allegations pertaining to injuries suffered by ALDF's members-i.e., risk of physical injury, risk of transmission of zoonotic disease, and being upset at what they saw at Farmers' Inn -were either too conjectural or otherwise failed to rise to the level of an "injury in fact." (ECF No. 20 at 5-6). Accordingly, the Court concluded that dismissal of the public nuisance claim was warranted because ALDF lacked standing to assert that claim on behalf of its members. (Id. at 7).

         ALDF subsequently sought and was granted leave to file an amended complaint regarding its standing to pursue a public nuisance claim. (ECF Nos. 26, 34). In the Amended Complaint, ALDF alleges that its "organizational mission is to advance the interests and protect the lives of animals through the legal system." (ECF No. 37 ¶ 75). ALDF claims that its members who visited Fanners' Inn have "suffered injuries as a result of observing with their own eyes the inadequate conditions in which the animals" are kept there. (ECF No. 37 ¶ 75). Specifically, ALDF asserts that "its members were prevented from viewing and enjoying the animals . . . because of the inadequate and inhumane conditions" at Farmers' Inn. (Id. ¶ 76). Its members desire to return to view the animals, "but are unable to do so because of the current conditions." (Id. ¶ 77).

         The Amended Complaint also references and attaches as exhibits the declarations of two of ALDF's members, Ms. Bennett and Dr. Welsch, both of whom are residents of Pennsylvania and have visited Farmers' Inn. (Id. ¶¶ 78) (citing ECF Nos. 37-3, 37-4). These declarations reflect that Ms. Bennett and Dr. Welsch were deprived of any ability to enjoy the animals during their visits because of the inadequate conditions in which they witnessed those animals. (Id. ¶¶ 80, 86). They have been unable "to return to enjoy viewing the animals while those conditions persist, notwithstanding [their] desire to do so, because of the distress [they] experienced" during their past visits. (Id. ¶¶ 82, 88). However, they are "committed to return to visit the animals . . . if the conditions are improved [at Farmers' Inn], or . . . the animals ... are transferred to a sanctuary capable of meeting their species-specific needs." (Id. ¶¶ 83, 89).

         On March 29, 2019, Farmers' Inn renewed its motion to dismiss Count III. (ECF No. 40). Farmers' Inn maintains that the additional allegations in the Amended Complaint fail to establish that ALDF has Article III standing to pursue the public nuisance claim on behalf of its members. (Id.). This motion has been fully briefed and is ripe for resolution. (ECF Nos. 41, 44). For the reasons that follow, the Court will deny the motion to dismiss.

         II. Standard of Review[1]

         A motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) challenges the subject-matter jurisdiction of the court to address the merits of plaintiff s suit. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). Under Rule 12(b)(1), "a court must grant a motion to dismiss if it lacks subject-matter jurisdiction to hear a claim." In re Sobering Plough Corp. Intron/Temodar Consumer Class Action, 678 F.3d 235, 243 (3d Cir. 2012); see Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(h)(3) ("If the court determines at any time that it lacks subject-matter jurisdiction, the court must dismiss the action.").

         The first step in analyzing a jurisdictional challenge under a Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss is to determine whether the "motion presents a 'facial' attack or a 'factual' attack on the claim at issue, because that distinction determines how the pleading must be reviewed." Constitution Party of Pa. v. Aichele, 757 F.3d 347, 357-58 (3d Cir. 2014) (quoting In re Schering Plough, 678 F.3d at 243). "A facial 12(b)(1) challenge, which attacks the complaint on its face without contesting its alleged facts, is like a 12(b)(6) motion in requiring the court to 'consider the allegations of the complaint as true.'" Hartig Drug Co. Inc. v. Senju Pharm. Co., 836 F.3d 261, 268 (3d Cir. 2016) (quoting Petruska v. Gannon Univ., 462 F.3d 294, 302 n.3 (3d Cir. 2006)). "But a factual 12(b)(1) challenge attacks allegations underlying the assertion of jurisdiction in the complaint, and it allows the defendant to present competing facts." Id. (citing Constitution Party of Pa., 757 F.3d at 358).

         If the defendant challenges jurisdiction in its Rule 12(b)(1) motion before answering the complaint or "otherwise present[ing] competing facts," the Rule 12(b)(1) motion is, "by definition, a facial attack." Constitution Party of Pa., 757 F.3d at 358 (citing Mortensen v. First Fed. Sav. & Loan Ass'n, 549 F.2d 884, 892 n.17 (3d Cir. 1977)). When analyzing a facial attack on subject-matter jurisdiction, "the court must only consider the allegations of the complaint and documents referenced therein and attached thereto, in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." In re Schering Plough, 678 F.3d at 243 (quoting Gould Elecs. Inc., v. United States, 220 F.3d 169, 176 (3d Cir. 2000)). "The person asserting jurisdiction bears the burden of showing that the case is properly before the court at all stages of the litigation." Packard v. Provident Nat'l Bank, 994 F.2d 1039, 1045 (3d Cir. 1993) (citing McNutt v. General Motors Acceptance Corp., 298 U.S. 178, 189 (1936)).

         Farmers' Inn challenges the Court's subject-matter jurisdiction based upon the allegations in the Amended Complaint before answering or otherwise presenting competing facts. As this challenge is a facial attack on the Amended Complaint, tthe Court will apply the Rule 12(b)(6) standard of review, i.e., it will consider the allegations of the Amended Complaint as true and construe them in the light most favorable to ALDF.

         III. Discussion

         For an organization to have associational standing, i.e., standing to pursue a claim on behalf of its members, three elements must be satisfied: "(1) individual members must have standing in their own right, (2) the interest asserted must be germane to the purpose of the organization, and (3) neither the claim nor the relief requested must require the participation of the individual members in the lawsuit." Curto v. A Country Place Condo. Ass 'n, Inc., 921 F.3d 405, 410 n.2 (3d Cir. 2019) (citing Hunt v. Washington Apple Adver. Comm. 432 U.S. 333, 344 (1977)). The first two elements are based on Article III constitutional requirements, while the third element is purely prudential. United Food & Commercial Workers Union Local 751 v. Brown Grp., Inc., 517 U.S. 544, 556(1996).

         In seeking dismissal of the public nuisance claim, Farmers' Inn neither argues that ALDF's individual members lack standing, nor contests that ALDF seeks to protect interests germane to its purpose. (ECF No. 41 at 10). Instead, focusing on the third element, Farmers' Inn contends that ALDF lacks associational standing to pursue the public nuisance claim because Pennsylvania law requires direct participation of ALDF's individual members in this lawsuit. (Id. at 8). However, the Court will analyze all three elements of associational standing because it "ha[s] an independent obligation to determine whether subject-matter jurisdiction exists, ...

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