A Whale of a Claim: Sea World Orcas Lack Article III Standing

By Robyn Hagan Cain on February 09, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Today we have a case waged by five orca whales — Tilikum, Katina, Corky, Kasatka and Ulises — through their Next Friends, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), against Sea World. Proving that Justice isn’t blind to plaintiffs of the water-based mammal variety, a federal court dismissed the claim this week with prejudice.

PETA and the whales claimed that Sea World violated the Thirteenth Amendment’s prohibitions against slavery and involuntary servitude by capturing the plaintiffs, and forcing them to live in grotesquely unnatural conditions and perform tricks. Sea World argued that whales aren’t people.

Okay, so it was a little more complicated than that.

Sea World argued that whales lacked Article III standing to bring the claim, and, alternatively, that PETA lacked capacity to bring the action under Rule 17 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

To satisfy Article III, a plaintiff must demonstrate that it has suffered a concrete and particularized "injury in fact" that is actual or imminent, (not conjectural or hypothetical), that the injury is fairly traceable to the defendant's action, and that the injury will likely be redressed by a favorable decision.

The district court, (clearly populated by anti-whale types), concluded that the Thirteenth Amendment only applies to "humans" and offered no redress for whales' grievances. The court further noted that the Thirteenth Amendment, unlike the Fourteenth Amendment, was not open to expansive interpretation.

Since the whales' claims were not redressable under the Thirteenth Amendment, the court found that the plaintiffs lacked Article III standing, and dismissed the case with prejudice.

Where do you stand on the whale-rights issue? Or any animal-standing issue, for that matter? Should the courts recognize Article III standing for animals, particularly animal performers?

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