Federal Appeals Court Rejects Free Speech Claims of Animal Rights Activists by Gina M. Smith and Dee Spagnuolo

Animal rights activists cannot hide behind the First Amendment to justify otherwise illegal activity. Deciding an issue of first impression in United States of America v. Darius Fullmer, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit upheld the constitutionality of the Animal Enterprise Protection Act (AEPA). On October 14, a three-judge panel unanimously upheld the convictions of six animal rights activists and Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC), who engaged in a targeted campaign against Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS), a research corporation that uses animals in its testing. The activists' tactics included use of the Internet to organize a campaign of electronic sabotage that included cyber attacks, harassment, vandalism, and stalking. This campaign extended beyond HLS and its employees to include employees' family members and affiliated companies.

This decision is a signal to animal rights activists that "terror tactics" designed to disrupt business practices will not be protected by the First Amendment. With greater frequency, environmental and animal rights activists are targeting pharmaceutical companies, restaurants, furriers, research facilities, land development groups, and other companies. Using both anonymous and open tactics such as vandalism, intimidation, and aggressive commercial and residential protesting, these groups harass the employees, customers, and even the vendors of the businesses they target. In Fullmer, the government introduced evidence of damages from cyber attacks alone totaling $465,000 suffered by Huntingdon Life Sciences and the total restitution ordered amounted to $1,000,001. The decision will assist targeted organizations in protecting their business and employees against extremist illegal activity cloaked as free speech.

The Ballard Spahr litigation team has secured injunctions and contempt orders that have dramatically curtailed these illegal tactics and brought peace of mind to clients and their employees. The team also has successfully handled appeals of the injunctions it has obtained. In addition to litigation services, we coordinate investigations and home security with corporate and/or private agencies; we alert, inform, and maintain a dialogue with local, state, and federal law enforcement of emergent threats; we work with all agencies to effect a coordinated and unified response; and we craft appropriate media and public responses to the activists' message. We gather facts, analyze the client's position, and provide the appropriate advice based on our experience and familiarity with extremist groups.

If you or your company has experienced cyber attacks, harassment, vandalism, or stalking by such groups, contact Dee Spagnuolo at 215.864.8312 or spagnuolod@ballardspahr.com.

Copyright © 2009 by Ballard Spahr LLP.

www.ballardspahr.com

(No claim to original U.S. government material.) All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior written permission of the author and publisher.This alert is a periodic publication of Ballard Spahr LLP and is intended to notify recipients of new developments in the law. It should not be construed as legal advice or legal opinion on any specific facts or circumstances. The contents are intended for general informational purposes only, and you are urged to consult your own attorney concerning your situation and specific legal questions you have.