October 19, 2012
Justice for All, Page 3: Clear and Convincing Evidence
Litigation team works to fill the void of legal precedents for animal welfare
by Julie Falconer
"A legal campaign is always a multiyear effort. But in the end, we usually prevail." — Jonathan Lovvorn, senior vice president
Fifteen years ago, Jonathan Lovvorn was an attorney at a leading public interest law firm in Washington, D.C. “Sympathetic but uneducated” on animal protection issues at the time, he began doing “low-bono”—reduced rate—work for The HSUS, starting with a lawsuit that blocked the USDA from killing thousands of Canada geese in Virginia. “Once we won that first case, I was excited to do more,” he remembers.
By the time he was recruited to serve as chief counsel of the new Animal Protection Litigation section, Lovvorn had won nearly a dozen animal protection cases, including ones to protect whales, bison, and bears. He knew what he and his small team would be up against.
Animal protection issues are scarce in the nation’s case law. Without clear precedents to guide them, judges tend to rule in favor of protecting the status quo, he says.
But Lovvorn also knew that government agencies, under the influence of the agriculture lobby and other animal-use industries, were often ignoring or watering down animal protection laws. Factory farmers, puppy mill owners, canned hunting operators, and others were committing a range of violations. A group of litigators dedicated to these issues could right a lot of wrongs.
One of the team’s first actions was to resurrect the nation’s oldest federal animal protection law. Enacted in 1873, the Twenty-Eight-Hour Law states that “a rail carrier, express carrier, or common carrier … may not confine animals in a vehicle or vessel for more than 28 consecutive hours.” After this amount of time, transporters must unload animals and allow them to eat, drink, and rest for five hours.
The language and intent of the law were plain. But the USDA had excluded trucks—used in 95 percent of farm animal transport—from the definition of “common carrier.” Their justification: Since trucks didn’t exist in 1873, the Twenty-Eight-Hour Law didn’t apply to them.
The argument “was completely absurd,” Lovvorn says. But that’s the way it stood for decades until HSUS attorneys filed a petition and threatened to sue. “And the agency said, ‘You know what, it does apply.’ ”