WEST PALM BEACH -- Owners of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus, said Friday that they will receive $9.3 million from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to settle part of a lawsuit the circus owners filed against the ASPCA and several other animal-rights groups.
Feld Entertainment, which owns Ringling Bros., sued the ASPCA and the other groups in 2007 under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, contending the groups and their lawyers paid more than $190,000 to a former Ringling employee who had joined them in suing the circus company in 2000, alleging animal cruelty under the Endangered Species Act.
Feld is expanding into a new 47-acre campus in Ellenton that, over the next five years, will house 100,000 square feet of office space and 450,000 square feet of manufacturing in two buildings along U.S. 301, the company announced earlier this year.
A federal court at the end of a six-week trial in 2009 ruled in the circus' favor. In its ruling, the court characterized former employee, Tom Rider, as a paid witness whose testimony was not credible.
Feld's racketeering lawsuit against the ASPCA also includes the Humane Society of the United States, the Fund for Animals, Animal Welfare Institute, Animal Protection Institute United with Born Free USA, Tom Rider and some of the attorneys involved in the litigation. But Friday's settlement only covers the ASPCA.
"These defendants attempted to destroy our family-owned business with a hired plaintiff who made statements that the court did not believe," said Kenneth Feld, chairman and chief executive officer of Feld Entertainment. "This settlement is a vindication not just for the company, but also for the dedicated men and women who spend their lives working and caring for all the animals with Ringling Bros. in the face of such targeted, malicious rhetoric."
The settlement ends a part of a battle in what has been a decades-long war between animal-rights activists and circus companies such as Ringling. Activist groups have long held that Ringling treats its performing elephants cruelly. And over the years, they have released undercover videos showing trainers beating the elephants, which activists say are housed in cramped quarters and are poorly treated for debilitating diseases.
As part of the settlement, ASPCA officials said Friday that their organization does not admit any liability or wrongdoing.
ASPCA CEO and President Ed Sayres, in a prepared statement, said the federal court that ruled on the 2000 lawsuit threw the case out without ruling on the merits of the elephant-abuse allegations.
"In fact, this litigation has stopped being about the elephants a long time ago," Sayres said, adding that the organization ultimately decided to resolve the case to avoid the further expense of a long, protracted litigation. "We are glad to put this matter behind us so we can focus most effectively on our life-saving work, preventing cruelty and improving the welfare of animals."