In the potentially precedent setting lawsuit “Anderson v SeaWorld”, federal Judge Jeffrey White has ruled against SeaWorld’s third attempt to have major portions of the consumer lawsuit dismissed, allowing the case to go forward to the discovery phase and trial.
The case challenges SeaWorld’s so-called “facts” about their orcas in captivity, contending that SeaWorld’s advertising and online statements about the welfare of captive orcas violate consumer protection and fair business practices laws. For example, one of the plaintiffs claims she was misled by SeaWorld trainers who told falsehoods including that captivity in general does not harm orcas.
Ultimately, the lawsuit seeks a court order requiring SeaWorld to cease making false statements about the health and welfare of the orcas and to make a factual public statement about the orcas, refuting previous false claims.
“SeaWorld would love for this lawsuit to go away so that they can continue to spread falsehoods to the public,” says David Philips, Director of the International Marine Mammal Project of Earth Island Institute. “But Judge White is sending a clear message to SeaWorld that, at the very least, their behavior warrants scrutiny.”
“If SeaWorld told the truth about the whales’ shortened and stressful lives in concrete tanks,” Dave Phillips added, “as well as the severe depression and boredom from sterile living conditions, the public would demand change.”
The International Marine Mammal Project has been acting as a key consultant in the lawsuit since its inception and advising the law firm of Covington & Burling LLP, which is conducting the lawsuit on a pro-bono basis.
Since the original case filing in April 2015, SeaWorld has filed three separate motions for the case to be dismissed. While some parts of the lawsuit have been dropped or modified in response to those three motions, Judge White has upheld the basic core of the case against SeaWorld so far.
The lawsuit will now enter the discovery phase, which will allow plaintiffs to seek information from SeaWorld’s records about the true welfare of captive orcas. A case schedule is expected to be set shortly.