The lawsuit ASPCA, et al. v. Feld Entertainment, Inc. that was scheduled to begin October 27 in federal district court in Washington, DC, has...

The lawsuit ASPCA, et al. v. Feld Entertainment, Inc. that was scheduled to begin October 27 in federal district court in Washington, DC, has been postponed until February 3, 2009, after attorneys for the animal groups requested that the trial be rescheduled.

The lawsuit was filed by four animal special interest groups, including the ASPCA, and a former employee on the treatment of circus elephants against Feld Entertainment, Inc., the parent company of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey.

“Feld Entertainment was fully prepared to conduct a vigorous defense in this case,” said Michelle Pardo, of Fulbright & Jaworski L.L.P., which is representing Feld Entertainment in the case, in a statement. “However, after having eight years to get ready, the animal special interest groups are not prepared to try this case on its merits at this time. …While the animal special interest groups were eager to try their case in the media last week through their publicity exploits, based on these events, it is obvious their case is not ready for prime time.”

The statement continued, “Feld Entertainment remains confident that the evidence will show that its elephants are healthy, alert and thriving in its care. It also is prepared to refute the meritless allegations spread by those who do not own or know how to care for an elephant.”

The original complaint was filed in July 2000. The case was dismissed in 2001, but was reinstated on appeal in 2003. The appeals court ruled that if Tom Rider, a former barn man, could prove that he was “aesthetically injured” by Ringling Bros.’ treatment of the elephants, the case could proceed.

Whether such an “injury” to Rider actually exists and can be remedied will be a major issue in the trial. So will the financial support that Rider receives from his co-plaintiffs — a fact that was unknown to the appeals court in 2003.

In a ruling in August 2007, the U.S. District Court narrowed the scope of the case to only six of the 52 Ringling Bros. elephants. The judge granted partial summary judgment to Ringling Bros. and ruled that none of the Asian elephants of Ringling Bros. that were born in the United States were subject to the claims of the animal groups under the Endangered Species Act.

Ringling Bros. has filed a separate lawsuit against the animal groups under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) and Conspiracy Counterclaim. That litigation is on hold and will proceed separately following completion of the current case.

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