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Rowley v. City of New Bedford

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

September 25, 2018

JOYCE ROWLEY, Plaintiff,




         Former plaintiff Friends of Ruth & Emily, Inc. ("Friends") filed suit against the defendant City of New Bedford ("New Bedford"), alleging that New Bedford's city zoo committed an unlawful taking under the Endangered Species Act. After New Bedford moved to dismiss the complaint for lack of proper legal representation, Joyce Rowley ("Rowley") substituted herself as plaintiff, rendering the issue moot. ECF Nos. 18, 23. This Court withheld judgment on the motion, however, asking the parties instead to brief the issue of standing. ECF No. 30. Satisfied that Rowley does indeed have the requisite standing to maintain this suit at this stage of the litigation, the Court now DENIES New Bedford's motion to dismiss.

         A. Procedural History

         On September 21, 2017, Friends filed a complaint against New Bedford in this Court under its federal question jurisdiction. Compl. Decl. & Inj. Relief ("Compl.") ¶ 25. New Bedford moved to dismiss the complaint on October 16, on the basis that Rowley, the non-attorney founder and president of Friends, could not represent Friends in a federal lawsuit. Mot. Dismiss PL's Compl. ("Mot. Dismiss"), ECF No. 7. Friends opposed the motion, Resp. Opp'n Def.'s Mot. Dismiss ("Opp'n Mot. Dismiss"), ECF No. 14, and moved for a preliminary injunction on December 12, Mot. Prelim. Inj., ECF No. 16. That day, this Court heard oral argument on the motion to dismiss and granted a conditional dismissal, allowing Friends thirty days to retain proper counsel. See ECF No. 18.

         On February 12, 2018, Rowley moved to intervene, which this Court allowed as a motion to substitute the plaintiff. See ECF Nos. 21, 23. Rowley then renewed Friends' previous motion for a preliminary injunction. See ECF Nos. 27, 28. Concerned about Rowley's standing to maintain suit, this Court requested briefing on the issue, which both parties duly provided. See PL's Br. Supp. PL's Standing ("PL's Mem."), ECF No. 31; Def.'s Mem. Law Supp. Mot. Dismiss ("Def.'s Mem."), ECF No. 33.

         B. Facts Alleged

         Rowley alleges maltreatment of two Asian elephants, named Ruth and Emily, at the Buttonwood Park Zoo (the "Zoo") in New Bedford. Compl. ¶¶ 7-8. Rowley is the founder and president of Friends, a "nonprofit organization and [] public charity" consisting of "dozens" of members supporting the effort to shut down the Zoo's elephant exhibit and transfer Ruth and Emily to an elephant sanctuary in Tennessee. Id. ¶¶ 2, 13. Rowley is also a member of the Buttonwood Park Zoological Society and visits the Zoo on a "near daily basis" to observe Ruth and Emily. Id. ¶ 14. Rowley alleges that she has formed "an aesthetic, emotional, and spiritual relationship with Ruth and Emily over the years." Id. ¶ 15.

         Rowley alleges that the Zoo has harmed Ruth and Emily in several ways, such as by chaining their legs to restrain them overnight; failing to protect Ruth from attacks by Emily (it is allegedly "well documented" that the two elephants do not get along); housing them in inadequate facilities; failing to provide the elephants with sufficient socialization opportunities; and failing to provide adequate veterinary care. Id. ¶¶ 36-65. Rowley claims that the Zoo's treatment of Ruth and Emily violates Section 9 of the Endangered Species Act, which prohibits the "taking" of any endangered species and the possession of any endangered species unlawfully taken. Id. ¶¶ 78-79. Rowley requests that this Court declare that the Zoo's treatment of Ruth and Emily violates the Endangered Species Act and enjoin the Zoo from committing any further violations. Id. at 25.


         As Justice Scalia explained in Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555 (1992):

[O]ur cases have established that the irreducible constitutional minimum of standing contains three elements. First, the plaintiff must have suffered an "injury in fact" - an invasion of a legally protected interest which is (a) concrete and particularized and (b) "actual or imminent, not 'conjectural' or 'hypothetical.'" Second, there must be a causal connection between the injury and the conduct complained of - the injury has to be "fairly . . . trace[able] to the challenged action of the defendant, and not . . . th[e] result [of] the independent action of some third party not before the court." Third, it must be "likely," as opposed to merely "speculative," that the injury will be "redressed by a favorable decision."

Id. at 560-61 (citations omitted) (first quoting Whitmore v. Arkansas, 495 U.S. 149, 155 (1990), then quoting Simon v. Eastern Ky. Welfare Rights Org., 426 U.S. 26, 41-42 (1976), then quoting Simon, 426 U.S. at 38, 43). While "[t]he party invoking federal jurisdiction bears the burden of establishing these elements," the severity of this burden varies depending on the stage of litigation. Id. at 561. "At the pleading stage," for example, "general factual allegations of injury resulting from the defendant's conduct may suffice." Id.

         Here, Rowley brings her suit under the Endangered Species Act, 16 U.S.C. §§ 1531-44, which expressly authorizes citizen suits for injunctive relief. See id. § 1540(g)(1). Thus, she may bring such a suit if she has standing. Since this case has not proceeded beyond the motion to dismiss stage, Rowley "must clearly allege facts demonstrating standing; [this Court] then construe[s] those facts and reasonable inferences drawn from them in [her] favor." Animal Welfare Inst, v. Martin, 623 F.3d 19, 25 (1st Cir. 2010).

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Injury in Fact

         While "there is ordinarily little question" of injury when a plaintiff is herself the object of the government action she challenges, in certain cases, such as those arising under the Endangered Species Act, the plaintiff's "asserted injury arises from the government's allegedly unlawful regulation (or lack of regulation) of someone else." Lujan, 504 U.S. at 561-62. In these cases, "standing is not precluded, but it is ordinarily ...

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