Skip to content

On the dismissal of PETA’s SeaWorld slavery lawsuit

By Natalie Prosin

The Nonhuman Rights Project today issued the following press release:

Seventy-two hours after hearing oral argument on SeaWorld’s Motion to Dismiss PETA’s case, the Federal Court in San Diego dismissed PETA’s claims that the plaintiff orcas were enslaved within the meaning of the Thirteenth Amendment, with prejudice, on the ground that the Court lacked subject matter jurisdiction, as the plaintiffs lacked standing.

The judge also ruled, in a seven-page decision, that the Thirteenth Amendment applies only to humans and only to persons, and that orcas are not legal persons. He said that, unlike the Fourteenth Amendment, the Thirteenth Amendment should not be expansively interpreted.

When PETA filed the suit in October, 2011, the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) immediately recognized that the suit was premature and ill-conceived, and that PETA was ill-prepared. That is why the NhRP asked the federal judge for leave to appear as an amicus curiae, or “Friend of the Court.” The judge allowed its motion. But there was little it could accomplish. PETA had already filed the wrong suit in the wrong court.

“We hope PETA will realize that it embarked on a fool’s errand,” said NhRP President Steven Wise. “PETA wrongly believed it did not need to prove that an orca was a legal person, so it failed to be ready to prove that an orca is a “person.” Worse, it actually opposed our legal arguments that an orca is indeed a “person”, thus creating a roadblock that we will have to overcome in the future.”

PETA can inflict further damage to the rapidly-emerging discipline of animal rights jurisprudence by appealing to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. We can only assume that SeaWorld, along with every other exploiter of nonhuman animals, is hoping that they will.

The Nonhuman Rights Project calls on PETA to let bad enough alone.

The Judge’s decision is here.

Update: PETA did not appeal the District Court’s decision.  The time for filing the appeal expired on March 8.

– – – –

Steven M. Wise is President of the Nonhuman Rights Project and the former President of the Animal Legal Defense Fund. He is the author of several books including Though the Heavens May Fall, which documents the ruling of a British court in 1772 that an American slave was a legal person rather than a legal thing that could be owned by a person, and Rattling the Cage and Drawing the Line, which explore the place of nonhuman animals in law, philosophy, science and religion throughout human history.

– – – –

Professor Wise is available for interviews. For more information, contact:

Natalie Prosin

Executive Director


Sign up to receive the latest updates on our mission

Find out about opportunities to get involved, breaking news in our cases and campaigns, and more.