Coalition Sues North Carolina over Constitutionality of ‘Anti-Sunshine’ Law

Coalition Sues North Carolina over Constitutionality of ‘Anti-Sunshine’ Law

Law challenged on First Amendment, Equal Protection, Due Process Grounds

Raleigh, N.C. – A coalition of animal protection, consumer rights, food safety, and whistleblower protection organizations filed a federal lawsuit today challenging the constitutionality of a North Carolina law designed to deter whistleblowers and undercover investigators from publicizing information about corporate misconduct.

The state legislature overrode a veto of the bill by Governor Pat McCrory in June 2015, and the law took effect on January 1. Under the law, organizations and journalists who conduct undercover investigations, and individuals who expose improper or criminal conduct by North Carolina employers, are susceptible to suit and substantial damages if they make such evidence available to the public or the press.

According to the complaint filed today, the law’s purpose is to punish those “who set out to investigate employers and property owners’ conduct because they believe there is value in exposing employers and property owners’ unethical or illegal behavior to the disinfecting sunlight of public scrutiny.”

The plaintiffs, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the Center for Food Safety, Animal Legal Defense Fund, Farm Sanctuary, Food & Water Watch, and the Government Accountability Project, said today that they are taking legal action because North Carolina’s law “blatantly violates our rights to free speech, to a free press, and to petition our government, and violates the Equal Protection Clause. It places the safety of our families, our food supply, and animals at risk.”

The North Carolina law is part of a growing number of so-called ‘ag-gag laws’ passed by state legislators across the country. The bills, which are pushed by lobbyists for corporate agriculture companies, are an attempt to escape scrutiny over unsafe practices and animal abuses by threatening liability for those who expose these improper and, in many cases, illegal practices. North Carolina’s version is written so broadly that it would also ban undercover investigations of all private entities, including nursing homes and daycare centers. The North Carolina law threatens to silence conscientious employees who witness and wish to report wrongdoing.

Today’s legal challenge is the first in the nation to make claims under both the U.S. Constitution and a state constitution. Last year, a federal court overturned Idaho’s ag-gag law on the basis that it violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments, and in late December a federal judge ruled that a challenge to Wyoming’s law must go forward, citing “serious concerns” about that law’s constitutionality.

The North Carolina plaintiffs are represented by David S. Muraskin and Leslie A. Brueckner of Public Justice in Washington, D.C.; and Daniel K. Bryson and Jeremy Williams of Whitfield, Bryson & Mason LLP in Raleigh, N.C.

The following attorneys are representing their own organization: Matthew Strugar of PETA in Los Angeles, Calif.; Matthew Liebman of the Animal Legal Defense Fund in Cotati, Calif.,; Cristina R. Stella and Paige Tomaselli of the Center for Food Safety in Sacramento, Calif.; Scott Edwards of Food and Water Watch in Washington, D.C.; and Sarah L. Nash of the Government Accountability Project in Washington, D.C.

Justin Marceau of the University of Denver-Sturm College of Law is Of Counsel to the Animal Legal Defense Fund.

The plaintiffs’ joint statement in full:

North Carolina’s Anti-Sunshine Law seriously hinders North Carolinians’ ability to know the truth about misconduct, mistreatment and corruption happening in virtually every industry, including nursing homes, factory farms, financial institutions, daycare centers and more. It’s an extreme law forced on citizens over a governor’s veto by lawmakers who bowed to pressure from corporate lobbyists. This law blatantly violates citizens’ rights to free speech, a free press, and to petition their government, and violates the Equal Protection Clause. It places the safety of our families, our food supply, and animals at risk, and it attempts to bully and threaten those working for transparency, free speech and the public good. Our lawsuit is being brought for the sake of the health and safety of all citizens of North Carolina. We are confident the law will be found unconstitutional and that a victory in North Carolina will deter other state legislatures from repeating North Carolina’s mistake

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Farm Sanctuary Rescues More Than 130 Starving Animals from Backyard Butcher in New York’s Hudson Valley

Farm Sanctuary Rescues More Than 130 Starving Animals from Backyard Butcher in New York’s Hudson Valley

Nightmarish scene described as “a garbage dump with animals”

Watkins Glen, NY – On Saturday, October 10, Farm Sanctuary, America’s leading farm animal protection organization, working with the Hudson Valley SPCA, came to the aid of more than 130 starving and dying animals at a filthy property in New York’s Hudson Valley that has been described as “a garbage dump with animals.”

Farm Sanctuary will take the majority of the animals to their Watkins Glen-based New York Shelter, and has assisted the Hudson Valley SPCA in placing the rest at Skylands Animal Sanctuary & Rescue, Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary, Catskill Animal Sanctuary, and with individual adopters. Farm Sanctuary will take animals in the direst condition directly to Cornell University’s Hospital for Animals for emergency medical treatment.

The starving, terrified animals, who were found living among deceased animals on the property, include:

• 64 goats – half of whom are babies, and many females who are likely to be pregnant
• At least 20 sheep who haven’t been shorn in years
• 10 young calves
• 1 pony
• 50 chickens and 1 turkey
• 20 pigs, including 2 mothers and at least 4 babies
• Four adult cattle

Farm Sanctuary National Shelter Director Susie Coston, who oversaw the rescue, has already taken one young, starving goat with a bloated belly (a sign of parasites) to Cornell University’s Hospital for Animals. Says Coston, “What I saw there will haunt me until the day I die. It’s heartbreaking to think that these beautiful animals were given this one life, and instead of enjoying it like they should, they’ve endured unthinkable suffering. But for those for whom it’s not too late, we intend to give them all the love they need to recover from this horrible ordeal and live a happy life.”

To fund this lifesaving rescue, donations to Farm Sanctuary’s Emergency Rescue Fund are desperately needed. To donate, click here.

To learn more about Farm Sanctuary, visit farmsanctuary.org.

Farm Sanctuary operates three shelters in New York and California that provide lifelong care for nearly 1,000 rescued farm animals, works to change laws to decrease abuse of farm animals, and promotes compassionate vegan living.

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