Written by: Amie Alexander, JD/MPS Candidate, William H. Bowen School of Law

Animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) filed a complaint against the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia on May 15, 2018. Plaintiff PETA challenges USDA’s decision to renew the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) licenses of five applicants. You can read the complaint in its entirety here.

PETA claims that each of five applicants whose licenses were renewed operate in violation of the AWA because they “chronically subject animals to inhumane care and treatment.” The AWA was enacted to “insure that animals intended for use in research facilities or for exhibition purposes or for use as pets are provided humane care and treatment.” See 7 U.S.C. § 2131(1). The USDA has promulgated standards that serve as the baseline necessary for humane care and treatment as required by the AWA.

Applicants for an initial license must be inspected to ensure AWA compliance, but applicants for renewal need only make facilities available for inspection. PETA alleges that upon renewal, the USDA does not utilize inspections or past inspection records, but rather relies on the applicants’ certification of compliance with the AWA. Each of the organizations whose licenses had been renewed had been previously received substantial citations by USDA inspectors for violations of the AWA before their license renewal.

For its causes of action, PETA alleges USDA’s “policy, pattern, and practice of relying on an applicants’ self-certification of compliance even when the agency has demonstrable ‘smoking gun’ evidence before it that the self-certification is false” to renew the licenses is in violation of the AWA and constitute an arbitrary and capricious decision which is an abuse of discretion a violation of the Administrative Procedure Act. PETA asks the Court to set aside the USDA’s decisions to renew the licenses.