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Feld Entertainment, Inc. v. American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

November 7, 2007

FELD ENTERTAINMENT, INC. PLAINTIFF,
v.
AMERICAN SOCIETY FOR THE PREVENTION OF CRUELTY TO ANIMALS, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Emmet G. Sullivan United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Pending before the Court is Defendant American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, et al.'s ("ASPCA") Motion to Temporarily Stay All Proceedings. Upon consideration of the motion, response and reply thereto, applicable law, and the entire record, the Court grants defendants' motion.

I. BACKGROUND

Feld Entertainment, Inc. ("FEI") has filed suit against ASPCA, the Fund for Animals, the Animal Welfare Institute, the Animal Protection Institute, Tom Rider, and the Wildlife Advocacy Project alleging violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act ("RICO"), 18 U.S.C. § 1961 et seq., and the Virginia Conspiracy Act, Va. Code Ann. § 18.2-499-500. With the exception of the Wildlife Advocacy Project ("WAP"), each of the defendants is a plaintiff in the related case, APSCA v. Ringling Bros., No. 03-2006, in which ASPCA alleges FEI's treatment of its Asian elephants violates the Endangered Species Act ("ESA"). FEI's allegations in this case stem directly from ASPCA's conduct in prosecuting the ESA Action.

The gravamen of plaintiff's complaint is that defendant Tom Rider has been bribed by the organizational defendants to participate in the ESA Action against FEI in violation of federal law. FEI alleges that ASPCA and the other defendants have acted as an association in fact, perpetrating a scheme to "permanently ban Asian elephants in circuses and to defraud FEI of money and property, with the ultimate object of banning Asian elephants in all forms of entertainment and captivity." Compl. ¶ 7. Plaintiff further alleges that to carry out this scheme, defendants "conspired to conduct and conducted the Enterprise through a pattern of ... bribery and illegal gratuity payments ... obstruction of justice, mail fraud, and wire fraud." Id.

FEI previously sought to amend its answers to add this RICO claim as a counterclaim in the ESA Action. The Court denied that request in its August 23, 2007 Memorandum Opinion. FEI then filed this lawsuit. Defendants ask the Court to "temporarily stay all proceedings in the Second RICO Suit pending a final judgment in the ESA Action." Def.'s Mot. at 2.

II. ANALYSIS

A. Standard of Review

"A court has inherent power to stay proceedings in control of its docket, after balancing the competing interests." Dellinger v. Mitchell, 442 F.2d 782, 786 (D.C. Cir. 1971). "The power to stay proceedings is incidental to the power inherent in every court to control the disposition of the causes on its docket with economy of time and effort for itself, for counsel, and for litigants." Landis v. North American Co., 299 U.S. 248, 254 (1936); see also Hisler v. Gallaudet University, 344 F.Supp.2d 29, 35 (D.D.C. 2004)("The trial court has broad discretion to stay all proceedings in an action pending resolution of independent proceedings elsewhere."). However, the "suppliant for a stay must make out a clear case of hardship or inequity in being required to go forward, if there is even a fair possibility that the stay for which he prays will work damage to someone else." 299 U.S. at 255. In determining whether to grant a stay, "the court, in its sound discretion, must assess and balance the nature and substantiality of the injustices claimed on either side." Gordon v. Fed. Deposit Ins. Corp., 427 F.2d 578, 580 (D.C. Cir. 1980). "This is best done by the exercise of judgment, which must weigh competing interests and maintain an even balance." GFL Advantage Fund, Ltd. V. Colkitt, 216 F.R.D. 189, 193 (D.D.C. 2003).

B. Defendants' Motion

The ASPCA defendants and WAP ask the Court to temporarily stay plaintiff's RICO suit until the ESA action is decided. In support of their request, defendants contend that allowing FEI's RICO case to go forward at the same time the ESA action enters the pretrial stage will "severely prejudice their prosecution of the ESA Action in precisely the manner envisioned by the Court" in its August 23, 2007 Memorandum Opinion. Def.'s Reply at 5. There, the Court found that the RICO counterclaim would result in significant additional expenses to plaintiffs, would likely create a need for new counsel to pursue the ESA claim where no need currently exists, and that the claim was being used as a tool by FEI to indefinitely prolong the ESA litigation. Def.'s Mot. at 2 (internal citations omitted). Defendants argue that the same reasons that justified denial of FEI's Motion to Amend also support its motion to stay. Defendants contend that simply refiling the RICO claim as a new lawsuit (as opposed to a counterclaim) does nothing to lessen the hardship imposed on ASPCA already found to exist by this Court. The Court agrees.

In its opposition, FEI has seriously misconstrued the Court's August 23, 2007 Memorandum Opinion denying FEI's Motion to Amend. FEI contends throughout its brief that the Court rejected its RICO counterclaim because it was entirely "unrelated" to the underlying ESA suit. See e.g., Def.'s Opp'n at 2, 6, 13-15, 27. This assertion is patently incorrect. The Court rejected FEI's RICO counterclaim because it found the claim was made with a dilatory motive, would cause undue delay, and would prejudice the plaintiffs in the ESA Action. Mem. Op. at 4, No. 03-2006, (Aug. 23, 2007). Nowhere in its opinion did the Court determine the claims are too different to be tried in the same lawsuit or that the outcome of the ESA action is irrelevant to the RICO claim. Rather, the Court found that it was highly prejudicial to the ASPCA plaintiffs for the RICO counterclaim to be raised so late in the ESA litigation, id. at 5, and that the counterclaim was filed for the improper purpose of interfering with and delaying resolution of the ESA action. Id. at 8 ("The Court will not allow a proposed counterclaim to be used as a tool to indefinitely prolong this litigation on a very narrow issue -- whether or not [FEI's] treatment of its elephants constitutes a taking under the ESA.").

ASPCA further contends that "FEI will suffer no prejudice whatsoever if its long-delayed RICO action is deferred until the ESA Action is resolved." Id. FEI counters that it has delayed the filing of this action only because defendants have successfully concealed their misconduct and any further delay of this action will "result in significant prejudice to FEI." Def.'s Opp'n at 21. The Court is not persuaded that FEI will suffer any prejudice as a result of a temporary stay.

While it is the proponent's burden to make out a case of hardship sufficient to justify imposition of a stay, Landis, 299 U.S. at 255, the Court must weigh the competing interests of all involved and maintain an even balance. Id. The Court previously found that defending against this claim while simultaneously prosecuting its ESA action would unduly prejudice ASPCA. Mem. Op. at 4. Conversely, FEI has not articulated any actual prejudice that would be imposed by a temporary stay. In fact, the section of its brief apparently dedicated to arguing prejudice does nothing more than recite further allegations of wrongdoing on the part of the defendants. Id. at 21-25. Rather than identifying actual harm potentially caused by the stay, FEI contends only that a stay would "delay FEI's day in court." Id. at 21. In the same section, FEI ...


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