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Feld Entertainment, Inc. v. American Society For the Prevention of Cruelty To Animals

July 9, 2012


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


This case arises out of a prior, long running litigation in this Court over whether Feld Entertainment Inc. ("FEI") violated the Endangered Species Act by its use of Asian elephants in FEI's Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus ("Circus"). That litigation (hereinafter the "ESA Action") was brought by several non-profit organizations and one individual plaintiff, Thomas Rider ("Rider"), who had worked with several of FEI's elephants in the Circus. After nine years of litigation and a six week non-jury trial, the Court concluded that Rider failed to prove that he had Article III standing. ASPCA v. Feld Entm't, Inc., 677 F. Supp. 2d 55 (D.D.C. 2009). The Court found that Rider was "not credible" with respect to his asserted emotional and aesthetic injuries that formed the basis for his claim to standing. Id. at 83. The Court further found that Rider was "essentially a paid plaintiff and fact witness" whose sole source of income throughout the litigation was provided by the animal advocacy organizations which had been his co-plaintiffs in the ESA Action. Id. at 67, 72.*fn1

FEI has now sued the plaintiffs in the ESA Action as well as their counsel of record, arguing that the ESA plaintiffs' payments to Rider during that litigation violated the Racketeer Influence and Corrupt Organizations Act ("RICO") and the Virginia Conspiracy Act. FEI has also asserted claims of common law abuse of process, malicious prosecution, maintenance, and champerty. Defendants move to dismiss FEI's Amended Complaint in its entirety. Upon consideration of the motions to dismiss, the oppositions and replies thereto, the arguments of counsel during the hearing held on June 23, 2011, the supplemental submissions of the parties, the applicable law and the record as a whole, the motions to dismiss are hereby GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART.


A. The ESA Case and the Alleged Racketeering Activity*fn2

The original complaint in the ESA Action was filed in July, 2000 on behalf of, among others, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals ("ASPCA"), Animal Welfare Institute ("AWI"), Fund For Animals ("FFA"), and Rider. ASPCA et al. v. Ringling Bros., et al., Case No. 00-1641. That complaint, and the others that were filed in the original case as well as its successor case, ASPCA et al. v. Feld Entertainment Inc., Case No. 03-2006, alleged that Asian elephants are an endangered species and that the circus mistreats its elephants in violation of the ESA, 16 U.S.C. § 1531, et. seq. The cases were filed under the citizen-suit provision of the ESA, which permits private individuals or organizations to sue to enjoin violations of the statute.

Tom Rider was a former elephant "barn helper" and "barn man" for FEI from June 1997 until November 1999. First Amended Complaint ("FAC") ¶¶ 4, 37. He alleged that he had suffered aesthetic and emotional injury based on his exposure to mistreated elephants while working for FEI. Specifically, Rider alleged that he "has a personal and emotional attachment to these elephants," Complaint, ASPCA v. Feld Entm't, Case 03-2006, ECF No. 1 at ¶ 20, that he "stopped working in the circus community because he could no longer tolerate the way the elephants were treated by defendants," id. ¶ 21, and that he "continues to visit" the elephants he knows, even though "each time he does so, he suffers more aesthetic injury," id. ¶ 23.

This Court dismissed the original case on the ground that Rider as well as the organizational plaintiffs lacked standing to sue. ASPCA v. Ringling Bros. & Barnum & Bailey Circus, No. 00-1641, 2001 U.S. Dist. Lexis 12203 (D.D.C. June 29, 2001). In February 2003, the D.C. Circuit reversed, ruling that, assuming the truth of the allegations in the complaint, Rider had standing. ASPCA v. Ringling Bros. & Barnum & Bailey Circus, 317 F.3d 334 (D.C. Cir. 2003).*fn3 The ESA Action continued for another six years, culminating in a six week bench trial in February and March 2009. Following the trial, on December 30, 2009, this Court dismissed the case on the grounds that neither Rider nor the other then-remaining plaintiff in the case, the non-profit organization Animal Protection Institute ("API"), satisfied the constitutional standing requirements.

The bulk of the Court's December 2009 decision is devoted to Rider. The Court found that Rider "failed to prove either a strong and personal attachment to the seven elephants at issue or that FEI's treatment of those elephants caused and continues to cause [him] to suffer aesthetic or emotional injury." ASPCA v. Feld Entm't, 677 F. Supp. 2d at 67. The Court further found Rider was "essentially a paid plaintiff and fact witness who is not credible, and therefore affords no weight to his testimony regarding the matters discussed herein, i.e., the allegations related to his standing to sue." Id.

The Court found serious problems with the substance of Rider's allegations. It noted that Rider had never complained to management, veterinarian, or government officials about the treatment of the elephants during the two and a half years he worked at Ringling Brothers Id. at 68. The Court also found incredible Rider's claim that he left Ringling Brothers because he could not bear to witness further mistreatment of the elephants, noting that after he left FEI's employment he went to work for another circus which allegedly mistreated its elephants in the same way. Id. 70. The Court also found that since his employment with FEI ceased, Rider continued to see the elephants who were allegedly still suffering mistreatment, thus undermining his claim that "he would like to again visit or observe" these elephants but "was refraining from doing so in order to avoid subjecting himself to further aesthetic injury." Id. at 83. At the same time, Rider made little to no effort to see the elephants who were no longer performing in the circus and therefore no longer allegedly mistreated, thus undermining his claim that he "had formed a personal attachment" to the elephants and, if "they were no longer allegedly mistreated, he would visit these animals as often as possible and would seek a position to work with them again." Id. Indeed, the Court found that when presented with videotapes of the elephants practicing for the circus, Rider could not identify the elephants to whom he was allegedly personally and emotionally attached. Id. at 84.

As to the payments themselves, the Court found that Rider had received at least $190,000 from the ESA plaintiffs since the lawsuit began. Id. at 78. The Court further found that the ESA plaintiffs had been "less than forthcoming about the extent of the payments to Mr. Rider." Id. at 82. Finally, the Court found that the primary purpose of the payments to Rider was to keep him involved in the litigation, and not, as the ESA plaintiffs asserted, to support his "media and educational outreach program about the treatment of FEI's elephants." Id. at 79. The Court found that Rider did engage in such activity, and the plaintiff organizations "willingly supported those efforts." Id. The Court concluded, however, that "while the organizational plaintiffs may see Mr. Rider's media and outreach activities as a benefit, this is not the primary purpose for the payments to Mr. Rider." Id. Rather, the Court found that:

[T]he primary purpose of the funding provided by the organizational plaintiffs . . . was to secure Mr. Rider's initial and continuing participation as a plaintiff in this litigation. This is not a case in which the financial support began years--or even months--after Mr. Rider's advocacy efforts, which might suggest that the organizations were simply providing financial support so that Mr. Rider could continue advocating for an issue or cause to which he had long since demonstrated a commitment. To the contrary, the financial support in this case began before the advocacy efforts and suggests that absent the financial incentive, Mr. Rider may not have begun or continued his advocacy efforts or his participation as a plaintiff in this case. In May 2001, at the time that the organizational plaintiffs commenced providing financial support to Mr. Rider . . . Mr. Rider was the only plaintiff in the case alleging that he had a personal and emotional attachment to FEI's elephants and the only plaintiff alleging that FEI's treatment of its elephants caused him aesthetic and emotional injury. . . .

[I]t was . . . crucial to the organizational plaintiffs that Mr. Rider remain a plaintiff. The Court finds that ensuring Mr. Rider's continued participation as a plaintiff was a motivating factor behind the payments to him, and that these payments were a motivating factor for his continued involvement in the case.

Id. at 81.

B. This Action.

FEI's Amended Complaint here is based on the initiation and prosecution of the ESA Action. FEI alleges that through that litigation, the ESA plaintiffs and their attorneys perpetrated "multiple schemes to permanently ban Asian elephants in circuses, to defraud FEI of money and property, and/or to unjustly enrich themselves." FAC ¶ 16.

First, FEI alleges that the ESA plaintiffs and their counsel of record knew that the factual assertions underlying Rider's claims of emotional and aesthetic standing were false. Id. ¶ 51-53. FEI claims that they paid Rider for this false testimony in order to prosecute the ESA lawsuit, which amounts to bribery and illegal witness payments. Id. ¶¶ 2-3, 60-65, 78-79.

Second, FEI alleges that the payments to Rider were deliberately concealed. All of the organizational plaintiffs in the ESA Action paid Rider during the course of the litigation, beginning as early as May 2001. Id. ¶ 60. These payments were, for the most part, coordinated through counsel of record in the ESA case, Meyer, Glitzenstein & Crystal ("MGC"). Id. ¶ 61. In some cases, "the funds that MGC paid to Rider were charged back to the existing organizational plaintiffs . . . on MGC's legal bills for the ESA Action." Id. ¶ 62. At other times, the organizational plaintiffs gave money to the Wildlife Advocacy Project ("WAP"), a non-profit advocacy group founded by attorneys at MGC. Id. ¶ 43. WAP, in turn, made "regular and systematic payments of . . . $1000.00 every two weeks" to Rider. Id. ¶ 112. FEI alleges that defendants tried "deliberately [to] conceal," id. ¶ 62, and "cover-up the improper payment scheme," id. ¶ 104, by routing payments through MGC and/or WAP and by characterizing them as legal expenses, "grants" for "media and public education efforts" or "PR efforts." Id. ¶¶ 62, 104. FEI alleges that each payment to Rider, and each invoice from MGC to the organizational ESA plaintiffs constitutes wire fraud as well as money laundering. Id. ¶¶ 77, 80.

FEI alleges the ESA plaintiffs further sought to conceal the payments to Rider through "responses to discovery in the ESA Action." Id. ¶ 196. FEI alleges that Rider and some of the organizational plaintiffs failed to disclose that they had paid money to Rider by providing false or incomplete answers in interrogatories and depositions in 2004 and 2005. Id. ¶¶ 199-230. FEI alleges that this conduct amounts to obstruction of justice. Id. ¶¶ 205, 216, 222, 230.

Third, FEI alleges that the ESA plaintiffs violated mail and wire fraud statutes when, in July 2005, they jointly hosted a fundraiser to raise money from donors to fund the ESA litigation. Id. ¶ 179. FEI alleges the invitation to the fundraiser is "false and or misleading" because, inter alia, it portrays Rider as someone genuinely injured by FEI, and it claims to raise money for a legitimate litigation rather than one characterized by fraud. Id. ¶ 180. FEI claims the mailings defrauded the nonprofit organizations' donors, who gave money on the basis of false information, and defrauded FEI, because money from the fundraiser was used to pay Rider to participate in the ESA Action. Id. ¶¶ 180-82.

Fourth, FEI alleges that Rider testified falsely in proceedings other than the ESA Action. Specifically, FEI alleges that Rider gave false information about FEI and about his own attachment to the elephants he worked with on five occasions: a sworn statement to Congress in 2000, an affidavit to the U.S. Department of Agriculture also in 2000, testimony to a committee of the Connecticut legislature in 2005, testimony to a committee of the Nebraska legislature in 2006, and a statement to the Chicago City Council in 2006. Id. ¶¶ 236-243. Plaintiff alleges this false testimony to the state legislatures, procured through payments to Rider since the inception of the ESA litigation, violates the bribery laws of Connecticut, Nebraska and Illinois. Id.*fn4

FEI alleges that it suffered financially from the defendants' fraud "resulting from the substantial costs incurred by FEI to defend the ESA Action." Id. ¶ 273. FEI alleges that the ESA Action continued, after May 2001, "only due to the racketeering and tortious activity" of the ESA plaintiffs, WAP and MGC. Id.

FEI initially sought to bring its claims underlying this lawsuit as permissive counterclaims in the ESA Action. See ESA Action, Case No. 03-2006, Docket No. 121. The Court denied the motion in August 2007, finding, inter alia, that the claims were made with a dilatory motive--namely, to indefinitely delay and dramatically change the nature of the ESA Action. See ASPCA v. Feld, 244 F.R.D. 49, 51 (D.D.C. 2007) ("[T]he only claim in this case is whether or not defendant's treatment of its elephants constitutes a taking within the meaning of Section 9 of the ESA. Any limited information about payments to or the behavior of Tom Rider that defendant is entitled to in order to challenge [the] credibility of one plaintiff in this case is far different from the vast amount of information they would be seeking under the guise of attempting to prove an alleged RICO scheme.").

FEI filed this action (hereinafter the "RICO Action") four days after the Court's ruling. See RICO Action, Doc. No. 1, Aug. 28, 2007. The original complaint named ASPCA, FFA, AWI, WAP, and Rider, and alleged violations under RICO and the Virginia Conspiracy Act. The defendants in the RICO Action immediately moved to stay the proceedings pending a final judgment in the ESA Action, and the Court granted the motion. Specifically, the Court found that pursuit of the RICO Action while the ESA Action was pending would delay resolution of the ESA Action, thereby prejudicing the ESA plaintiffs, and would not serve judicial economy and efficiency. Feld Entm't, Inc. v. ASPCA, 523 F. Supp. 2d 1 (D.D.C. 2007). On December 30, 2009, the Court issued its opinion and judgment in the ESA Action.*fn5 On January 15, 2010, the Court lifted the stay in this action, and on February 16, 2010, FEI filed its First Amended Complaint (hereinafter "FAC"). In addition to the original defendants, the FAC adds attorney defendants MGC, Katherine Meyer, Eric Glitzenstein, Howard Crystal, Jonathan Lovvorn and Kimberly Ockene, as well as organizational defendant Humane Society of the United States ("HSUS"). It alleges violations of RICO (Counts I and II) and the Virginia Conspiracy Act (Count III), as well as common law claims of Abuse of Process (Count IV), Malicious Prosecution (Count V), Champerty (Count VI) and Maintenance (Count VII). After the parties' unsuccessful attempt at settlement, the defendants filed three motions to dismiss the FAC.*fn6 The motions to dismiss are now ripe for resolution by the Court.


A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) "tests the legal sufficiency of a complaint." Browning v. Clinton, 292 F.3d 235, 242 (D.C. Cir. 2002). A complaint must contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, in order to give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). "'[W]hen ruling on a defendant's motion to dismiss, a judge must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint[,]'" Atherton v. D.C. Office of the Mayor, 567 F.3d 672, 681 (D.C. Cir. 2009) (quoting Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007)), and grant the plaintiff "the benefit of all inferences that can be derived from the facts alleged." Kowal v. MCI Commc'ns Corp., 16 F.3d 1271, 1276 (D.C. Cir. 1994). A court need not, however, "accept inferences drawn by plaintiffs if such inferences are unsupported by the facts set out in the complaint. Nor must the court accept legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations." Id.

In addition, "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009). "[O]nly a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss." Id. at 1950.


Defendants raise two arguments that the case must be dismissed before reaching the RICO allegations: compulsory counterclaim and Noerr-Pennington immunity. The Court finds that the counterclaim defense must be rejected, and further concludes that although Noerr-Pennington narrows FEI's claims slightly, it does not dispose of most of the case.

A. Compulsory Counterclaim

The defendants argue that FEI's RICO claims must be dismissed pursuant to Rule 13(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure because they should have been raised as compulsory counterclaims in the ESA Action. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 13(a)(1) provides:

A pleading must state as a counterclaim any claim that--at the time of its service--the pleader has against the opposing party if the claim: (A) arises out of the transaction or occurrence that is the subject matter of the opposing party's claims; and (B) does not require adding another party over whom the court cannot acquire jurisdiction.

The parties agree that the RICO action does not require adding another party over whom the Court cannot acquire jurisdiction. FEI maintains, however, that the other requirements for a compulsory counterclaim are not met: the RICO action does not arise out of the same subject matter as the claims in the ESA Action, and FEI did not know enough to trigger the filing of a compulsory counterclaim when it answered the Complaints in the ESA Action. The Court concludes that the ESA claims and the RICO claims do not arise out of the same transaction or occurrence, and for that reason finds FEI's RICO claims were not compulsory counterclaims in the ESA Action. Accordingly, the Court need not determine whether FEI knew enough to file its RICO claims when it filed its Answers in the ESA Action.

The Supreme Court has stated that "'[t]ransaction' is a word of flexible meaning. It may comprehend a series of many occurrences, depending not so much upon the immediateness of their connection as upon their logical relationship." Moore v. N.Y. Cotton Exch., 270 U.S. 593, 610 (1926). "This inquiry is flexible and attempts to analyze whether the essential facts of the various claims are so logically connected that considerations of judicial economy and fairness dictate that all the issues be resolved in one lawsuit." Computer Assocs. Int'l v. Altai, Inc., 893 F.2d 26, 29 (2d Cir. 1990) (internal citations omitted). Courts routinely examine four factors to determine whether a counterclaim is compulsory:

(1) Are the issues of fact and law raised by the claim or counterclaim largely the same?

(2) Would res judicata . . . bar a subsequent suit on defendant's claim absent the compulsory counterclaim?

(3) Will substantially the same evidence support or refute plaintiff's claim as well as defendant's counterclaim?

(4) Is there any logical relationship between the claim and the counterclaim?

6 C. Wright & A. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1410 (3d ed. 2011) (collecting cases). Applying these factors to FEI's RICO claims, the Court finds that they were not compulsory counterclaims.

The Court begins with the first and third factors. The issues of fact and law raised in the ESA claim, and the evidence required to sustain it, concerned whether FEI's treatment of elephants constituted a taking under the Endangered Species Act. These are entirely distinct from the issues of fact and law raised in the RICO case, which has nothing to do with the law of endangered species or FEI's treatment of elephants; rather, it concerns whether the prosecution of the ESA Action was a racketeering scheme. In order to prove its RICO claim, FEI must prove that the ESA plaintiffs and their attorneys bribed Rider to testify falsely about his aesthetic and emotional injury. Although the Court's decision in the ESA case that Rider lacked standing may be helpful to FEI, it is hardly conclusive of a RICO scheme.*fn7 See, e.g., Majik Mkt. v. Best, 684 F. Supp. 1089, 1091 (N.D. Ga. 1987) (where defendant in RICO action filed a separate suit for abusive litigation stemming from the RICO action, the abusive claim was not a compulsory counterclaim because of the difference in the substantive law and evidence required to prove a RICO claim compared to an abusive litigation claim). The second factor also weighs against finding a counterclaim; defendants do not even suggest FEI's claims are res judicata.

Turning to the fourth factor, the Court does not find there is a "logical relationship" between the ESA claim and RICO claim of the type contemplated by Rule 13(a). "The general purpose of . . . Rule 13(a) is to have all related actions heard at one time." Chelsea House N. Apts. v. Blonder, 223 F.R.D. 388, 391 (D. Md. 2004) (quoting Painter v. Harvey, 863 F.2d 329, 334 (4th Cir. 1988)). In this instance, the Court already determined that it would have served neither efficiency nor convenience to adjudicate the ESA and RICO claims in one action. See generally ASPCA v. Ringling Bros., 244 F.R.D. 49. Moreover, as already explained, the claim and would-be counterclaim do not share substantially the same issues of fact, law, and evidence. The Court therefore concludes that the claims in this case should not be dismissed because FEI failed to plead them as compulsory counterclaims in the ESA Action.*fn8

B. Noerr-Pennington

The Noerr-Pennington*fn9 doctrine is rooted in the Petition Clause of the First Amendment, which provides that "those who petition any department of the government for redress are generally immune from statutory liability for their petitioning conduct." Sosa v. DIRECTV, Inc., 437 F.3d 923, 929 (9th Cir. 2006). The "doctrine holds that defendants who petition the government for redress of grievances, whether by efforts to influence legislative or executive action or by seeking redress in court, are immune from liability for such activity under the First Amendment." Nader v. Democratic Nat'l Comm., 555 F. Supp. 2d 137, 156 (D.D.C. 2008), aff'd on other grounds, 567 F.3d 692 (D.C. Cir. 2009) (internal citations omitted). Although the doctrine is broad, it does have limits. "Neither the Noerr-Pennington doctrine nor the First Amendment more generally protects petitions predicated on fraud or deliberate misrepresentation." United States v. Philip Morris USA Inc., 566 F.3d 1095, 1123 (D.C. Cir. 2009) (internal citations omitted). As a threshold matter, therefore, "[a]ttempts to influence governmental action through overtly corrupt conduct, such as bribes (in any context) and misrepresentation (in the adjudicatory process) are not normal and legitimate exercises of the right to petition, and activities of this sort have been held beyond the protection of Noerr." Whelan v. Abell, 48 F.3d 1247, 1255 (D.C. Cir. 1995) (quoting Federal Prescription Serv., Inc. v. Am. Pharmaceutical Ass'n, 663 F.2d 253, 263 (D.C. Cir. 1981)), see also Cal. Motor Transp. Co. v. Trucking Unltd., 404 U.S. 508, 512-13 (1974).

In this case, defendants have been involved in both legislative/executive advocacy as well as litigation. The parties spend significant time in their briefs arguing whether the alleged legislative and executive advocacy is immunized pursuant to Noerr-Pennington. However, as explained below, the Court finds that FEI does not have standing to assert claims based on the legislative and executive advocacy; accordingly, the Court need not determine whether such conduct is protected under Noerr-Pennington. See infra Section III.C.5.*fn10

Turning to the ESA lawsuit, FEI argues that Noerr-Pennington does not apply to bribery or to deliberate misrepresentations to the Court. Opp'n at 57. The Court agrees. As set forth above, Noerr-Pennington does not apply, first and foremost, to bribes, "in any context." Whelan, 48 F.3d at 1255 (citations omitted). Moreover, "[m]isrepresentations, condoned in the political arena, are not immunized when used in the adjudicatory process." Cal. Motor, 404 U.S. at 513. As discussed throughout, the FAC is premised on allegations of bribery and deliberate misrepresentations by defendants throughout the ESA Action. Accordingly, defendants are not entitled to Noerr-Pennington immunity at the motion to dismiss stage as to their litigation efforts.

However, the FAC alleges defendants engaged in other activities to garner publicity and urge legislative action, which involved neither bribery to petition a legislature nor bribery or deliberately false statements in adjudicative proceedings. Specifically, it is alleged that Rider and others made false or misleading statements, and in some cases were compensated to do so, when they participated in press conferences, made other statements to news outlets, and posted letters on organizational websites. See, e.g., FAC ¶¶ 159, 161, 245, 252, 269-71. These statements were not made during any governmental proceeding. Rather, the statements were part of "publicity campaign[s] to influence governmental action," and therefore are entitled to Noerr-Pennington immunity. Noerr, 365 U.S. at 140. See also Allied Tube & Conduit Corp. v. Indian Head, Inc., 486 U.S. 492, 499-500 (1988) ("a publicity campaign directed at the general public, seeking legislative or executive action, enjoys . . . immunity even when the campaign employs unethical or deceptive methods.") Accordingly, FEI cannot rely on these statements to support its claims.


FEI alleges violations under RICO sections 1962(c) and (d). "A violation of § 1962(c) . . . consists of four elements: (1) conduct (2) of an enterprise (3) through a pattern (4) of racketeering." Western Assocs. Ltd. P'ship v. Market Square Assocs., 235 F.3d 629, 633 (D.C. Cir. 2001) (citations omitted). Section 1962(d) provides in part: "It shall be unlawful for any person to conspire to violate any of the provisions of Subsection [] (c) of this section." 18 U.S.C. § 1962(d). The defendants argue that the RICO claims are barred by the statute of limitations, that FEI has failed to allege adequately the existence of a pattern, an enterprise, that defendants conducted the enterprise, the existence of predicate acts, and that FEI has standing. In addition to the arguments made by all defendants, three defendants: HSUS, Jonathan Lovvorn and Kimberly Ockene have filed supplemental motions to dismiss. The Court will first address defendants' global arguments, then will address arguments advanced with respect to individual defendants.

1. Statute of Limitations

Statute of limitations is an affirmative defense which need not be asserted in a pre-answer motion. Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(c)(1). "A defendant may raise the affirmative defense of statute of limitations via a Rule 12(b)(6) motion when the facts that give rise to the defense are clear from the face of the complaint." DePippo v. Chertoff, 453 F. Supp. 2d 30, 33 (D.D.C. 2006) (citing Smith-Haynie v. Dist. of Columbia, 155 F.3d 575, 578 (D.C. Cir. 1998)). "Because statute of limitations issues often depend on contested questions of fact, however, the court should hesitate to dismiss a complaint on statute of limitations grounds based solely on the face of the complaint." Id. (citing Firestone v. Firestone, 76 F.3d 1205, 1209 (D.C. Cir. 1996)). Accordingly, "a court should grant a pre-discovery motion to dismiss on limitations grounds 'only if the complaint on its face is conclusively time-barred,' and the parties do not dispute when the limitations period began." Turner v. Afro-American Newspaper Co., 572 F. Supp. 2d 71, 72 (D.D.C. 2008) (quoting DePippo, 453 F. Supp. 2d at 33). Upon careful consideration, the Court finds that the defendants have not met their heavy burden here.

Civil RICO actions face a four year statute of limitations, which begins to run from the date of discovery of the injury. Under the discovery rule, "a cause of action accrues when the plaintiff has knowledge of (or by the exercise of reasonable diligence should have knowledge of) (1) the existence of the injury, (2) its cause in fact, and (3) some evidence of wrongdoing." Chalabi v. Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, 503 F. Supp. 2d 267, 274 (D.D.C. 2007) (citations omitted)(internal quotation marks omitted), aff'd, 543 F.3d 725 (D.C. Cir. 2008).

FEI filed its original Complaint on September 26, 2007. Defendants base their argument that the four year statute of limitations had expired before then on two facts they allege FEI knew before September 2003: first, Rider had been employed by PAWS as a security guard in 2000 (PAWS is another not-for-profit organization dedicated to animal welfare, which was then the lead plaintiff in the ESA ...

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