USDA-ACIS Database Lawsuit Dismissed

Last year, on February 3, 2017, in response to a privacy lawsuit about the Horse Protection Act (HPA), the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) removed from its website the Animal Care Information System (ACIS) database. The ACIS database consisted of documents concerning inspection and licensing of animal research facilities.

A coalition of animal rights groups and activists, including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Delcianna Winders, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), Born Free USA, Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and Beagle Freedom Project (BFP) filed a lawsuit alleging the removal of ACIS information violated the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). As the lawsuit progressed, APHIS continued to review, update, and repost the documents, completing an official review and republishing many of the documents on its website in September 2017. APHIS then filed a motion to dismiss PETA’s lawsuit on various grounds.

On January 18, 2018, U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper dismissed the case, finding PETA’s claims were moot, considering most of the documents had by this time been reposted by APHIS. Regarding the documents that were not reposted, the judge dismissed without prejudice PETA’s complaint, finding those documents could be obtained with a normal FOIA request by PETA, which would allow APHIS to decide whether the documents should be redacted or withheld.

Matthew R. Bailey, FBR President, said exactly that when he spoke to the media last year: “I would certainly agree that protection of personal information is of utmost importance, given the rich history of targeting individuals involved in animal research.” Read the 12-page opinion dismissal here.