LOS ANGELES (CN) - AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals claims that Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty, "a militant 'animal rights' group with a long history of violent terrorist acts," is terrorizing its employees in Los Angeles. It's the second such complaint against the group this month.
AstraZeneca, like money manager BlackRock3 weeks ago, claims Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) and its members threaten and terrorize employees of companies that have indirect links to Huntingdon Life Sciences, which tests pharmaceutical, agricultural and veterinary products on lab animals.
Huntingdon Life Sciences is not a party to either lawsuit.
An AstraZeneca spokesperson, who asked to remain anonymous, told Courthouse News the drugmaker seeks a restraining order against Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty and its members because they have "repeatedly harassed employees at their homes with escalating levels of violence."
BlackRock, which sued SHAC on Nov. 8, also in L.A. Superior Court, is a global asset management firm and the "largest corporate investor" in AstraZeneca, according to AstraZeneca's complaint.
"AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals LP ('AstraZeneca') and Aptium Oncology Inc. ('Aptium') are compelled to bring this action and seek injunctive relief because their current and former employees are being illegally harassed and targeted by a militant 'animal rights' group with a long history of violent terrorist acts, who have already targeted AstraZeneca's employees in other U.S. jurisdictions and in Europe," the complaint states. "For approximately the last 18-24 months, these animal rights groups have identified AstraZeneca as their primary target and, for the last several months, targeted employees in Los Angeles.
"Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty, Inc. and its affiliate Band of Mercy (collectively, 'SHAC') comprise a well-known extremist self-styled animal rights organization that is engaged in a widespread campaign of violence and intimidation against Huntingdon Life Sciences ('HLS') and any business purportedly associated with it, including HLS's investors, insurers, child-care providers, and lenders. SHAC frequently operates through local affiliated organizations, including without limitation Band of Mercy."
Named as defendants are Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty Inc., Band of Mercy, Nicoal Sheen, Tyler Lang, Allan Yaxon, Laura Ashmore, and Does 1-100.
AstraZeneca says that Huntingdon Life Sciences, whose affiliated companies have developed treatments for cancer, hepatitis and AIDS, has been the target of SHAC, which operates with the "sole aim of putting HLS "out of business."
"From the beginning, SHAC has renounced traditional, lawful, non-violent methods of protest. Because SHAC objects to HLS's business of providing vital medical research that primarily uses rats and mice - all mandated and regulated by law - SHAC has orchestrated bombings, assaults, property damage, and threats (both overt and covert) against its targets' employees and their families, as well as numerous other forms of attack and harassment," the complaint states.
AstraZeneca claims that since it began in 1999, SHAC and its members have pepper sprayed an HLS employee "in full view of his family," fire-bombed cars, sent packages containing dead animals, feces and razor blades, and beaten a HLS managing director outside his home with ax handles.
The FBI has identified SHAC as a terrorist group and its members have been criminally convicted, according to the complaint. AstraZeneca says California courts have issued injunctions against the group to "protect persons and entities that SHAC had targeted," including Goldman Sachs, Wachovia and GlaxoSmithkline.
"SHAC has targeted AstraZeneca because of its purported relationship with HLS and has promised to never stop its campaign against AstraZeneca unless it severs any and all ties with HLS. Aptium has been targeted because it is a wholly owned subsidiary of AstraZeneca. ...
"(T)he cycle of harassment, threats and violence against AstraZeneca and Aptium employees has followed a well-documented pattern of target[ing] employees at their homes and in front of their families. As discussed below in more detail, SHAC has been targeting and harassing AstraZeneca and Aptium employees at their homes and in front of their children through raucous, disruptive and threatening activity. SHAC has publicized its 'protests' against AstraZeneca, Aptium and their employees and identified those employees by name on its website. Recently, the attacks have escalated. SHAC terrorized two employees' families, pounding on the doors of their homes and shouting threats and invective in the middle of the night. In addition, a SHAC group committed felony vandalism at a third Aptium employee's home while her family (including her young daughters) were asleep, spray-painting threats on her house and destroying her car that was parked in her driveway. SHAC has promised the campaign and escalation will continue."
AstraZeneca says the defendants have targeted at least four Aptium employees and one former employee, and "seriously vandalized" the home of one employee, an Aptium vice president, "including destroying her car. The latter has been classified as felony vandalism and is being investigated by local police and the FBI," the complaint states.
"Someone had poured some kind of corrosive substance all over the hood and sides of the car and a white substance had also been sprayed along the side of the car and on the windows. 'Drop HLS' was also spray-painted on the side of the car. The destruction of the car was so complete that her insurance company deemed the car 'totaled.' ...
"All of the accusations against the AstraZeneca and Aptium current and former employees (as with those directed at the corporate entities) are patently false. These employees have never tortured or killed any animals. Neither do they exercise any control with respect to HLS animal testing," the complaint states.
The AstraZeneca spokesperson told Courthouse News: "Animal research is a small and necessary part of testing a potential new medicine. Our regulators require safety data from animal studies before giving the required approval to test a new medicine in humans.
"We continually look for ways to eliminate the need to use animals early in drug development or reduce the number needed, and the welfare of the animals we use is a top priority. Our internal policies go beyond external laws and regulations to ensure that our animals are well cared for. This includes ensuring that qualified veterinary staff are involved in our animal care programs and that our animal research efforts are inspected regularly by both the government and our own qualified staff."
AstraZeneca and Aptium seek an injunction and damages for harassment, nuisance and violation of Municipal Ordinance Cal. Gov't Code section 36900(s).
SHAC did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.