LOS ANGELES (CN) – The Humane Society of the United States fulfilled its obligations to promote a documentary film against the dog meat trade and introduce a bill to ban dog meat in the United States, a federal judge ruled.
Hiroshi Horiike, wealthy CEO of the Genlin Foundation, and the World Dog Alliance developed “Eating Happiness,” a documentary decrying the Asian dog meat trade. In late 2014 and early 2015, advisers at Human Society International discussed partnering with Genlin to promote the film to Western audiences and boost their own campaign against eating dog meat in Asia.
Though many of the U.S. Humane Society’s staff expressed reservations about the movie’s quality and its ability to generate income, the organization agreed to promote the film through screenings in major cities, launch a global publicity campaign against the dog meat trade, and work to get a bill against dog meat consumption introduced in Congress, in return for a $1 million investment over two years.
Few people attended screenings due to the difficult subject matter. Efforts to introduce the bill hit roadblocks, most notably what Human Society staffers called “chaos in Congress” as well as the need to maintain good relations with their contacts in the House of Representatives.
After screenings in San Francisco and Los Angeles fell through, Genlin accused the organization of shirking its duties and sued it in October 2015, alleging breach of contract and fraud, just 10 weeks after signing the memorandum of understanding.
U.S. District Judge John Kronstadt rejected Genlin’s motion for summary judgment, finding that the Humane Society met all its obligations under the agreement.
The contract states that the Humane Society must introduce legislation during the contract period, which it did. Nowhere in the agreement did it specify that that legislation had to be introduced by October 2015, and that failure to do so would constitute a breach, Kronstadt wrote. Nor did the organization improperly prioritize its relationships with lawmakers over Genlin’s preferred method of introducing the bill.
“HSUS is a lobbying organization. Its success is predicated on its ability to maintain and use relationships with lawmakers. Common sense shows that it has an interest in preserving those relationships. Therefore this is not a sufficient basis to establish a triable issue as to the claimed breach,” Kronstadt found.
Claims that the organization deliberately refused to promote the film and strung Genlin along to get money also failed.
Even if a jury could find that the Humane Society did not do enough to promote the movie in September and October 2015, the term of the contract was two years. Thus, a jury could not find that the organization’s conduct over two months would predict its conduct over two years.
As for Genlin’s fraud claims, the evidence shows that the Humane Society was optimistic about the film, and despite not being a movie promotion company, was interested in promoting it to create dialogue on the topic of dog meat, the ruling states.
Moreover, the organization publicly supported World Dog Lover’s Day events set up by Genlin, prepared and launched a global campaign to combat dog meat, and used its resources, including Twitter accounts, celebrity contacts and members to publicize its support for the film and its goals.
Kronstadt noted that a nonprofit’s desire to seek money from wealthy donors is not surprising, as such organizations depend on donations.
“Thus, evidence that they were eager to secure a donation from Genlin is not, by itself, evidence of dishonesty or fraudulent intent,” the ruling states.
Arguments that the Humane Society misused the donations did not pass scrutiny. Though the money was not spent directly promoting the film, the organization used Genlin’s donations to fund rabies vaccinations for dogs in Southeast Asia, fight dog meat farms in Korea, and investigate supermarket brands that sell canned dog meat, all of which fall under the umbrella of the Humane Society’s promise to invest in a publicity campaign against the dog meat trade, Kronstadt wrote.
Since the contract did not establish how the donation funds should be used, the fraud claims fail.
The Humane Society was represented by Susan Azad with Latham and Watkins; Genlin and the World Dog Alliance by Paul Douglass Cass, neither of whom returned emailed requests for comment sent Friday evening.