Judges Tosses PETA Lawsuit Over Records Removed from Ag Website

(CN) – A federal judge on Thursday tossed a lawsuit over the removal of a “slew’ of inspection and licensing documents related to animal research facilities from a federal website, holding that since most of them have now been put back, no controversy exists.

In the underlying lawsuit, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals claimed the Department of Agriculture’s removal of the documents on Feb. 3, 2017 was unlawful and in violation of the Freedom of Information Act, among other statutes.

But U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper said Thursday that the by reposting most, though not all, of the material that had previously been on the page, the department has complied with the FOIA reading room provision.

Cooper went on to say that the simple posting of material on a government website did not created a requirements that it must be reposted at a later date.

The Department of Agriculture reposted all of its annual reports on animal research facilities, and a list of entities regulated under the Animal Welfare Act.

However, it continues to withhold regulatory correspondence, enforcement records, and animal inventories.

According to the ruling, the records that were not reposted on the website are available to the public through Freedom of Information Act requests, and some are available on the Department of Administrative Law Judges and Office of the Judicial Officer websites.

In addition, animal inventories are included in reports as attachments which are not protected by the reading room provision.

But PETA maintains the department is continuing to unlawfully prevent the public from reviewing critical documents.

Delcianna Winders, vice president and deputy general counsel for PETA’s Captive Animal Law Enforcement office, said when she requested copies of the documents that have not been reposted, she was given 1,700 heavily blacked-out pages.

“This information that has not been reposted is critically important to the department’s enforcement of laws regarding animal welfare and to make public what puppy mills, roadside zoos and research facilities are really up to,” Winders said.

The reading room provision requires agencies to post final opinions and orders that are adjudicated, statements of policies and interpretations that are not published in the Federal Register, administrative manuals and instructions, frequently requested documents and indexes of posted records.

Cooper said there’s no reasonable cause to believe the department will repeat the allege violation and the court could not do anything else to grant relief in the case.

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