Animal Legal Defense Fund v. USDA, No. 14-12260 (11th Cir. 2015)Annotate this Case
This case concerns Lolita, a killer whale held in captivity since 1970, who performs each day at the Seaquarium. ALDF filed suit against the USDA for declaratory and injunctive relief, alleging that Seaquarium houses Lolita in conditions that violate the Animal Welfare Act's (AWA), 7 U.S.C. 2131-59, standards for granting a license under 7 U.S.C. 2133-34. The district court granted summary judgment to USDA. The court held that USDA’s renewal of Seaquarium’s April 2012 license is a final agency action subject to judicial review under 5 U.S.C. 706(2). On the merits, the court concluded that USDA’s licensing regulations constitute a reasonable policy choice balancing the conflicting congressional aims of due process and animal welfare, and the AWA licensing scheme is entitled to deference by the court. USDA has the discretionary enforcement authority to revoke a license due to noncompliance. Only Congress possesses the power to limit the agency’s discretion and demand annual, substantive compliance with animal welfare standards. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court.