Animal Legal Defense Fund v. Vaught, No. 20-1538 (8th Cir. 2021)Annotate this Case
Plaintiffs filed suit against Peco Foods and Jonathan and DeAnn Vaught, seeking an order that would prevent Peco Foods and the Vaughts from bringing a civil suit against plaintiffs under an Arkansas statute, Ark. Code Ann. 16-118-113. Plaintiffs, who describe themselves as "nonprofit organizations dedicated to reforming industrial animal agriculture," claim that the statute violates their rights to free speech under the First Amendment. In this case, two lead organizations allege that they have "specific and definite plans" to investigate Peco Foods's chicken slaughterhouses and the Vaughts' pig farm. The district court dismissed the action based on lack of Article III standing.
The Eighth Circuit reversed, concluding that the complaint adequately alleges the elements of Article III standing where plaintiffs allege that, but for the statute, the lead organizations would send an investigator to gather information and take video and audio recordings in the facilities owned by Peco Foods and the Vaughts; that all plaintiffs would use the results of the investigations in their advocacy; and that this conduct is arguably affected with a constitutional interest, because "the creation and dissemination of information are speech within the meaning of the First Amendment." The complaint also alleges an intention to engage in a course of conduct arguably proscribed by the Arkansas statute, and the complaint sufficiently alleges a credible threat of enforcement. Accordingly, the court remanded for the district court to consider the merits in the first instance.
Court Description: [Colloton, Author, with Wollman and Shepherd, Circuit Judges] Civil case. Plaintiffs alleged they intended to send undercover investigators into defendant Peco's chicken slaughterhouse and defendant Vaught's pig farm to undercover possible violations and that Ark. Code Ann. Sec. 16-118-13, which prohibits a person who knowingly gains access to a nonpublic area of a commercial property from engaging in acts that exceed that person's authority, prevented them from doing so and thereby violated their First Amendment free speech rights; in this action they sought an order that would prevent the defendants from bringing a civil suit against them under the Arkansas statue; the district dismissed the action for lack of Article III standing. Reversed, as plaintiffs' complaint adequately alleged the elements of Article III standing; the complaint alleged plaintiffs would create and disseminate information that qualified as First Amendment speech, that the proposed conduct would violate the Arkansas statute and that they faced a credible threat of enforcement. Judge Shepherd, dissenting.