No Humane Slaughter? No Problem (because) No Standing

David Cassuto

The 9th Circuit recently decided Levine v. Vilsack, a case challenging the  ongoing failure of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to include birds under the auspices of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act (HMSA).  The case was brought by a group of plaintiffs in 2005, claiming that “inhumane methods” of poultry slaughter increased their risks of food-borne illnesses and health and safety dangers and caused “aesthetic injury” to the plaintiff poultry workers.   They sought an order declaring that (1) “USDA’s decision to exclude chickens, turkeys, and other poultry species from the protections provided by the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act of 1958 . . . to be . . . not in accordance with the HMSA of 1958 and the APA;” (2) “declaring unlawful and setting aside USDA’s September 28, 2005 Federal Register Notice containing the agency’s policy statement . . . that the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act of 1958 . . . does not require ‘humane handling and slaughter’ for poultry;” and (3) “enjoining USDA from excluding chickens, turkeys, and other poultry species from the protections provided by the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act of 1958 . . . .”

The district court granted summary judgment to the USDA.  On appeal, the 9th Circuit reversed.  That might seem like good news (Michael Markarian thinks so)  but to my mind … not so much.  The court reversed because of that age-old bugaboo of environmental and animal law: lack of standing.  The court found that of the 3 prong test for standing to sue in federal court (injury-in-fact, causation, & redressability), plaintiffs failed to meet the third prong.  Continue reading