KHIKS’s SeaWorld Team, Larry Iser, Kristen Spanier, Greg Gabriel and Nick Soltman recently notched three significant victories for our client SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, obtaining the dismissal of three consolidated class actions in federal court in San Diego, the withdrawal of four safety citations issued by Cal/OSHA, and the denial of a motion to remand a fourth class action lawsuit removed by SeaWorld to the federal court in Oakland, California.
On December 23, 2015, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California granted SeaWorld’s motion to dismiss three consolidated class action lawsuits. Holly Hall v. SeaWorld, case no. 3:15-CV-660-CAB-RBB, began as three separate, nationwide class action lawsuits claiming that SeaWorld misled ticket purchasers concerning the health and happiness of SeaWorld’s killer whales, in violation of various consumer statutes in California, Florida and Texas. In her 33-page comprehensive order dismissing the lawsuits, U.S. District Judge Cathy Ann Bencivengo concluded that the activist-driven lawsuits failed to allege that SeaWorld misrepresented the treatment of its killer whales: “There are no allegations of what ‘standards of care’ for killer whales that SeaWorld disregards,” Judge Bencivengo wrote. “To the contrary, plaintiffs’ entire premise appears to be that no standards of care would be acceptable because killer whales should not be held in captivity at all. Yet, plaintiffs knew that SeaWorld held killer whales in captivity when they purchased their tickets.”
You can read Judge Bencivengo’s opinion HERE.
On January 7, 2016, California’s Occupational Safety and Health Appeals Board issued its Order approving the withdrawal of four safety citations (and associated proposed fines) issued by Cal/OSHA in April 2015 which alleged that SeaWorld San Diego’s safety protocols did not adequately protect SeaWorld’s killer whales trainers. After the first day of trial, during which SeaWorld demonstrated its compliance with all Cal/OSHA regulations and that its water safety training program was essential to the safety of its trainers, veterinary staff and the whales themselves, Cal/OSHA agreed to withdraw its citations and incorporate SeaWorld’s safety protocols into a “special order” that applies only to SeaWorld. In a statement, park spokesman Dave Koontz said SeaWorld was pleased with Cal/OSHA’s decision to withdraw its citations and promulgate a special order “based largely on SeaWorld’s existing safety program.” Koontz added: “This decision will allow SeaWorld to continue our critical animal care practices and trainer safety training methods. These techniques are important to the safety of our trainers and veterinary staff as well as the health and well-being of the orcas in our care.”
Finally, on January 12, 2016, in Anderson, et al v. SeaWorld, case no. 15-cv-02172-JSW, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California issued an order denying remand of a fourth, activist-driven class action lawsuit originally filed in state court in San Francisco, but which was removed to federal court by SeaWorld in order to coordinate the fourth action with the three federal class actions now consolidated and pending in the District Court in San Diego. All four class actions make essentially the same claims concerning SeaWorld’s treatment of its killer whales. Plaintiffs sought to return the case to the state court. U.S. District Judge Jeffrey S. White ruled that SeaWorld’s removal was proper and that the action will remain in federal court.
You can read Judge White’s opinion HERE.