KHIKS’s SeaWorld team (Larry Iser, Kristen Spanier, Kat Kleindienst, and paralegal Chris Avalos) prevailed in the trial of a consumer fraud lawsuit conceived of and backed by anti-SeaWorld advocacy group Earth Island Institute, pending in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California. The lawsuit was brought by individuals who were recruited by Earth Island to act as plaintiffs after they used social media to criticize SeaWorld. Throughout the lengthy and complex litigation, which was initially filed as a class action, SeaWorld contended that the plaintiffs lacked legal standing because they had not actually purchased SeaWorld tickets or souvenirs and had not relied on any statements by SeaWorld. After obtaining a key ruling bifurcating the trial into two phases (standing and liability), the standing phase went to trial in early March 2020 in Oakland. On October 13, 2020, United States District Judge Jeffrey White entered Findings of Fact, concluding that neither plaintiff had standing, as well as a final Judgment in favor of SeaWorld.
Among other defects in their case, Judge White found that parts of each plaintiff’s testimony were not credible, specifically finding that one of the plaintiffs “failed to meet her burden to show that she actually saw the statements on which she claims to have relied on SeaWorld’s website before her trip to SeaWorld.” With respect to the other plaintiff, who claimed to have purchased a Shamu plush in reliance on statements by SeaWorld, the Court ruled that it did “not find credible [her] testimony that she purchased a Shamu plush during her April 2012 visit to SeaWorld San Diego” and that [her] lack of candor at trial, including admitted exaggerations and embellishments, as well as the fact that neither her parents nor her fiancé could corroborate the fact that the Shamu plush was destroyed lead the Court to discredit [her] variation of ‘the dog ate my homework excuse’ as an explanation for why she did not produce the Shamu plush.” The Court also disbelieved both plaintiffs’ testimony that they would return to SeaWorld in the future if they could trust SeaWorld’s statements. Among other things, the Court noted that both plaintiffs were activists and that one of the plaintiffs has joined PETA.