The owners of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus say allegations of elephant abuse were malicious. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)
(CNN) -- A circus producer said Friday that an animal rights group has paid it
$9.3 million to settle two federal court cases claiming elephant abuse.
Feld Entertainment, Inc.,
trumpeted the settlement with the American Society for the Prevention
of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) as a victory for its Ringling Bros. and
Barnum & Bailey Circus.
attempted to destroy our family-owned business with a hired plaintiff
who made statements that the court did not believe," said Kenneth Feld,
chairman and CEO of Feld Entertainment, in a statement.
"Animal activists have
been attacking our family, our company, and our employees for decades
because they oppose animals in circuses," Feld said. "This settlement is
a vindication not just for the company but also for the dedicated men
and women who spend their lives working and caring for all the animals
with Ringling Brothers in the face of such targeted, malicious
The ASPCA was one of
several animal rights groups that sued Feld Entertainment in 2000,
alleging that circus elephants were abused.
Both parties filed dismissal papers in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
The ASPCA confirmed the
settlement, saying in a statement that "the organization does not admit
to any liability or wrongdoing." The court never ruled on the merits of
the elephant abuse allegations, it said.
"After more than a decade
of litigating with Feld Entertainment, the ASPCA concluded that it is
in the best interests of the organization to resolve this expensive,
protracted litigation," said ASPCA President and CEO Ed Sayres in the
Feld's cases, which
include allegations of litigation abuse and racketeering, will continue
against the other defendants -- the Humane Society of the United States,
the Fund for Animals, the Animal Welfare Institute, the Animal
Protection Institute United with Born Free USA and Tom Rider, a former
circus employee who testified against Ringling Bros.
U.S. District Judge
Emmett G. Sullivan deemed Rider's testimony tainted because he had been
paid by animal rights activists and did not have standing to sue.
"The court finds that
Mr. Rider is essentially a paid plaintiff and fact witness who is not
credible, and therefore affords no weight to his testimony regarding the
matters discussed herein, i.e., the allegations related to his standing
to sue," he wrote in a December 2009 opinion.
CNN was not able to reach Rider on Friday.
ASPCA spokeswoman Elizabeth Estroff would not comment on specifics of the case.
Friday's settlement did not placate Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.
"While HSUS was not a
party to the original case against Ringling, we agree with so many
critics of the circus that its treatment of elephants is deplorable and
unacceptable. We'll continue to make our case to the public, even as
Ringling files frivolous and retaliatory legal actions to divert and
distract from its abuse of elephants," he said in a statement.
John Simpson, lead
counsel for Feld and a partner at Fulbright & Jaworski in
Washington, said Feld's legal costs since July 2000 have exceeded $20
million, but that settlements with other defendants may be reached.
"We're going to see this
through to conclusion, whether it ends in a verdict or whether it ends
in a settlement," he said in a telephone interview. "But they know where
to find me."
The toll of the case has
gone beyond a financial one, he said. "It gets very personal and nasty
out there on the line when the company's employees are handling the
elephants in public on walks," he said. "I think the people who have
cared for these animals have suffered and been unjustly accused."