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Federal Court: Whales can't sue on their own behalf

Whales do not have the right to sue, according to a decision Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2004 by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The plaintiff in the case was the Cetacean Community, the name chosen by the Cetaceans’ self-appointed attorney for all of the world’s whales, porpoises, and dolphins. The Cetaceans challenged the United States Navy’s use of low frequency active sonar during wartime or heightened threat conditions.

The court stated: " We are asked to decide whether the world’s cetaceans have standing to bring suit in their own name under the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the National Environmental Protection Act, and the Administrative Procedure Act. We hold that cetaceans do not have standing under these statutes.

"The scheme of the ESA is that a "person," as defined in § 1532(13), may sue in federal district court to enforce the duties the statute prescribes. Those duties protect animals who are "endangered" or "threatened" under §§ 1532(6) and (20). The statute is set up to authorize "persons" to sue to protect animals whenever those animals are "endangered" or "threatened." Animals are not authorized to sue in their own names to protect themselves.

"We agree with the district court in Citizens to End Animal Suffering & Exploitation, Inc., that "[i]f Congress and the President intended to take the extraordinary step of authorizing animals as well as people and legal entities to sue, they could, and should, have said so plainly." 836 F. Supp. at 49. In the absence of any such statement in the ESA, the MMPA, or NEPA, or the APA, we conclude that the Cetaceans do not have statutory standing to sue."

The complete decision is available on the Court's Web site.

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