For Immediate Release:
February 17, 2023
Tasgola Bruner 202-483-7382
Seattle – In a major win for PETA, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled today that members of a public animal care committee of the University of Washington (UW) have no right under the U.S. Constitution to keep their identities secret—a historic decision with potentially wide-ranging implications for democracy.
In 2021, PETA submitted public records requests for the appointment letters of members of the UW Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC). This was part of work done by PETA to investigate its suspicion that one reason the UW IACUC has been so ineffective in protecting animals in UW laboratories is that its members have illegal conflicts of interest.
Past and present UW IACUC members filed a lawsuit to block disclosure, arguing that they had a freedom of association right to operate in secrecy. Last year, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington granted the UW IACUC members a preliminary injunction based on its view that by serving on an IACUC, members might be engaging in protected free expression.
PETA, which intervened in the lawsuit, appealed. The Ninth Circuit agreed with the group, explaining that IACUC members have no role other than ensuring that experimenters follow federal animal welfare law, including rules requiring IACUCs to reflect views other than those of the animal experimentation industry. The court noted specifically that the appointment letters exist “only because the Committee members were appointed by the University according to statutory and regulatory criteria to ensure diverse representation.”
PETA expects this decision will have far-reaching consequences and make it harder for all IACUCs to operate secretly or without accountability to the taxpayers who fund experiments.
“This is a landmark decision establishing that what these committees do as the last line of defense for animals in publicly funded laboratories is everyone’s business,” says PETA Foundation Director of Litigation Asher Smith. “All citizens have a right to judge for themselves whether these committees are enforcing the law or serving as a rubber stamp for UW experimenters, whose incompetence has caused animals to die needlessly from thirst, starvation, and human error.”
Adding their voices to PETA’s call for access to this information were the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 16 other media organizations, including The Seattle Times and the Student Press Law Center. The case is now back with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington. The underlying lawsuit regarding whether PETA can access the public records it requested will remain ongoing. Another PETA lawsuit in Washington state court under Washington state open meetings law challenging IACUC members’ secrecy is also pending.
In October, a Washington state court ordered UW to pay PETA more than $540,000 in fees, penalties, and interest after it found UW liable under public records law based, in part, on its policy of routinely destroying photos and videos from experiments on monkeys.
PETA—whose motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to experiment on”—opposes speciesism, a human-supremacist worldview. For more information about PETA’s investigative newsgathering and reporting, please visit PETA.org, listen to The Peta Podcast, or follow the group on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.