January 13, 2017 UPDATE: Yesterday, the Superior Court of the District of Columbia ruled that UniverSoul Circus must stand trial for alleged violations of the District of Columbia’s Consumer Protection Procedures Act. Judge Marisa Demeo found that plaintiff Melanie Sloan has legal standing to assert her claims based on her testimony that she bought tickets to the circus after reading UniverSoul’s Animal Rights Policy Statement and that she “wouldn’t have bought the tickets had I known this [statement] was a lie.”
In her ruling, Judge Demeo noted that UniverSoul Circus had presented no evidence to support its claim that it works closely with government agencies “to ensure that [its] commitment to a high standard of animal care is upheld.” She wrote, “The Court finds that a jury would not be able to find that Defendants did indeed work with such agencies as there is no indication in the record of such work.”
Commenting on the evidence, she also noted that UniverSoul Circus “concedes that Larry Carden, one of the vendors touring with the Circus when Sloan purchased her ticket, was cited for animal abuse while touring with the Circus.”
“I am very pleased that the court threw out the circus’s attempt to have this case dismissed. At trial, I will have the chance to show that UniverSoul is deliberately attempting to deceive parents like me by pretending to care about animals and yet uses exhibitors who treat them badly.”
– Melanie Sloan
Sloan’s lawyers stated that “the law entitles consumers…to truthful information, and the substantial evidence in the case shows that UniverSoul Circus has not been truthful about the neglect and mistreatment that animals exhibited in its shows have suffered.”
April 18, 2016 UPDATE: UniverSoul Circus lost its motion to dismiss a lawsuit concerning the treatment of elephants, tigers, and other animals forced to perform in its shows. According to the court, the plaintiff, a Washington, D.C., mother, provided numerous instances in which animal exhibitors have received citations from the U.S. Department of Agriculture while working with UniverSoul, demonstrating that at least some of UniverSoul’s public assertions may be misrepresentations that constitute violations of the D.C. consumer fraud law, the Consumer Protection Procedures Act.
Originally posted August 12, 2015:
On behalf of Washington, D.C., resident Melanie Sloan and others, PETA Foundation lawyers have filed a lawsuit in Superior Court of the District of Columbia against UniverSoul Circus alleging a campaign of deceit aimed at hoodwinking compassionate people, who want to do nothing of the kind, into supporting and perpetuating the abuse of animals.
The lawsuit details how Sloan—a legal and communications professional and longtime supporter of animal rights—purchased UniverSoul tickets for herself and her daughter on the basis of dishonest information on the circus’s website. But she discovered that UniverSoul used animals provided by exhibitors with long histories of federal Animal Welfare Act violations, so she and her daughter stayed home on the day of the show. She is now suing UniverSoul on behalf of anyone who bought tickets to the D.C. shows as a result of misleading information provided by the circus.
“UniverSoul knows that kind people like Ms. Sloan will not buy tickets to circuses that mistreat animals, so it deliberately promotes itself as something it is not: a champion of animal rights,” says Martina Bernstein, PETA Foundation director of litigation. “PETA is calling for UniverSoul to make good on its empty animal-welfare claims and end the use of tormented wild animals in its shows.”
Sloan stated, “As soon as I learned UniverSoul mistreats animals, I cancelled my plans to attend the circus. I can’t teach my daughter about the importance of treating animals humanely, but then take her to a show where they are abused.”
On its website, UniverSoul proclaims that none of its animal suppliers has ever been cited for animal abuse while performing with the circus, but PETA has documented that many of them have been cited by U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors while on tour with UniverSoul. For example, its elephant suppliers, Jorge and Louann Barreda, have been cited for failing to maintain a program of adequate foot care for elephants. (Foot problems are one of the leading reasons why captive elephants are euthanized.) And notorious big-cat exhibitor Mitchel Kalmanson has been repeatedly cited for keeping big cats in cramped transport cages and not letting them out to stretch their legs. One citation was for confining the animals that way for 24 hours a day for at least four to seven weeks at a time. Kalmanson has also been cited for failing to provide animals with veterinary care—including for a limping tiger whose ailment, inspectors noticed, had gone “unrecognized and undiagnosed”—as well as for keeping a chain fastened around a tiger’s neck, causing risk of “injury or strangulation.”
Washington, D.C. residents who attended UniverSoul’s shows during the past three years and who are interested in joining the class action lawsuit should contact PETA Foundation attorney Martina Bernstein at [email protected] for more information.