December 06, 2023Clinic Fourth Circuit Response Brief Highlights USDA’s False Statement in Primate Standards Case

On Tuesday, December 5th, the Harvard Law School Animal Law & Policy Clinic filed a response brief in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. The case, brought on behalf of our clients Rise for Animals and the Animal Legal Defense Fund, challenges the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) denial of our clients’ Rulemaking Petition to improve the standards for the psychological wellbeing of nonhuman primates used in research. After our win in the district court, finding the USDA’s denial of the petition to be arbitrary and capricious, the government appealed to the Fourth Circuit.

The Fourth Circuit brief responds to the government’s disingenuous argument that the district court “misconstrued” the language in their denial letter. As our brief demonstrates, the denial letter rested on a demonstrably false statement – repeated by the government to the district court – that USDA inspectors inspect “all areas of care and treatment that are covered” by the Animal Welfare Act. In fact, as revealed by documents obtained by the Clinic under the Freedom of Information Act, prior to denying the petition the USDA secretly instituted a new policy that prohibits inspectors from doing complete inspections and instead mandates truncated inspections that only examine either (1) the “animals” at the facility, (2) the “facilities” themselves, (3) the relevant “records” maintained at each facility, or (4) a sampling of one or all of these categories. As the Clinic’s brief explains, despite the USDA’s impermissible after-the-fact attempts to rewrite what they “meant to convey” in their denial letter, the agency cannot escape the fact that their denial letter was untruthful, arbitrary, and capricious. Thus, the brief demonstrates, the district court’s ruling in favor of the Plaintiffs should be affirmed.