Jacques Ferber, Inc., a Philadelphia
furrier, recently filed a civil racketeering lawsuit against the Coalition to Abolish the Fur Trade, the Animal Defense League, and Vegan Resistance for Liberation charging the groups with illegally conspiring to shut down
In its lawsuit, Jacques Ferber,
Inc., maintains that the furrier has been the subject of weekly protests
since 1995 by the three groups. Ferber maintains the protests have escalated
to a campaign of vandalism including incidents where windows have been
smashed, the store’s doors glued shut, and its customers and employees
threatened and harassed.
Ferber’s lawyer, Bruce E.
Rodger, also outlined several other actionable incidents including the
printing of “wanted” posters that depicted a Ferber principal with the
text “Wanted for Murder” and “Considered Extremely Violent.”
John Paul Goodwin, executive
director of the Coalition to Abolish the Fur Trade, told the Philadelphia
Intelligence that the suit under the |Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization| statute was a threat to
civil liberties. Goodwin also predicted Ferber would be unable to prove
the charges saying, “The fact is they don’t know who’s doing that. Any
lawsuit that says the (the individuals named in the suit) did is grossly
Whether or not RICO lawsuits
threaten fundamental civil liberties is still a hotly debated question,
although the Supreme Court so far has upheld civil lawsuits under RICO
(for the record, I think at a minimum the RICO statute needs some additional
clarification or it could just as easily snag anti-animal rights groups
as it will pro-animal rights groups).
As for the factual requirements
under RICO, however, they are rather minimal. Goodwin is mistaken if he believes
that in order for Ferber to win it must show that the defendants committed
specific illegal acts. In fact, if the precedents from the recent RICO
suits against pro-life groups apply here, all Ferber will need to show
is that the groups named in the lawsuit engaged in an organized way in
advocating or aiding the harassment or vandalism.
The recent verdict against
a pro-life web site that displayed “wanted” posters of doctors who performed
abortions, for example, found that the mere online posting or physical
distribution of such a poster could constitute an actionable act under
RICO. So could speech that merely suggested or described the creation
of such posters.
Similarly, even if none of
the three groups had members who participated in the vandalism, if it
can be shown that any of the three groups held strategy meetings at which
any of the vandals did attend, the groups might be liable.
Realistically a lot depends
on how the animal rights activists and the furrier are perceived by a
jury. Clearly, for whatever reason, the pro-life activists were seen as
very unsympathetic by juries, especially in light of the spate of physical
violence up to and including murder perpetrated by some fanatical pro-lifers.
Whether a jury will see animal rights activists as more like the pro-life
movement or more like the civil rights movement (albeit misguided) remains
to be seen.
Clearly a suit like this has
the best chance of winning if it were filed by a research institute against
groups that advocate or condone acts of violence against important medical
research. Unlike furriers, which many Americans seem ambivalent toward,
medical research still continues to enjoy a lot of support. Besides which
almost all Americans, and certainly every member of any conceivable jury,
would have benefited directly from medical research. It is hard to imagine
those who would condone or advocate for “direct action” against medical
facilities would be the receive much sympathy from a jury considering
a RICO charge.