Animal Legal Defense Fund v. Special Memories Zoo

Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) filed a lawsuit under the citizen-suit provision of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the Wisconsin public nuisance law alleging that a roadside zoo kept animals, including endangered and threatened species, in cramped and squalid conditions that failed to meet each animal’s basic needs. After nearly a year of litigation, the defendants defaulted. The district court entered judgment for ALDF, finding that the defendants violated the ESA and that the zoo they operated was a nuisance. The court permanently enjoined the defendants from possessing or exhibiting animals.

ALDF moved for an award of attorneys’ fees under the ESA’s fee-shifting provision, but the district court denied the motion in full. The court held that a fee award was not appropriate because, among other things, there were unresolved issues regarding standing and mootness, a fee award would cause the zoo’s closure because the defendants lacked the ability to pay, and ALDF is not dependent on fee awards.

Public Citizen represents ALDF on appeal. The brief explains that, because ALDF obtained an enforceable final judgment and a permanent injunction that abates the ESA violations and the public nuisance and prevents their recurrence, ALDF is entitled to an award of attorneys’ fees and costs. ALDF achieved success on its ESA claims and no special circumstances would render such an award unjust.