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Primarily Primates Prevails in Federal Animal Custody Suit - Parties Who Took Texas Refuge

On Monday, a federal court for the district of Oregon dismissed the case of Chimps Inc. et al. vs. Primarily Primates Inc.

The court decided that the three plaintiffs, including Chimps Inc., International Primate Protection League, and Marguerite Gordon, failed to provide sufficient evidence that the jurisdictional amount in controversy exceeded $75,000. Thus, the court entered a final judgment dismissing the lawsuit because plaintiffs had filed in the wrong court.
During a temporary takeover of Texas animal refuge Primarily Primates, many animals were taken away, including small apes known as gibbons, who went to the International Primate Protection League in South Carolina. Additionally, a rescued longhorn steer was apparently taken to the premises of a Texas rancher, and two chimpanzees were transported to the Oregon site, Chimps Inc. Last June, these three entities together sued Primarily Primates in federal court to retain "permanent possession" over these 15 animals. By claiming they met the rules for a federal case, the litigants forced the Texas refuge to defend the suit in Oregon.

The court found that among these three suing parties, the highest possible claim was $41,250, by the International Primate Protection League, for care of the gibbons, but that this fell far short of the $75,000 required to stay in federal court.

Prior attacks
Last spring, the Texas Attorney General settled litigation over Primarily Primates, ending a six-month receivership of the sanctuary.

This January, the Fourth Court of Appeals in Texas turned down a suit to void a legal transfer of primates from an Ohio lab to Primarily Primates. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) took the researcher's side, assailing Ohio State's "irresponsible rush to discard the chimpanzees who brought such acclaim to the university" and then funding the failed lawsuit to obstruct the primates' transfer to the Texas refuge. Near the close of the receivership, with PETA's support, the chimpanzees involved in the suit were hastily placed at Chimp Haven of Louisiana, which operates under a contract with federal agencies including the National Institutes of Health.

When the new case, Chimps Inc. vs. Primarily Primates, attempted to rehash in Oregon most every point dismissed in Texas, Friends of Animals enabled the refuge to defend itself. "We don't love conflict," said FoA president Priscilla Feral. "Nor are we disparaging the sites where these litigants have placed the animals. But it's plain wrong to allow any activist group's obsolete agenda against a permanent-care refuge take priority over the animals."

"Each one of these 15 animals has a perfectly good home at primarily Primates," said Feral. "In the case of the gibbons, very social primates, twelve were removed; one gibbon alone remains where whole groups were once running, jumping and singing. Now others insist that these gibbons and the three other animals are their property."

Looking ahead

Primarily Primates donors and supporters have embraced the goal of making Primarily Primates a model sanctuary. Staff veterinarian (and primate specialist) Valerie Kirk works on the premises a highly desirable situation that's unusual in the sanctuary world. Shade trees have been planted around the gibbons' newly expanded space. Work is underway to enlarge living areas and recreational equipment for the apes and monkeys. Videos are available at www.primarilyprimates.org
Lee Hall, legal director of Friends of Animals, stated, "Although humans can never truly replace the families and surroundings primates would have had in their own habitat, a refuge ought to have the concern that a parent has. When a sanctuary faces a setback, and animals are temporarily repositioned, it does not mean they're gone forever or not safely returned. That would make for terrible policy. Support for Primarily Primates is in the best interest of these fifteen, and refuge animals generally."

Priscilla Feral added: "During an emergency at the Texas sanctuary which is no longer a factor each of these three parties gave their word, in writing, to house animals temporarily. Then they sued to keep them. This finders-keepers notion, if allowed, would make for dangerous and unfair precedent. The primates and steer have good, secure living spaces at Primarily Primates, and people who are dedicated to their lifetime care."

Primarily Primates director Stephen Rene Tello expressed thanks to Eugene-based Liam Sherlock of Hutchinson, Cox, Coons, DuPriest, Orr & Sherlock, P.C., who defended the sanctuary in this latest litigation.