Animal Legal Defense Fund v. Reynolds

Decision Date09 January 2019
Docket Number4:17-cv-00362–JEG-HCA
Citation353 F.Supp.3d 812
Parties ANIMAL LEGAL DEFENSE FUND; Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement; Bailing Out Benji; People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Inc.; and Center for Food Safety, Plaintiffs, v. Kimberly REYNOLDS, Governor; Tom Miller, Attorney General of Iowa; and Bruce E. Swanson, Montgomery County Attorney, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of Iowa

Rita N. Bettis Austen, ACLU of Iowa Foundation, Des Moines, IA, Leslie A. Brueckner, Pro Hac Vice, Public Justice, P.C., Oakland, CA, Alan K. Chen, Pro Hac Vice, Justin F. Marceau, Pro Hac Vice, University of Denver Sturm College of Law, Denver, CO, Kelsey Rinehart Eberly, Pro Hac Vice, Matthew Glen Liebman, Pro Hac Vice, Cristina Rachel Stella, Pro Hac Vice, Animal Legal Defense Fund, Cotati, CA, George A. Kimbrell, Pro Hac Vice, Center for Food Safety, Portland, OR,David Samuel Muraskin, Pro Hac Vice, Public Justice, P.C., Washington, DC, Matthew Strugar, Pro Hac Vice, Law Office of Matthew Strugar, Los Angeles, CA, Paige Michele Tomaselli, Pro Hac Vice, Center for Food Safety, San Francisco, CA, for Plaintiffs.

Jacob John Larson, Iowa Attorney General, Des Moines, IA, Jeffrey S. Thompson, Attorney General of Iowa Hoover State Office Bldg., Des Moines, IA, for Defendants.



This matter is before the Court on cross-motions for summary judgment. Plaintiffs Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (CCI), Bailing Out Benji, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Inc. (PETA), and Center for Food Safety (CFS) (collectively, Plaintiffs), filed the first motion, ECF No. 49, which Defendants resist. Defendants Kimberly Reynolds, Tom Miller, and Bruce Swanson (collectively, Defendants), filed the second motion, ECF No. 57, which Plaintiffs resist. The parties agree that this matter is appropriate for resolution by summary judgment with each contending they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law. No party requested a hearing, and the Court finds a hearing unnecessary. The matter is fully submitted and ready for disposition.


Iowa created the crime of "agricultural production facility fraud," Iowa Code § 717A.3A, in 2012, on the heels of several industrial farm investigations that brought critical national attention to Iowa's agricultural industry. For example, in 2011, an undercover investigation at Iowa Select Farms produced reports of workers hurling small piglets onto a concrete floor.2 Another investigation at Iowa's Sparboe Farms, documented reported mistreatment of hens and chicks.3 And yet another, conducted by PETA, exposed workers at a Hormel Foods supplier in Iowa "beating pigs with metal rods," "sticking clothespins into pigs' eyes and faces, and a supervisor kicking a young pig in the face, abdomen, and genitals to make her move while telling the investigator, ‘You gotta beat on the bitch. Make her cry.’ " Jeffrey S. Kerr Aff. ¶ 14, Pls.' App. 14, ECF No. 49-2. PETA's investigation, if not also the others, was an undercover, employment-based investigation in which the investigator also performed tasks assigned by the employer.

While the results of these investigations were being circulated by news media, the Iowa legislature considered H.F. 589, § 2 (Iowa 2012), which would eventually become § 717A.3A. Lawmakers described the bill as being responsive to two primary concerns of the agricultural industry: facility security (both in terms of biosecurity and security of private property) and harms that accompany investigative reporting.4 For example, as to security, then-Representative Annette Sweeney provided: "With this bill we want to make sure everybody involved in our livestock facilities and working within in those facilities is forthright, and want to make sure our livestock is being kept safe,"5 and then-Senate President John "Jack" Kibbie supported an early draft of the bill because "[t]here's viruses that can put these producers out of business, whether it's cattle, hogs or poultry."6 As to reputational harms, former Senator Tom Rielly commented on a draft version of the bill: "What we're aiming at is stopping these groups that go out and gin up campaigns that they use to raise money by trying to give the agriculture industry a bad name."7

The bill, signed into law on March 2, 2012, amended chapter 717A of the Iowa Code, which already prohibited disrupting, destroying, or damaging property at an animal facility, id. § 717A.2 (2003), or on crop operation property, id. § 717A.3 (2001), and also the use of pathogens to threaten animals and crops, id. § 717A.4 (2004). The new addition provides that a person commits "agricultural production facility fraud" if the person willfully:

a. Obtains access to an agricultural production facility by false pretenses[, or]
b. Makes a false statement or representation as part of an application or agreement to be employed at an agricultural production facility, if the person knows the statement to be false, and makes the statement with an intent to commit an act not authorized by the owner of the agricultural production facility, knowing that the act is not authorized.

Iowa Code § 717A.3A (2012). A first conviction under § 717A.3A is a serious misdemeanor, and a second or subsequent conviction is an aggravated misdemeanor. Id. § 717A.3A(2). A person can also be held criminally liable for conspiring to violate this statute, aiding and abetting a violation, or harboring, aiding, or concealing the person committing the violation, "with the intent to prevent the apprehension of the person." Id. § 717A.3A(3)(a). The law has the effect of criminalizing undercover investigations of certain agricultural facilities, including those mentioned above, and those of interest to the general public, such as puppy mills.8

Iowa Code § 717A.3A is similar, and in parts identical, to other states' laws that prohibit conduct and speech related to agricultural operations. In fact, Iowa is one of many states that have passed or attempted to pass such legislation in the last decade. See, e.g., Animal Legal Def. Fund v. Herbert, 263 F.Supp.3d 1193, 1196-98 (D. Utah 2017) (providing a brief history of similar proposed and enacted legislation across the country). Of those in effect, several have been invalidated or limited based on First Amendment challenges. See W. Watersheds Project v. Michael, No. 15-CV-169-SWS, 2018 WL 5318261, at *10 (D. Wyo. Oct. 29, 2018) (invalidating, in part, a Wyoming statute criminalizing entry on private land for the purpose of resource data collection relating to land use, including animal species, as facially unconstitutional under the First Amendment); Herbert, 263 F.Supp.3d at 1211-13 (finding a Utah law, very similar to Iowa's law, criminalizing acts of obtaining access to agricultural operations under false pretenses and recording images at such operations under false pretenses, to be facially unconstitutional under the First Amendment); Animal Legal Def. Fund v. Otter, 118 F.Supp.3d 1195, 1200-09 (D. Idaho 2015) (finding an Idaho law criminalizing interference with agricultural production facilities to be facially unconstitutional under the First Amendment), aff'd in part, rev'd in part sub nom. Animal Legal Def. Fund v. Wasden, 878 F.3d 1184 (9th Cir. 2018) (reversing as to the portion of the law related to offers of employment).

Plaintiffs and their amiciIowa Freedom of Information Council and Iowa Center for Public Affairs Journalism—frame this legislative trend within the context of an on-going tension between members of the news media and the agricultural industry. The amici describe an American public eager to consume news about the food they eat, and a responsive group of defenders of the agricultural industry, understandably eager to have the news about them be positive, who have worked "to suppress any unflattering coverage of inhumane slaughterhouse practices, unsanitary factory conditions and worker abuses" through legislation such as § 717A.3A. Amici Curiae Br. 3, ECF No. 73. Plaintiffs and their amici argue that lawmakers, finding the First Amendment in the way of attempts to directly halt publication of these abuses, see, e.g., New York Times Co. v. United States, 403 U.S. 713, 91 S.Ct. 2140, 29 L.Ed.2d 822 (1971), have attempted to suppress information from reaching the press "by prosecuting newsgathering activities that serve as the foundation of investigative journalism," Amici Curiae Br. 3, ECF No. 73; Pls.' Br. 1, ECF No. 53. Defendants counter that § 717A.3A is about defending the private property rights of Iowans who own agricultural facilities.

A. The Parties

Plaintiffs are non-profit organizations that engage in advocacy and investigative work related to animal cruelty, wellbeing of workers, and safety of food supply. They state they would like to conduct undercover investigations, or use the results of others' investigations, but have not done so given the threat § 717A.3A would be enforced against them. Plaintiffs challenge § 717A.3A, arguing it impermissibly restricts their free speech under the First Amendment. Defendants are the Governor of Iowa, the Attorney General of Iowa, and the County Attorney for Montgomery County, who are sued in their official capacities and defend the constitutionality of § 717A.3A, arguing there is no First Amendment right to engage in the conduct prohibited by the statute.

B. Procedural History

Plaintiffs filed their Complaint on October 10, 2017, alleging that § 717A.3A is facially unconstitutional as a content-based, viewpoint-based, and overbroad regulation. Plaintiffs asserted claims under the First Amendment, and the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss on December 8, 2017, under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and (b)(6), arguing the Plaintiffs lacked standing to bring their claims, and alternatively, that the...

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