SAN DIEGO (Legal Newsline) - A federal judge has dismissed a complaint
filed by a group of SeaWorld customers suing the marine life theme park,
alleging it “deliberately concealed” its unethical treatment and
conditions of its captive orca whales.
Judge Cathy Ann Bencivengo granted SeaWorld’s motion to dismiss the plaintiffs’ first amended complaint in a Dec. 23 order.
The original complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the
Southern District of California in March, alleged SeaWorld employs
psychoactive drugging, forced separation of calves from their mothers,
forced and unnatural breeding and cramped conditions that lead to
aggression and disease, among other things.
The proposed class -- which was consolidated with two other nationwide
classes in August -- argued they wouldn’t have paid for admission to
SeaWorld, for SeaWorld memberships or the animal “experiences” if they
had known the truth about the treatment and behavior of the park’s orcas
in captivity, and are entitled to refunds as a result of the park’s
alleged false advertising.
SeaWorld, in response, argued that the plaintiffs lacked standing
because they didn’t allege they relied on any specific
misrepresentations when purchasing their tickets.
“Although Plaintiffs list the alleged actionable misrepresentations in
their opposition, they effectively concede that they have not
specifically alleged reliance on any particular statement,” Bencivengo
noted in her order.
The judge said the plaintiffs tried, unsuccessfully, to equate
SeaWorld’s alleged advertising about its killer whales with tobacco
companies’ decades-long campaign concerning the health effects of
“The FAC (First Amended Complaint), however, does not allege any
advertising or other statements by SeaWorld from before 2013,”
Bencivengo wrote in the 33-page order. “Further, the statements quoted
in the FAC allegedly come from an array of sources and mediums,
including securities filings, testimony in administrative proceedings,
radio interviews, and statements posted on SeaWorld’s website.
“With the possible exception of the website, many of these statements
were not even made in advertisements, let alone as part of a pervasive
advertising campaign of the sort at issue in Tobacco II.”
SeaWorld has been the target of various lawsuits in recent years.
In 2014 -- six months before the March class action filing -- a
stockholder sued the park, claiming SeaWorld denied its recent decline
was due to the 2013 documentary “Blackfish.” The film focuses on
Tilikum, an orca held by SeaWorld, and the controversy over captive
A separate class action was filed in 2014 against the park over
allegations that it automatically renewed annual passes without
consumers’ consent and didn’t follow the wording of its own contract
when confronted with excessive charges.
Last year’s filing came days after SeaWorld launched a new advertising campaign
highlighting the company’s leadership in the care of killer whales and
contributions to protect whales both in human care and in the wild.
“There’s been a lot of misinformation and even lies spread about
SeaWorld, and we recognize that it has caused some people to have
questions about the welfare of killer whales in human care,” said David
D’Alessandro, chairman and interim CEO.
“This long-term campaign will address those questions head on. We want
to provide the facts, so people can make up their own minds on this
In her order last month, Bencivengo gave the plaintiffs leave to file a second amended complaint on or before Jan. 25.
Attorneys for the class could not immediately be reached for comment on the judge’s ruling.
But Steve Berman, managing partner of Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP,
which is representing the class, has called SeaWorld an “unhealthy
“Simply put, we believe that SeaWorld as it exists now, an unhealthy
corporation that uses orcas for its own profit, must finally tell the
truth about the treatment and condition of its captive orcas,” he said
From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at email@example.com.