VICTORY! UC Davis wins lawsuit filed by PETA

A Yolo County Superior Court judge ruled on January 11, 2022, to protect the research enterprise from PETA following a years-long battle in the courts.

UC Davis is one of the few institutions to have stood by its decision to protect its researchers from such tactics, and is thought to be the only entity to have achieved a complete legal victory to date.

~ UC Davis press release, 4/11/22

In January 2019, PETA filed a lawsuit against UC Davis in an effort to force the university to release unpublished research-related materials, including videos and photographic data collected as part of the research program at the California National Primate Research Center (CNPRC). PETA claimed that UC Davis was unlawfully holding these records because the university was afraid that by releasing them, “it would be the beginning of the end, just as it was at NIH.” (Importantly, NIH did not end primate research within the intramural program.) PETA and similar groups have a long history of reusing their tactics of obtaining publicly-available information and distorting its context and meaning to garner support for their anti-science attacks. Anti-animal research groups like PETA regularly exploit openness and transparency laws to obtain videos from publicly-funded researchers and turn them into fundraising ads that intentionally mislead the public and legislators. 

Yet in his court ruling in January, the Honorable Daniel M. Wolk saw right through PETA’s tactics. According to a press release by UC Davis today, the preponderance of evidence presented by UC Davis led the judge to conclude that: 

  • Releasing the videos would undermine academic freedom and the scientific process; 
  • Releasing the videos would put researchers at risk of physical harm and inhibit future research;
  • PETA’s demand imposed an unreasonable burden on the researchers to segregate the videos for public disclosure; and 
  • The public was better served by not having the videos disclosed because there was minimal value to the public in seeing the videos. In fact, the judge determined there was a substantial risk that releasing the videos to PETA could cause the public to misunderstand the purpose and methods of the research at the California National Primate Research Center.

PETA declined the opportunity to appeal the ruling.

Science wins!

In April 2020, a ruling by Multnomah County Circuit Judge David Rees in PETA vs. Oregon Health & Sciences University (OHSU) was a large, though technically incomplete, legal victory for science because OHSU was required to turn over less than 0.5% of the 3,000 videos PETA was demanding at the time. These videos were released because they had been analyzed and the data emanating from them were already included in peer-reviewed publications.

Important implications

The ruling in favor of UC Davis, especially on the heels of that in favor of OHSU, has important implications for the scientific process, publicly-funded research institutions, and the researchers who advance their missions. In turn, the ruling has important implications for society and all who benefit from medical and scientific advances. The full range of implications will receive extensive discussion. Today, however, we will note several important immediate implications. Researchers at UC Davis can continue their important work without fear of being harassed or attacked. Because of the precedent set by this ruling, researchers conducting publicly-funded research at other institutions in California — of which there are at least several dozen — can similarly breathe easier. Researchers and institutions in states with similar public records laws will likely be protected by future lawsuits like these from anti-animal research groups because of the precedent set here. And, most importantly, the scientific process — which has been disrupted and hindered because of the resources spent fighting this unnecessary battle — can continue.

I am very grateful for the support of UC-Davis for its researchers, and for our ability to continue performing peer-reviewed, well-regulated animal research that is critical for human and animal health.

~ Dr. Karen Bales, UC Davis & CNPRC

We applaud Judge Wolk for using reason and logic to support science and society!

~Speaking of Research