SeaWorld vs OSHA goes to Washington DC
Updated November 12, 2013: SeaWorld took its case to Washington D.C. today as they continue the appellate process in an attempt to overturn citations issued by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) following the death of killer whale trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010. (link to the audio file of today’s oral arguments below)
Eugene Scalia, son of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, is representing SeaWorld in its appeal against the Department of Labor (DOL), OSHA’s governing body, as they attempt to repeal the federal order and citations that sharply criticized the marine park operator’s safety measures. The abatements required will essentially end SeaWorld’s signature orca/trainer performances.
The younger Scalia, formerly the Labor Department’s top lawyer, along with the law firm Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, went before a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit headed by Chief Judge Merrick Garland and Judges Judith Rogers and Brett Kavanaugh. Oral arguments have concluded and the case is in the hands of the judges. It could take as long as several months before a decision is handed down.
The powerhouse legal team is appealing OSHA’s use of the General Duty Clause (an application of the federal OSHA safety law meant to protect workers in unusual circumstances) which OSHA applied in issuing its original citations and fines to SeaWorld. Appeals of Judge Ken Welsch’s original verdict were ultimately upheld by the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (OSHRC) leading to this appeal in Washington.
LISTEN TO THE FULL AUDIO OF TODAY’S ORAL ARGUMENTS <HERE> (44 min)
To further denote the historical importance of this case- for the first time ever, the U.S. Court of Appeals held oral arguments outside of the annuls of the courtroom and moved the proceedings into a local law school. The court convened Tuesday, November 12 at 9:30 am at Georgetown University Law Center, several blocks away from the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, DC. Each side had 15 minutes to present their case.
“We hope that this will be just the first of a series of oral arguments held at District of Columbia law schools, and that these sittings will enhance public understanding of the role of the courts in our constitutional framework,” Chief Judge Garland said in an interview.
Aside from the events inside the courtroom, the upcoming week is pivotal for SeaWorld. Stock shares are sliding– so much so that SeaWorld Entertainment’s Chairman sold off $1.3 million worth of company stock in the past week- ahead of the November 13 filing of SeaWorld’s 3rd quarter financial reports.
SeaWorld is doing all it can do to remain silent on every issue concerning trainer deaths and injuries while the public increasingly becomes outraged about the care of orcas in captivity. The documentary film “Blackfish” which debuted at the Sundance film festival in early 2013 has gone on to receive critical acclaim worldwide and recently aired numerous times on CNN. The Wall Street Journal’s “Market Watch” says “The more people see the film “Blackfish,” the deeper stock of SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. dives.” Ironically enough, the DVD of “Blackfish” goes on sale in the U.S. on November 12, 2012. (click HERE for ordering information)
The film also comes on the heels of the blockbuster book “Death at SeaWorld: Shamu and the Dark Side of Killer Whales in Captivity” by David Kirby. Both David and “Blackfish” producer/director Gabriela Cowperthwaite attempted to speak with SeaWorld prior to producing their works. SeaWorld has declined virtually every opportunity to defend itself, instead opting to release pre-prepared written statements about the rescue and conservation efforts that are primarily funded by federal grants- not SeaWorld profits- and do not include conservation efforts for killer whales.
Although the immediate reaction of many has been to “Shut down SeaWorld”, that is not The Orca Project’s stance. SeaWorld does provide some benefit to the public and marine life, but their business model NEEDS to change. Their efforts in rescue and rehabilitation of birds, turtles, seals, manatees, sea lions, etc. is important. But SeaWorld could easily and feasibly translate that same care to their cetaceans (orcas and dolphins) by ending breeding programs and provide the best life possible to those in their care until there are no more.
More on this story from CNN: SeaWorld challenges ban limiting interaction between whale and trainer
… and David Kirby reports from inside the courtroom: SeaWorld and OSHA Do Battle in Federal Appeals Court