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Judge Rebuffs Stock Exchange's Request to Yank Information Posted by Animal Rights Groups
June 14, 2007
Judge Rebuffs Stock Exchange's Request to Yank Information Posted by Animal Rights Groups
Daily Business Review
A federal judge in West Palm Beach, Fla., has rejected a request by the operator of the New York Stock Exchange that the names and home addresses of its European directors be removed from an Internet site operated by an animal rights group.
NYSE Euronext, created by the April combination of NYSE Group and Euronext N.V., argued that Bite Back and the Animal Liberation Front, two animal rights groups, were trying to force the closure of Princeton, N.J.-based Life Sciences Research and its subsidiary, Huntingdon Life Sciences, by harassing NYSE Euronext directors and threatening them with physical violence.
The groups targeted the exchange because the stock of Life Sciences Research and its subsidiary, which tests products on animals, is listed on the NYSE. The rights groups strongly oppose the testing of products on animals.
In May, NYSE Euronext filed a motion for a rare ex parte temporary restraining order against Nicolas Atwood, a West Palm Beach resident who runs a Web site and magazine called Bite Back, and the Animal Liberation Front.
Euronext did not want the defendants notified about the hearing.
The ALF is a hardline, international animal rights organization that the FBI calls a domestic terror threat. Atwood says he's not affiliated with the Animal Liberation Front.
Messages posted on the Bite Back Web site urge visitors to call and spam NYSE Euronext directors "day and night." According to the suit, as a result of the Bite Back Internet campaign, the vehicles of two Euronext employees in the Netherlands were splashed with acid in March and their homes were vandalized with graffitti, including the word "murderer." Dutch police have had to provide around-the-clock security to Euronext employees as a result, the suit claimed.
But, on May 25, Judge Daniel T.K. Hurley denied the motion, ruling that the strict requirements for an ex parte temporary restraining order -- including a direct threat of imminent harm -- were not met.
Hurley wrote that NYSE Euronext produced no evidence the defendants have ever "incited, threatened or committed a crime of violence against any person, nor does it present any evidence reasonably susceptible of interpretation that an act of violence against one of its employees is imminent."
Both NYSE Euronext and its attorney, Paul Renner of Jacksonville, Fla., declined comment.
Atwood said in an interview he was "encouraged" by Hurley's ruling. He said he found out about the suit through a journalist and was only recently served papers. He is in the process of hiring an attorney.
This is apparently the first suit filed by the NYSE against animal rights groups. But pharmaceutical firms and other companies that test products on animals previously have filed similar actions in the last year. They claim animal rights groups are using increasingly aggressive means to harass and threaten them into halting their research activities.
Besides seeking a temporary restraining order, the NYSE Euronext suit, filed May 18, seeks compensatory and punitive damages for tortious interference with business relationships.
After the incidents involving NYSE Euronext directors in the Netherlands, the following "anonymous communique" was posted on the BiteBack Web site: "The A.L.F. spray painted your houses and vandalized your cars in the Netherlands. Some of you are known in the neighborhood as PEDOPHILES, as we spray painted this message on your houses. PAYBACK TIME FOR THE ANIMALS SUFFERING IN HUNTINGDON LIFE SCIENCES."
Another anonymous posting on the BiteBack Web site stated that a NYSE Euronext employee -- whose name was redacted by the court -- is "a SCUMBAG. ... The ALF paintstripped his cars and redecorated his fancy house. Zero tolerance toward those who profit from the animals dying on the cage floors of Huntingdon Life Sciences. Stop trading the shares of Huntingdon Life Sciences."
Also posted were the names and addresses of various NYSE Euronext Netherlands employees and board members with the words, "CALL ME DAY OR NIGHT" or "SPAM ME."
In seeking the restraining order, Renner argued if notice were given to Atwood of the motion and subsequent emergency hearing, Atwood would "shift the confidential and harmful information to a different Web site maintained by unnamed defendants.
"However, if the court requires the defendants to remove the information without notice, the court can stop the continued dissemination of the information," the motion stated.
But Judge Hurley denied the motion.
"It appears that the only allegation of harassment linked to the named defendants in this case is Bite Back's alleged after-the-fact Web site reporting of the Netherlands incident and its simultaneous identification of the names and addresses of involved and affiliated NYSE Euronext employees accompanied by an exhortation for its readers to e-mail, spam and call them 'day and night' to protest their relationship with HLS and LSR," the judge said.
"These allegations do not remotely rise to the level of a threat or incitement to violence against the personal safety of anyone."
Hurley added there was no urgency necessitating a restraining order, since the Web site entries were posted in March and April. In addition, he said, there was no evidence that Atwood would shift data to another Web site surreptitiously since he had not defied judicial authority in the past.
Heidi Kitrosser, who teaches constitutional law at the University of Minnesota, said she's not surprised by Hurley's action.
"It sounds to me like the judge did the right thing," she said. "There is an extremely high bar for imposing prior restraint on free speech. This very, very high burden is heightened by a request for ex-parte status."
Kitrosser said the only case she can recall of a Web site being forced to remove information was when the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in a sharply divided decision that an anti-abortion site had to remove names, phone numbers and addresses of doctors performing abortions.
An animal rights activist and volunteer for the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida, Atwood has been arrested several times for alleged civil disobedience. The incidents included painting a red anti-hunting message on the stainless steel swordfish on the IGFA Fishing Hall of Fame & Museum in Dania Beach, Fla., protesting at a circus in West Palm Beach and screaming "Meat is murder" while wearing a pig mask atop an Oscar Mayer "wienermobile."
Atwood, who works as a consultant and Web site builder for nonprofit organizations, said he became an animal rights activist in high school. "There wasn't one incident that led me to it," he said. "I've always been sensitive to the suffering of animals."
He and several other volunteers launched the Bite Back Web site and magazine in 2003. They now have 1,000 subscribers, he said.
Atwood said he plans to fight the suit, which he sees as part of a larger effort to stifle dissent by animal rights groups around the country. In fact, in its motion, NYSE Euronext cited several restraining orders handed down by judges around the country against animal rights groups.
Last August, a New Jersey Superior Court judge issued a temporary restraining order against the groups Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty, Win Animal Rights and Hugs for Puppies. The order barred the groups from demonstrating, approaching, calling or e-mailing employees of the New Jersey accounting firm Rotenberg Meril Solomon Bertiger & Guttilla, which does work for Huntingdon Life Sciences. The order also barred the groups from posting information about employees on any Web site.
Last November, a state judge in Philadelphia issued a far-reaching injunction against the group Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty USA. The judge barred the organization from vandalizing, harassing, threatening, distributing fliers, picketing within 50 feet or disseminating personal information on employees of Smithkline Beecham Corp. and Glaxosmithkline on any Web sites. Judge Gary J. DiVito ordered a $500 fine for every violation of the order.
Those companies allegedly test products on animals.
Last October, a New York state judge granted a request for a preliminary injunction by Huntingdon Life Sciences against a group called Win Animal Rights.
The group allegedly conducted protests outside an executive's home and engaged in acts of vandalism and threats against his family. As a result of the group's activities, Huntingdon Life Sciences said it postponed listing its stock on the NYSE and lost its largest institutional investor.
http://www.law.com/jsp/article.jsp?id=1181725540887&pos=ataglance For more info contact Win Animal Rights at: Call: 646.267.9934 or visit the WAR website at: