Laboratory animal abuse lawsuit against University to continue

Stop Animal Exploitation NOW!, an animal activist organization, accused 50 University-affiliated individuals of abusing their animal subjects. (Daily Trojan file photo)

A lawsuit against USC alleging abuse of laboratory animals will be permitted to proceed, a judge ruled in district court Friday. 

The lawsuit, filed in June by anti-animal-experimentation activist group Stop Animal Exploitation NOW!, accused the University of mistreating animals, including rats and mice, in its research labs. It named 50 individual defendants, all listed under the pseudonym “Doe,” in addition to USC.

In the complaint, the activist group alleged the University researchers in animal labs performed surgeries without proper approval and without administering appropriate painkillers, kept animal subjects in overcrowded conditions, disposed of live animals in freezers intended for storage of remains and did not euthanize animals suffering from painful tumors promptly.

“These practices find no refuge under the guise of research, nor does the banner of science provide a free pass for all manner of abuse,” the group wrote in the complaint. 

The group claimed a whistleblower from within USC reported the abuses enumerated in the complaint, which also accused the University of violating state laws that prohibit unfair business practice and deceptive advertising. Stop Animal Exploitation NOW! alleged the researchers’ abusive treatment of their lab animals gave them an unfair advantage in their fields and that the University’s claim of upholding ethical standards in its research misrepresented its practices, resulting in false impressions of quality and prestige.

The University has maintained that its research practices align with established research protocol. It also stated that the activist group lacked the authority to file the lawsuit, as the accusations made in the suit would not have caused any injury to the group, which is a requirement to sue. The group said the cost of the investigation it launched into USC’s treatment of lab animals qualified as an injury.

“USC denies the plaintiff’s allegations concerning animal mistreatment,” the University wrote in a statement. “The university is highly committed to the ethical and humane treatment of animals in research, and meets or exceeds all accrediting and regulatory standards.”

The University’s defense filed an objection in December contesting the accusations and stating that the claims had no factual backing. In the document, it requested the lawsuit be dismissed, citing a lack of substantial evidence.

“It is apparent from Plaintiff’s repeated inability to plead facts sufficient to establish an injury in fact caused by USC that the [unfair competition law violation] claim here is based on a manufactured injury,” the defense stated.

Stop Animal Exploitation NOW! has filed similar complaints against other universities, including Harvard Medical School, the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Utah, for the alleged abuse of animals in the schools’ research labs.