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Fourth Circuit Reinstates N.C. ‘Anti-Sunshine’ Law Constitutional Challenge

Food Integrity Campaign | June 6, 2018

Makes clear states cannot chill speech and prevent advocacy groups from challenging in court

Richmond, Va. – The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit today ruled that a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a North Carolina’s anti-sunshine law can go forward, reversing the decision of the federal district court. The law was designed to deter whistleblowers and undercover investigators from publicizing information about corporate misconduct, and a coalition including animal welfare, press freedom, food safety, and government watchdog groups is challenging the law’s constitutionality.

In its decision, the Fourth Circuit explained that First Amendment claims can go forward when the plaintiffs “have refrained from carrying out their planned investigations based on their reasonable and well-founded fear that they will be subject to significant exemplary damages.” The fact that North Carolina has not yet enforced the Anti-Sunshine Law and that the law imposes civil rather than criminal penalties does not prevent Plaintiffs from seeking to vindicate their constitutional rights. The state, the court writes, cannot pass a law that “by its terms prohibit[s] Plaintiffs’ planned activities and subject[s] them to civil liability” and argue that the plaintiffs cannot sue to protect their freedom of speech.

The state legislature overrode a veto of the bill by Governor Pat McCrory in June 2015, and the law took effect in January 2016. Under the law, organizations and journalists who conduct undercover investigations, and individuals who expose improper or criminal conduct by North Carolina employers, are susceptible to suit and substantial damages if they make such evidence available to the public or the press.

The North Carolina law is part of a growing number of so-called ‘ag-gag laws’ passed by state legislators across the country. The bills, which are pushed by lobbyists for corporate agriculture companies, are an attempt to escape scrutiny over unsafe practices and animal abuses by threatening liability for those who expose these improper and, in many cases, illegal practices. North Carolina’s version is written so broadly that it would also ban undercover investigations of all private entities, including nursing homes and daycare centers. The North Carolina law threatens to silence conscientious employees who witness and wish to report wrongdoing.

The plaintiffs in the suit, represented by Public Justice, are People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the Center for Food Safety, Animal Legal Defense Fund, Farm Sanctuary, Food & Water Watch, the Government Accountability Project, Farm Forward, and the American Association for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).

This legal challenge is the first in the nation to make claims under both the U.S. Constitution and a state constitution.

The plaintiffs are represented in this appeal by David S. Muraskin and Leslie A. Brueckner of Public Justice in Washington, D.C and Oakland, Calif..; and Daniel K. Bryson and Jeremy Williams of Whitfield, Bryson & Mason LLP in Raleigh, N.C.

Contact: Andrew Harman, GAP Communications Director
Email: andrewh@whistleblower.org
Phone: (202) 457-0034 ext. 156

One Comment

  1. Graciela Huth says:

    Our government is corrupt. The only way to fight the corruption that is consuming the America we all love is for the people to fight back for their right to return to a government for the people by the people. And for the people to try to fight for what is right.

    We deeply dislike to see our government changed in a machine that works for a few’s interests instead of working for the interests and goals of the American tax payer that support them.

    Whistleblowers are the patriots among us that love their jobs and make the effort to correct the errors they see. They are working for America. The America our Founding Fathers created.

    The current few interests have only one goal, to satisfy their addiction to profit whichever way they can get it. Capitalism is a beautiful system as long as the capitalist is not corrupt. When the capitalist is corrupt, he corrupts everything he touches destroying the final benefit of clean capitalism which brings progress to everybody involved.

    Today we face a money corrupted capitalism. America was great when capitalism was healthy. Now all our institutions have been if not totally, at least partially corrupted by the god money that does not respect the constitutional rights of the American tax payer.

    The only way we can clean the cancerous world we live in is through our rights. We must protect the whistleblower that knows his job and see the wrongs in it and wants to correct them.

    The corrupt environment we live in today has even contaminated some of our courts. I hope this case is solved but judges that love America. We need many clean judges that can help our effort to go back to the road that brought progress to our society. And who want to fight for our constitutional rights!Report

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  3. Mary Jo Brinker says:
    Your comment is awaiting moderation.

    We must protect our food, water, and our animals from destruction, pollution, and abuse. We must restore humanity, compassion, integrity, and responsibility to insure safety and prevent abuse on the farms and in society. Cruelty must stop. Regulations must be restored or saved to protect us and animals.
    Mankind must protect those who cannot protect themselves.Report

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