Phila. Gun Club lawyers seek dismissal of suit over live pigeon shoots

By Jon Campisi | Jun 20, 2012

Lawyers for a suburban Philadelphia sporting organization being sued by water quality

advocates over pigeon shoots that take place over the Delaware River have filed court papers seeking to dismiss the litigation.

Attorneys John P. Judge and Christina M. Kaba, of Berwyn, Pa.-based Land Air Water Legal Solutions LLC, filed their motion to dismiss June 18 at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

The attorneys represent The Philadelphia Gun Club, which is based in Bensalem, Bucks County, located just over the Philadelphia County line.

The Delaware Riverkeeper Network, and its head, Maya K. Van Rossum, filed suit against the gun club in late March at the federal court in Philadelphia.

The plaintiffs allege that pigeon shoots hosted by the club have been compromising the integrity of the Delaware River, which separates Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

The allegations are that the shoots – Pennsylvania is apparently one of the only states left in which the activity remains legal – have been detrimental to the waterway, since both pigeon carcasses and remnants of ammunition pollute the river.

The plaintiffs also claim the activity puts those using the waterway for recreation in danger.

In their motion to dismiss, the attorney’s for the defendant disagree with the plaintiffs’ contentions that the discharge of firearms constitutes an illegal act under the federal Clean Water Act, and subject to permitting requirements of the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System.

“In doing so, Plaintiffs mischaracterize the occasional traverse of non-toxic shotgun pellets and the occasional dropping of pigeons into the Delaware River as ‘pollution’ from a ‘point source’ in an attempt to litigate in federal court their displeasure with PGC’s trap shoot meets,” the motion to dismiss reads. “At its heart, Plaintiffs’ case is an attempt to use the CWA to redress animal rights grievances, which belong in the province of the Pennsylvania legislature.”

Animal rights activists for years have complained about the legality of live pigeon shoots in the commonwealth, but despite their protests, elected officials in Harrisburg have yet to draw up legislation banning the practice.

In the motion to dismiss, the defendant’s attorneys go on to state that despite assertions that the pigeon shoots threaten the safety of recreational river users in the general area where the shoots take place, the plaintiffs never allege that either Van Rossum, or any individual member of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, ever “used, uses, or intends to use, recreate, or otherwise enjoy the Delaware River at or near PGC’s property.”

The motion goes on to state that the gun club only holds about 12 trap shoots per year between late November and early April, and, since 1994, has used only shotgun pellets determined by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to be “non-toxic” to migratory waterfowl due to the absence of lead.

The motion seeks to have a federal judge dismiss the suit on the grounds that the plaintiffs lack standing, that they have failed to establish that they have sustained or are in “imminent peril” of sustaining an injury and that they have failed to establish that any alleged injury is in fact fairly traceable to PGC’s activities.

The matter has been assigned to U.S. District Court Judge Juan R. Sanchez.

In related news, the district attorney for Bucks County announced Tuesday that he would withdraw animal cruelty charges Wednesday that had been filed against the Philadelphia Gun Club by a Humane Society officer, according to a report in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The club had been issued five citations following live pigeon shoots in March during which the club allegedly failed to euthanize five birds that were wounded during the shoots along the Delaware River.

An animal rights group retrieved the birds from the river and subsequently saved the animals.

Bucks County District Attorney David Heckler announced in a written statement Monday that after a review by his office, it was determined that the charges weren’t warranted, the Inquirer reported.

The gun club had “acknowledged and accepted” its responsibility to humanely euthanize birds that survive future pigeon shoots, Heckler said, according to the newspaper.

Heckler said the club’s corrective measures have included erecting a barrier to keep the birds from escaping the shooting range and ordering club employees to scour the river for wounded birds.

“These steps represent a good faith effort on the part of the gun club to comply with the obligations imposed by Pennsylvania law,” Heckler said in his statement, according to the Inquirer.

In his statement, Heckler went on to cite an 1891 Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling in determining the legality of pigeon shoots in Pennsylvania.

Nevertheless, the issue has continued to cause controversy, in part because of the apparent conflict in state law; while it’s technically legal to host pigeon shoots, it’s considered animal cruelty, and thus illegal, to shoot but not kill the creatures.

The only way the shoots are legal is if the birds are, in fact, killed during the outdoor activity.

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