Federal judge dismisses Philadelphia Gun Club lawsuit against animal-rights activists

    A federal judge has dismissed the Philadelphia Gun Club’s lawsuit against animal-rights activists, saying the club failed to prove the activists broke a federal law while protesting the riverside club’s periodic pigeon shoots.

    Club members and activists with Showing Animals Respect and Kindness (SHARK) have feuded for years over the shoots, during which hunters gun down live birds released from boxes.

    Wounded pigeons often drown in the Delaware River or sometimes die of abuse at the hands of club workers and members, the activists claim. Members of the Bensalem-based club counter that the activists stalk and harass them in rowdy protests, and have hurt members by posting their personal and professional information online in a public-shaming campaign.

    The club filed a federal complaint in 2014 accusing SHARK activists of stalking, harassment, trespass, intimidation, defamation, libel, and privacy invasion. Under that claim, attorney Sean M. Corr argued that SHARK members violated the federal Driver’s Privacy Protection Act. Specifically, Corr contended, protesters photographed drivers and license plates of vehicles visiting and leaving club — and later illegally accessed motor-vehicle records to identify club members.

    But U.S. Magistrate Judge Marilyn Heffley ruled Wednesday that the club based that argument on “sheer conjecture” and not proof, and so dismissed that claim.

    SHARK celebrated the ruling as a victory.

    “We know that the pigeon-shooter community looked to this lawsuit as a means to shut SHARK down so they could continue wounding and killing thousands of innocent birds, but it has backfired,” SHARK President Steve Hindi said. “The pigeon shooters thought they could use their wealth to harass and suppress us, but they have failed.”

    Corr was undaunted.

    “We remain convinced federal law was broken on a number of levels, but nevertheless the bulk of the lawsuit — the defamation, invasion of privacy, and economic harm to the businesses that resulted — survives and will proceed in state court,” Corr said.

    The two sides have battled each other in court for years. One lawsuit resulted in an agreement, which ends this December, that required the club to hold fewer shoots annually (12 instead of 15) and retrieve and humanely euthanize birds wounded by gunfire, and the activists to remove some online photos, video, and posts identifying club members.

    Live-pigeon shoots are illegal in some states but persist in Pennsylvania, where state lawmakers repeatedly since 1989 have rejected bills that would prohibit them (another now sits stalled in the state House), and Oklahoma, where a senator hosts an annual pigeon-shoot fundraiser.

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