Chinchilla rancher Lurlie Adams passes away

"Borrowed time" runs out for elderly woman suing PETA for false claims

Attorney Michael Curran and Lurlie Adams
  • Attorney Michael Curran and Lurlie Adams

“She’s 90 years old. That right there seems good enough to me. You know, she’s on borrowed time if you look at statistics.  So, I am concerned about having this case drag on.” A superior court judge told an attorney for PETA that he did intend to move the case forward expeditiously on December 4.

Judge Casserly

Judge Casserly

Judge Timothy Casserly told attorneys for both sides that he wanted to see them again in two weeks.

Lurlie Adams, 90, claims that People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals defamed her after the famous animal-rights organization bought her chinchilla ranch last August and then characterized their purchase as a “rescue” and Mrs. Adams’s treatment of her animals as “inhumane and cruel.”

The woman braved the rain to come to court December 4, accompanied by her ranch manager, Mark Lester.

The attorney for PETA, Michael Attanasio, has already filed hundreds of pages with the court and asked for more time to file more paperwork. “No time for Christmas shopping, absolutely,” replied Judge Casserly; this seemed to confuse attorneys, who might have wondered if the he was joking.

In one 96-page filing, the attorney for PETA stated that Adams “seeks to silence PETA by filing a rambling complaint bloated with irrelevant and inflammatory innuendo.” Attanasio declared: “This is a strategic lawsuit designed to chill an advocacy group’s free speech.”

“On August 19, 2014, PETA took possession of the ranch, and with the help of more than 50 volunteers and staff members from the Humane Society, it removed the chinchillas,” Attanasio stated. “Following these events, PETA issued various public statements expressing its opinion about what it believed were inhumane and cruel practices at the ranch.”

“They claim to have a constitutional right to defame my client,” the attorney for Adams told the judge. Michael Curran characterized PETA’s motions as “frivolous.”

Opposing counsel stated that PETA was using its constitutional rights of speech and should be protected from “incurring the costs and distraction of fully litigating meritless lawsuits.” Attanasio claimed a law called “the anti-SLAPP statute” is intended to ensure a “right not to be dragged through the courts because you exercised your constitutional rights….

“PETA was compelled to express its opinion about what it found at the ranch.” He alleged this included “hundreds of animals kept in cramped, dirty, and inhumane conditions.”

Attanasio did admit that 33 of the chinchillas purportedly “rescued” by PETA soon “died…or were euthanized.” He claimed the deaths were due to inadequate conditions at the ranch, and the causes of death were organ failure, liver disease, and “other serious untreated conditions.” A total of 420 chinchillas were taken from the ranch.

“Thirty-three chinchillas did not die suddenly of poor health in the move,” the attorney for the rancher insists. “In fact, many chinchillas suffered in their less-favorable habitats and died as a result of overcrowding, incompatibility, and heat.” The fluffy rodents were moved to a Humane Society facility in Oceanside, according to Curran.

Chinchillas named "Brad" and "Angelina" following their acquisition by PETA

Chinchillas named "Brad" and "Angelina" following their acquisition by PETA

Adams’s attorney claims she was defamed and humiliated by a surreptitious recording taken while she gave persons a tour of her ranch prior to its sale. After they bought the chinchillas, PETA posted an edited video on its website and other outlets, to promote themselves and solicit donations, allegedly.

The attorney for PETA conceded that there is a California law prohibiting secret recording of “confidential communication” without consent of all parties, but he claimed: “Although she refers to the alleged secret recording, even considering this and the allegedly false statements, there is nothing to support that this rose to the level of being outrageous.”

In her multimillion dollar lawsuit, Lurlie Adams alleged PETA committed gross negligence and inflicted emotional and physical distress when it published false and misleading allegations against her. Her attorney has stated: “Expressing opinion does not include defamation, as you will see.”

According to attorney Michael Curran, Lurlie Adams passed away that night, December 4, after her appearance in San Diego’s North County Superior courthouse. Curran said Adams’s daughter intends to continue the lawsuit.

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Adams’ attorney released a statement today, December 9 2014. Michael Curran stated that Mrs. Adams suffered a burst aorta/heart failure and passed away the evening of December 4. She was 90 years old. He said a “celebration of her life” is being planned for mid-January 2015.

“The always cheerful, warm and friendly Ms. Adams had been under great stress since the defamatory/false light events of August 2014,” her attorney in the civil suit against PETA said in an email, one hour ago. “This alleged misconduct by the Defendants undeniably aggravated her stress and heart conditions. The family and close friends are convinced these events significantly contributed to her stress and possibly her death. This firm is currently investigating with her medical care providers whether a claim for wrongful death is also supported by the evidence.”

The attorney stated that Mrs. Adams is survived by her husband Jim Adams, 95, and daughter Brenda Ross, 67.

Curran said he intends to continue the lawsuit by “filing the declaration of her daughter Ms. Ross.”

The next hearing in this case is set for December 19, in San Diego’s North County Superior Court before judge Casserly.

Hoo, boy, is this going to backfire on PETA! The charges can and likely will be that they hounded an elderly lady and she died as a result. PETA "was compelled to express its opinion about what it found at the ranch." Oh, were they? Compelled by what or whom? The only thing PETA was compelled to do was to take over the ranch, after having bought it. The rest was a choice that competent (some might dispute that) adults in PETA made. PETA could have done the removal with no fanfare at all, and likely no media coverage. So, by going public with their claims they made the situation far worse. Let's all hope PETA pays for this nasty treatment of an old lady who trusted them.

Michael Curran, the attorney who filed a slander suit against PETA on behalf of Lurlie Adams, released a statement declaring: “As a result of Ms. Adams passing, the case has been dismissed.” There had been speculation that the plaintiff’s daughter might pursue the civil suit on behalf of her mother’s estate. Online records seem to indicate there is another hearing scheduled for March 20, 2015, before Honorable judge Timothy Casserly, in San Diego’s North County Superior courthouse.

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