A class action asks the court for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction blocking the school from disclosing the identities of members of its Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee.
The University of Washington and its director of public records face a proposed class action lawsuit that asks the court for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction blocking the school from disclosing the identities of current and former members of its Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACU).
The 12-page lawsuit was filed on February 22 in the wake of a Washington Public Records Act request from “an individual affiliated with an organization opposing animal research” for the university to disclose the identities of IACU committee members. According to the complaint, the IACU committee reviews and monitors the use of animals in medical research at the University of Washington and operates anonymously due to “threats of harassment” by members of the public who oppose the use of animals in medical research.
The case says the public records request filed with University of Washington Director of Public Records Eliza Saunders came in June 2021 from Dr. Lisa Jones-Engel, who the lawsuit says serves as a senior science advisor for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). The complaint relays that the university on February 9, 2022 notified IACU committee members that it intends to release the requested records on February 25, but will not do so if notified of a court order restricting the records’ release by February 24.
The lawsuit argues that the pseudonymous plaintiffs have a constitutional right to free association and expression without harassment or threats. The plaintiffs ask the court to enjoin the release of the unredacted letters in which they were appointed to the IACU committee and any other communications that would reveal their names and other personally identifying information.
According to the suit, every institution that accepts government funding for research involving animals is required by federal law to have an IACU committee to review, approve and monitor all current or proposed research projects involving invertebrates or cephalopods. These committees, the case elaborates, are responsible for ensuring that animals receive the care, treatment and respect they deserve as critical components of biomedical research. Every institution’s IACU committee is subject to inspection by the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services and Agriculture, the suit adds.
The complaint says that although the University of Washington’s monthly IACU committee meetings are open to the public, members of the committee are afforded a limited amount of anonymity due to ongoing threats and harassment from those who oppose the use of animals in research. Per the case, IACU committee members and alternates reasonably believe that attempts are being made by members of the public to personally identify them and that they would be harmed should their identities be disclosed.
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