Get the Facts about the Los Angeles Trap-Neuter-Return Ruling
The court ruling in Los Angeles that suspended the city’s promotion of Trap-Neuter-Return and temporarily stopped the distribution of spay/neuter vouchers interrupted 20 years of collaboration between the city government and its citizens to humanely care for cats in Los Angeles. Since then, the facts of the case and its decision have been greatly misconstrued.
We put together this Q&A to help you understand the judge’s ruling—what it said and what it did not.
The bottom line: This case DID NOT make Trap-Neuter-Return illegal in Los Angeles. The ruling only applies to the actions of the Los Angeles city government. It does not apply to private individuals or groups, nor does it apply anywhere outside of Los Angeles. Read on to get the facts and be reassured you can continue protecting and improving the lives of cats wherever you are!
What law was at issue in this lawsuit?
The plaintiffs filed suit under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). They stated that the city government of Los Angeles did not follow the proper procedure defined by CEQA before supporting Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR). The plaintiffs did not allege that the practice of Trap-Neuter-Return itself was illegal.
What is CEQA?
CEQA is a California state law that requires the government to perform an environmental review before beginning any “project,” unless the “project” qualifies for an exemption.
What activities require an environmental review under CEQA?
CEQA only applies to “projects” by California state and local governments, not to actions by private individuals and nonprofits. CEQA broadly defines “project” to include many government activities, but the law makes clear that it does not apply to all governmental programs and decisions. The law also contains exemptions so that smaller activities and activities with no environmental impact are not held up for the time and expense it takes to perform a review.
CEQA was intended to apply to activities like highway construction, not Trap-Neuter-Return.
What was the legal issue in the case?
The issue in this case was whether the Los Angeles city government’s actions to support TNR were a “project,” as defined under CEQA. The case did not discuss any relationship between cats and wildlife, or whether Trap-Neuter-Return was harmful or beneficial to cats or communities.
What did the judge rule?
The judge ruled, wrongly we believe, that the actions the Los Angeles city government took to support Trap-Neuter-Return—funding spay/neuter services for feral cats and promoting other private TNR groups and programs—qualified as a “project” and were not exempt from CEQA. The city government had not performed an environmental review before taking these actions, so the judge suspended the city from continuing them.
It is important to note that the judge ruled only that the Los Angeles city government did not follow the right procedure. The judge did not find that TNR had any negative environmental impacts, and he did not suspend the city’s participation in Trap-Neuter-Return for any environmental reasons.
Is Trap-Neuter-Return illegal in Los Angeles?
No. TNR is still perfectly legal in Los Angeles and residents can continue to practice Trap-Neuter-Return without breaking any laws. There are still private resources available to help with TNR as well. The rights of individuals or groups to practice Trap-Neuter-Return were not at issue in this case, nor were the rights of any private citizens, because CEQA applies only to governments.
Did the judge rule on any environmental issues?
No. The judge did not decide any environmental issues in the case. He did not hear any arguments or make any conclusions about cats and the environment or cats and wildlife. He also did not address any of the dominant causes of bird or wildlife population decline, such as human development, road building, and suburban expansion—all of which cause wildlife habitat fragmentation and loss.
Does this ruling apply to other city governments in California?
No. The ruling was made in the Superior Court of Los Angeles and applies only to the city government of Los Angeles. It does not apply to other municipal governments in California. In fact, the ruling was not even published in legal journals that record judicial decisions, so it cannot be cited as precedent or inform future legal decisions.
Does the ruling apply to other states?
No. This ruling only applies to the government of the city of Los Angeles. CEQA is a state law that only applies in California. CEQA, and this ruling, do not apply in other states.