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SeaWorld of Florida, LLC v. Perez

United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia
748 F.3d 1202 (D.C. Cir. 2014)


Facts

SeaWorld of Florida, LLC (SeaWorld) (defendant) operated a theme park that offered shows featuring killer whales. SeaWorld had several killer whales, including one named Tilikum. Tilikum was known to have aggressive tendencies and had previously killed a trainer while at a marine park in British Columbia. A substantial number of SeaWorld’s other killer whales had recorded instances of dangerous behavior, including biting trainers, lunging at trainers, and pulling trainers into the water. SeaWorld had protocols for working with the killer whales. For instance, trainers were prohibited from performing waterwork with Tilikum, which involved working in water deeper than the trainers’ knees. On February 24, 2010, Dawn Brancheau, a SeaWorld trainer, was interacting with Tilikum during a drywork show, which involved working from a platform submerged only a few inches below the water. Tilikum grabbed Brancheau and pulled her into the water, causing her to drown. After Brancheau’s death, SeaWorld required all trainers working with Tilikum to work from a distance or behind a barrier. SeaWorld also prohibited waterworks with all other killer whales. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) investigated Brancheau’s death. U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez (Secretary) issued a citation against SeaWorld for violating the general-duty clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (Act), 29 U.S.C. §§ 651-78, by exposing employees to the recognized hazard of working with killer whales without providing adequate protection. The Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (OSHRC) found that working with killer whales was hazardous and that the Secretary had proposed feasible abatement procedures, such as requiring physical barriers. The OSHRC accordingly found that SeaWorld had violated the general-duty clause of the Act by not using these procedures before Brancheau’s death. SeaWorld petitioned for review.

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Issue

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Holding and Reasoning (Rogers, J.)

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Dissent (Kavanaugh, J.)

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