This op-ed article provides some interesting background info on this case, especially the original lawsuit the “animal rights” groups lost:
Sunday Reflection: When animal rights groups attack
OpEd Contributor, The Washington Examiner
Who doesn’t love animals? We’ve all seen those TV ads drawing attention to the issue of animal abuse. And those who abuse animals deserve everything the law has to throw at them. But your donation to the charities that run those ads might not be helping animals the way those ads would have you believe.
In 2000, a multitude of animal rights groups filed a lawsuit against Feld Entertainment, the parent company of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, alleging cruelty to animals. Ringling has long been a target of these groups because the circus uses animals as part of its act.
But this 2000 lawsuit had something the animal rights groups’ previous complaints lacked – a witness to the “abuse” on the inside. But this witness, Tom Rider, wasn’t what he seemed; he was, in fact, a paid witness by those seeking to shut down Ringling.
Feld countersued the groups and individuals that brought the suit against the company and, in the discovery stage, found proof that Rider had received payments totaling $190,000. Those payments cast so much doubt on the charges from the animal rights groups that the case was dismissed “with prejudice,” meaning the case was found to be without merit to the point that the court blocked these groups from refiling it. Ever.
The ASPCA did not admit any wrongdoing in its settlement and released a statement from President and CEO Ed Sayres that the group “concluded that it is in the best interests of the organization to resolve this expensive, protracted litigation.” Expensive and protracted litigation the group initiated, of course.
Payments to Rider were made through nonprofit organizations set up by these groups. The Daily Caller reported, “Evidence in the trial showed that some of the funds paid to the nonprofit pass-through group were provided by the Humane Society of the United States with a check signed by its CEO, Wayne Pacelle.”
The AP article in the OP kinda-sorta notes that the original lawsuit was lost by the “animal rights groups” and notes (more clearly) the reason. OTOH, that article did not note that the loss was in the form of dismissal with prejudice. Basically, that means the court recognized that the “animal rights groups” could not prove their case, and that the purpose of the case was to harass Ringling Brothers (a tactic sometimes called lawfare). For that reason the dismissal took the form of “with prejudice”, which precludes the case ever being filed again. It wasn’t just a defeat for the “animal rights groups”, it was an abject defeat that could affect their credibility in court for years to come.