Animal Legal Defense Fund
Re-posting from ALDF:
Posted by Matthew Liebman, ALDF Staff Attorney on April 26th, 2013
Yesterday, April 25th, 2013, the Louisiana Court of Appeal issued its long-awaited opinion in Animal Legal Defense Fund v. State of Louisiana, holding that Michael Sandlin is ineligible for a permit to confine Tony the Tiger in a cage at the Tiger Truck Stop.
Although the court held that ALDF lacked standing to be a plaintiff in the case, it nevertheless confirmed that our clients—Louisiana residents and taxpayers—do have standing to challenge illegal actions by the government, in this case the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.
In ruling on the merits, the court agreed with ALDF’s argument that Michael Sandlin cannot receive a grandfather permit to continue to keep Tony because Sandlin does not meet the legal requirements for such a permit. As the court put it:
The record establishes that on August 15, 2006, Tony was not owned by Michael Sandlin; rather, he was owned by Tiger Truck Stop. Additionally, on August 15, 2006, the ownership and possession of Tony by Tiger Truck Stop and the possession by Michael Sandlin in Iberville Parish was in violation of a local ordinance, and thus, illegal. Although that local ordinance was amended in 2009 retroactive to August 15, 2006, the amendment to the ordinance did not change the fact that on August 15, 2006, neither Tiger Truck Stop nor Michael Sandlin legally possessed or legally owned Tony. Only an individual who legally possessed an exotic cat (such as a tiger) and who could prove legal ownership of that exotic cat is entitled to a permit for that cat. Accordingly, that part of the judgment of the trial court granting a final/permanent injunction against DWF, enjoining it from issuing any new permits to Michael Sandlin and/or Tiger Truck Stop for the tiger (“Tony” microchip #477E201A4C) now located at Tiger Truck Stop in Iberville Parish is affirmed.
The decision marks a significant step towards Tony’s freedom, as the second-highest court in Louisiana has confirmed that the Department erred when it issued Sandlin a permit. Sandlin’s lawyer has said she intends to seek rehearing of the Court of Appeal’s decision, as well as review by the Louisiana Supreme Court. Sandlin also has his own lawsuit to invalidate the state’s big cat ban. But rest assured ALDF will fight every step of the way to make sure Tony ends up in a reputable sanctuary. We still have a long road ahead, but we’ve cleared a major hurdle and have earned this moment of celebration.
Update From The Animal Legal Defense Fund:
April 25, 2013: On April 25, 2013 the Louisiana Court of Appeal upheld a lower court ruling in ALDF’s case against the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries for unlawfully issuing Michael Sandlin a permit to keep and exhibit Tony. The Court of Appeals agreed with Judge Caldwell, holding that Sandlin is ineligible for a permit to keep Tony. With pro bono assistance from Baker Donelson, ALDF will continue to fight on behalf of Tony and the individual plaintiffs involved.
By Bill Lodge
Advocate staff writer
April 26, 2013
Tony, the 550-pound Siberian-Bengal tiger, cannot continue to be housed in an exhibit at the Tiger Truck Stop in Grosse Tete, a three-judge panel of the state’s 1st Circuit Court of Appeal ruled Thursday in Baton Rouge.
But an attorney for truck stop owner Michael Sandlin said Tony will not be moved to a new home soon.
“We are going to file for a rehearing at the 1st Circuit. If we lose on rehearing, we’ll be filing an appeal with the Louisiana Supreme Court,” said Jennifer Treadway Morris, Sandlin’s attorney.
Members of the 1st Circuit panel were Circuit Judges J.E. “Duke” Welch and Randolph H. Parro, as well as retired Judge William F. Kline Jr., who serves on the appellate bench by special appointment of the state’s Supreme Court.
The 20-page decision written by Welch upheld a November 2011 judgment by 19th Judicial District Judge Michael Caldwell, who ruled a 2006 state law bars the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries from renewing Sandlin’s permit to house Tony at the truck stop exhibit off Interstate 10.
The appellate panel, however, overturned Caldwell’s decision to allow the nonprofit Animal Legal Defense Fund to intervene in the civil suit on the side of four Louisiana residents who wanted Tony, now 12, sent to an accredited wildlife sanctuary.
Those four residents are Warren Triche Jr., Brandi J. Sutten, Jennifer Torquati and John Kelleher.
Matthew G. Liebman, a California-based attorney for the Animal Legal Defense Fund, said he does not believe the nonprofit organization will appeal the 1st Circuit’s ruling that it should not have intervened in the litigation.
The most important part of the 1st Circuit’s decision was its agreement with Caldwell that state officials cannot renew the permit that allowed Tony to be kept at the truck stop, Liebman said.
“We see this decision as a victory,” Liebman added. “It looks like Tony is finally going to breathe some fresh air.”
Morris, however, noted that Sandlin has a related civil suit pending before 19th Judicial District Court Judge Janice Clark.
Sandlin argues in that suit that a 1993 Iberville Parish ordinance should not be allowed to ban ownership of “wild, exotic or vicious animals for display or for exhibition.”
In his suit, Sandlin adds that he has held a federal permit to keep tigers at the truck stop, just off Interstate 10, since 1988. He argues that a parish ordinance cannot ignore federal rules.
Although the case in Clark’s court remains to be decided, Morris said the 1st Circuit’s decision not to grant standing to the California nonprofit organization in Caldwell’s court is a good sign for Sandlin.
“We beat the Animal Legal Defense Fund” in the first case, Morris said. “That’s a big win.”
Thanks to everyone who signed, shared, emailed and tweeted Tony’s petition on Wednesday ~ April 9th, 2013.
We needed 200 more signatures to reach an impressive 25,000 and we got them by Wednesday night.
This petition keeps Tony’s story networked, visible and demonstrates the support Tony has worldwide to be relocated to a reputable sanctuary.
Please continue to share:
Tony’s Change.org Petition: http://www.change.org/petitions/ldwf-ensure-tony-the-tiger-is-released-to-a-reputable-sanctuary
The Animal Legal Defense Fund’s page for updates on Tony’s case: http://aldf.org/article.php?id=2233
The NY Times Article: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/28/us/truck-stop-tiger-in-louisiana-stirs-legal-battle.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
Posted Mar 28, 2013 10:51 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss
A tiger living in an enclosure at a truck stop near Baton Rouge, La., is at the center of a legal fight waged by the Animal Legal Defense Fund.
Tony is the last remaining tiger at the truck stop that once housed several adult tigers and 13 cubs that were born there, the New York Times reports. Michael Sandlin, owner of the aptly named Tiger Truck Stop, tells the newspaper he’s fighting based on principle, rather than money. “It’s become more of a liability than an asset,” he said.
Sandlin is fighting on two fronts. In one case, the animal defense fund claimed Sandlin should not have been given a permit for Tony under a 2006 state law limiting possession of “big exotic” felines, the story says. Sandlin got the permit because of a grandfather clause in the law. But the animal rights lawyers argued Sandlin didn’t qualify because of a different parish law then in effect that barred exotic animals. The animal defense fund won the case, and Sandlin is appealing.
Sandlin has also filed a separate suit that claims the state law is unconstitutional because it is unevenly applied and allows too much discretion in enforcement, the story says.
Matthew Liebman, a lawyer for the Animal Legal Defense Fund, explained his objection in an interview with the Times. “The bottom line for us is that tigers don’t belong in truck stops,” he said. “I think it reflects a pretty commodified, objectifying view of animals that we don’t support—that they are objects of entertainment, that they are gimmicks to sell gasoline.”
Tony, a Bengal-Siberian tiger, is kept on the premises at the Tiger Truck Stop in Grosse Tete, La. Web sites have been created urging Tony’s removal, letters have been written, and public officials have been lobbied.
Published: March 27, 2013
GROSSE TETE, La. — The American truck stop is a promise of certain reliables: a shower, a warm meal, some small talk at the counter, a 24/7 source of diesel, beef jerky and cigarettes.
The truck stop here just west of Baton Rouge offers all those things, but as most southern Louisianians know, it has another less standard feature: a 550-pound Bengal-Siberian tiger.
Tony is only the latest in a line of tigers to live here. Thirteen cubs were born at the truck stop, and several adult tigers brought in, including a white tiger named Salena who died of pancreatic cancer in the early 2000s and is now stuffed and sitting in the Tiger Cafe atop the salad bar.
Tony, who is 12 years old, spends his days draped languidly on top of his cinder-block den or pacing around the grass in his 40-foot-by-80-foot caged enclosure on one side of the parking lot, seemingly as unriveted by the truckers as they are by him.
He also appears unmoved by his role at the center of a costly and complicated legal dispute, pitting claims of property rights against animal rights and prompting regular news reports about his impending removal. The legal fight has gone on for years. Tony remains.
“It’s become more of a liability than an asset,” said Michael Sandlin, 50, who has run the truck stop for the past 25 years. “But it’s not the money. It’s the principle.”
The Tiger Truck Stop has long been a thorn in the paw of animal rights organizations and many animal lovers generally. Web sites have been created urging Tony’s removal, letters have been written, public officials lobbied. Robert Barham, the secretary of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, described “cases of mail from every state and a host of foreign countries.” Still, he said, state veterinarians sent to inspect Tony invariably returned with reports of good health.
Matthew Liebman, a lawyer for the Animal Legal Defense Fund, based in California, acknowledged that Tony’s situation was not the worst he had ever seen, though he and others worry about the tiger’s constant exposure to exhaust and diesel fumes.
“The bottom line for us is that tigers don’t belong in truck stops,” Mr. Liebman said. “I think it reflects a pretty commodified, objectifying view of animals that we don’t support — that they are objects of entertainment, that they are gimmicks to sell gasoline.”
In 2006, the state passed a law that put limits on “big exotic cat” possession, but allowed anyone who owned such a cat at the time to be grandfathered in. Mr. Sandlin, who had kept tigers here for nearly two decades, was granted a permit for Tony. But in a 2011 trial, lawyers for the animal defense fund showed that a parish law that was on the books in 2006 prohibited keeping exotic animals and argued that he should not have been exempted from the new law. The judge agreed and ordered Mr. Sandlin’s state permit revoked.
Mr. Sandlin, who still has a federal permit, has appealed the decision, and has also filed a separate lawsuit arguing that the state law itself is unconstitutional because it is applied unevenly and leaves too much discretion to enforcement officials.
Still, he has been looking for a retirement home for Tony. This search generated its own outcry when he said he was leaning toward a wildlife park in Oklahoma owned by a man who calls himself Joe Exotic, but whose real name is Joe Schreibvogel.
Mr. Schreibvogel’s park has attracted a good deal of controversy itself and is being investigated by federal officials for 23 tiger cub deaths. But Mr. Sandlin said he believed that it provided good care, and did not trust others to know what was good for Tony.
“He’s used to the noise from the Interstate and the trucks,” Mr. Sandlin said. “He’s used to people coming up here and looking at him.”
“To tear him away from this,” he said, breaking off, then added, “I think it would be very cruel because that’s what he’s used to.”
Mr. Sandlin and his opponents see the world rather differently. The phrase “animal rights activist,” particularly if it means someone who would ban the private ownership of exotic animals, is to Mr. Sandlin a disparagement on its face. (A T-shirt for sale in the truck stop store reads “Animal Rights Activists Taste Like Chicken.”)
But he takes no offense when critics deride him as a purveyor of roadside entertainment. He considers himself an ally of the traveling circuses that occasionally stop here, and he allows the elephants to graze out back.
The idea of a tiger truck stop had been his father’s, but opening one here seemed particularly apt given that the mascot of nearby Louisiana State University is a tiger. (The university keeps its own tiger, Mike VI, in an enclosure next to the football stadium.)
So in 1988, Mr. Sandlin arrived from Houston with Toby and Rainbow, he a mostly Bengal mix, she a purebred Siberian. In 2000, after the sale of a tiger truck stop owned by Mr. Sandlin’s father in West Texas, Toby and Rainbow were joined by Tony and Salena.
In the ensuing years, the United States Department of Agriculture issued several citations to the truck stop, among other things for allowing cubs to run loose around the office. Mr. Sandlin paid a fine and sold all the tigers but Tony.
About 35 people work at the truck stop, including a sister of Michael Sandlin’s; a brother-in-law; a niece; a nephew; Mr. Sandlin’s mother, Virginia, who handles billing; and his domestic partner of 26 years, Scott Holbrook, who is the vice president of the truck stop as well as the video poker manager.
There is also a middle-aged man named Ray Jackson, who buses tables at the restaurant and who will sing on command. Seeing him outside the Tiger Cafe, Mr. Sandlin said the word and Mr. Jackson stopped immediately and sang “Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross.”
“People get a kick out of that,” Mr. Sandlin said.
For now, there is the wait for a ruling. An immediate change is unlikely even then, but as a breed, the tiger truck stop’s days may be numbered.
“There are certainly some substandard roadside zoos,” Mr. Liebman said. “But this is the only truck stop tiger I know of.”
Direct Link To Article: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/28/us/truck-stop-tiger-in-louisiana-stirs-legal-battle.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
Tony’s Petition ~ Nearing 25,000: http://www.change.org/petitions/ldwf-ensure-tony-the-tiger-is-released-to-a-reputable-sanctuary
SPECIAL REQUEST: If anyone follows Tony on Twitter @TonyTiger2000 you are sure to know his “elegirl” @LucyLiberte.
Last month we did a Twitterstorm for Tony and trended #FreeTonyTiger.
TODAY ~ Sunday March 10 @ 4pmEST there’s a Twitterstorm for @LucyLiberte to raise awareness for her, push her petition: http://www.change.org/petitions/allow-a-panel-of-external-elephant-experts-to-examine-lucy and to trend #FreeLucyElephant.
If you tweet, please participate in this event by adding the petition link and #FreeLucyElephant as you tweet from 4pmest – 5pmest TODAY. THANK YOU!
Thanks to all who have signed and please continue to share this petition for Tony. It reached 24,000 signatures yesterday- a true indication of the concern people all over the world have for Tony and his welfare. Petitions are a good way to keep Tony’s story active, people involved, updated and supportive. http://www.change.org/petitions/ldwf-ensure-tony-the-tiger-is-released-to-a-reputable-sanctuary
Please visit The Animal Legal Defense Fund’s page for updates on Tony’s case: http://aldf.org/article.php?id=2233