By MELINDA DESLATTE
Published: June 25, 2014
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) – A former state lawmaker and a national animal rights group filed a lawsuit Wednesday challenging a newly passed law that lets a Grosse Tete gas station owner keep a tiger on site, despite previous court decisions against him.
The lawsuit, filed in Baton Rouge district court, claims lawmakers and the governor violated the Louisiana Constitution, which bans special laws granting exclusive privileges to a single person.
The new law exempts Michael Sandlin, owner of Tiger Truck Stop and a 14-year-old, 550-pound Bengal tiger named Tony, from state restrictions on owning exotic cats.
Gov. Bobby Jindal signed the bill into law last week, after lawmakers gave it final passage in May.
The lawsuit says Sandlin “has repeatedly sought preferential treatment while for years openly violating a state law intended to protect public safety, animal welfare and conservation efforts.”
The lawsuit was filed by former lawmaker Warren Triche, along with Louisiana residents John Kelleher and Juliette Dauterive. Animal Legal Defense Fund is providing the attorneys in the case.
Triche sponsored a law passed in 2006 that prohibits big cat ownership in Louisiana, with exceptions for universities, zoos and scientific organizations. The newly passed law, sponsored by Sen. Rick Ward, R-Port Allen, allows people who lawfully obtained a big cat and continuously possessed it since August 2006 to also be exempted.
During debate, Ward said such an exemption would only apply to Sandlin.
“The Constitution’s prohibition on special laws is a bulwark against corruption and political favoritism,” the lawsuit says.
A spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, Laura Gerdes Colligan, said the office hadn’t yet received a copy of the lawsuit and couldn’t comment.
Ward said he expected the lawsuit would be filed since the animal rights organization had fought passage of the bill.
“I’m pretty confident of the legality of it,” he said. “I think it’s got a very good chance to be considered constitutional.”
The lawsuit claims the exemption for Sandlin also is unconstitutional because it seeks to retroactively clarify a law on which the courts already have ruled; Sandlin lost a previous legal battle to keep the tiger under the initial 2006 law.
Named as defendants are the state, the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, Sandlin and his Tiger Truck Stop.
Supporters of the new law signed by Jindal say Tony the tiger lives comfortably and safely. Sandlin told lawmakers that moving the tiger would endanger his life.
Animal rights groups say keeping Tony at a gas station threatens public safety and the tiger’s well-being.
Posted on June 25, 2014 via The Animal Legal Defense Fund
Governor Jindal’s Signature on SB 250 Draws National Controversy and Courtroom Showdown
For immediate release:
Lisa Franzetta, ALDF
Megan Backus, ALDF
BATON ROUGE—In their ongoing battle to free Tony, a tiger living at Grosse Tete’s Tiger Truck Stop, the national nonprofit Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) and former Representative Warren Triche, Jr. filed suit against the State of Louisiana for violating the Louisiana Constitution by passing a law that exempts a single individual from existing state public safety and animal welfare laws. The sole purpose of SB 250, signed by Governor Jindal last week as “Act 697,” is to allow Tiger Truck Stop owner Michael Sandlin to keep the 14-year-old Siberian-Bengal tiger caged in a gas station parking lot––captivity that previously violated Louisiana law, which prohibits the private possession of dangerous large exotic cats. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of former Representative Warren Triche Jr., the Louisiana legislator who sponsored the 2006 big exotic cats ban, as well as other Louisiana residents and taxpayers, in the East Baton Rouge District Court. The defendants include the State of Louisiana, the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF), the Tiger Truck Stop, and Michael Sandlin.
According to the lawsuit, Act 697 violates the Louisiana Constitution’s prohibition on “special laws” that grant exclusive benefits to any private individual or interest. ALDF seeks an injunction against these privileges given to Sandlin, who has repeatedly sought preferential treatment while openly violating the law. Act 697 would undo several legal victories achieved by ALDF on Tony the tiger’s behalf, and retroactively remove the protections Tony received under the existing ban. Rep. Warren Triche, Jr. explains that “Tony’s situation played a principal role in passing the 2006 bill, as he was a perfect example of why such legislation was needed.” Governor Jindal recently has taken several actions that many see as anti-animal welfare, including signing a bill to declare the blood sport of fox penning part of the state heritage, and vetoing a Republican bill that would have protected dogs in pickup trucks.
In 2011, ALDF successfully sued LDWF for unlawfully issuing Sandlin a permit to exhibit Tony. ALDF was joined in the suit by former Rep. Triche, Jr. and several other Louisiana taxpayers. In April 2013, the Louisiana Court of Appeal held that Sandlin and the Tiger Truck Stop were ineligible for a big cat permit and could no longer keep Tony captive. In October 2013, the Louisiana Supreme Court let that decision stand.
“By vetoing pro-animal laws brought forth by his own party, and signing this unconstitutional law, Governor Jindal has cast a shadow over his aspirations for a national run for the White House,” said Stephen Wells, executive director for the Animal Legal Defense Fund. “The Animal Legal Defense Fund will not allow Tony’s protections to be subverted by backroom politics. Tony deserves to live in a reputable sanctuary, not a gas station parking lot.”
Tony lies on wet concrete in his cages at the truck stop.
on June 20, 2014 at 11:19 AM, updated June 21, 2014 at 10:33 AM
Gov. Bobby Jindal has signed a bill allowing the owner of Tiger Truck Stop in Grosse Tete to keep his 14-year-old Bengal tiger, Tony, as a roadside attraction. The fight over the fate of the tiger will press on, however, as the animal rights group who fought against the legislation has already voiced plans to file a challenge of the law in court next week.
The truck stop’s owner, Michael Sandlin, said he learned Thursday (June 19) evening that the governor penned his signature to Senate Bill 250 on Wednesday.
“I’m very happy, very relieved that the threat is gone that Tony gets taken,” Sandlin said Friday. “It’s been a long, hard battle. It’s been no fun being made a villain — called an animal abuser all (over) the Internet.”
The bill drew scrutiny from animal rights activists across the country who claim the state should remove Tony from what some describe as a diesel-fumed cage off of noisy Interstate 10, located about 20 minutes west of Baton Rouge.
Sandlin, however, has maintained that he genuinely cares for Tony and the all tigers he has housed at the truck stop, where 13 cubs have been born. Tiger Truck Stop, which sits off Exit 139 overlooking I-10 — about 15 miles west of Baton Rouge, is comprised of gas pumps, Tiger Cafe, a “country store,” a suite of tiger-themed video poker games and a federally licensed zoo exhibit. Tony is happy and healthy at the truck stop in his 3,200-square foot habitat, Sandlin said. And transporting the tiger to some unknown location could possibly cause Tony distress or even threaten his life — a point disputed by opponents of the bill.
Those lobbying to seize the tiger from his truck stop, he said, don’t have the welfare of Tony at heart but are motivated instead by a radical animal rights agenda and making money for its lawyers by engaging in lucrative litigation.
ADLF lawyer Matthew Leibman on Friday called Sandlin’s suggestion of his group’s ulterior motives a common “scare tactic” to distract from the real issue.
“For us it’s absolutely about the welfare for Tony,” said Leibman, harkening to recent testimony delivered by the Louisiana State Capitol from Pat Craig, the director of a Colorado animal sanctuary who agreed to take in Tony. “Why Sandlin hasn’t accepted it, I don’t know.”
The bill’s sponsor, Rick Ward, R-Port Allen, claims Sandlin has always taken good care of the exotic animals and tried to follow the law, but animal activists groups they postured as “outsiders” from California meddled with the state permitting system in order to take Tony away.
Sandlin grew emotional when he spoke Friday about what would have happened to Tony had the legislation failed.
“The threat of him being drug away to some strange place — never petted, never sweet-talked to again…I would not stand by and see that happen to that tiger,” he said. “To have these idiots, these nuts that think they know more about tigers than I do — I can’t stand it.”
The legislation signed by Jindal attempts to resolve issues related to the truck stop’s ownership of Tony, which has been the subject of legal battles involving Sandlin, ALDF and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, for years.
ALDF claims they filed the lawsuit against wildlife and fisheries because they wanted Louisiana to follow its own laws. That lawsuit, which resulted in the state pulling Sandlin’s permit, ultimately triggered the legislation.
Ward filed the legislation at Sandlin’s behest after the Louisiana 1st Circuit Court of Appeal ruled in 2012 that Sandlin’s permit to keep Tony was invalid because he is not Tony’s legal owner. Last fall, the Louisiana Supreme Court let that decision stand after Sandlin sought a review of it. Tiger Truck Stop Inc. has owned Tony since 2000, but the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, apparently following pressure from animals rights groups, promulgated new rules in recent years requiring the owner to be an individual, not a corporation.
The rules applied to the state’s exotic cat ban, which took effect in 2006. That law was apparently unclear whether Tiger Truck Stop’s ownership of Tony could be grandfathered in, since he was at the truck stop prior to the ban. The new law makes a specific exception to the state’s 2006 exotic cat ban by allowing Sandlin to keep Tony until the tiger dies.
Both the ALDF and Sandlin indicate Jindal’s signature won’t end the fight over Tony’s fate, as well as Sandlin’s right to own other tigers after Tony dies.
Leibman said ALDF will file suit, likely early next week, challenging the constitutionality of the law. The new law, which with Jindal’s signature becomes Act 697, violates a constitutional prohibition against “special laws” by giving preference to an individual to serve a special interest that does not serve the public, he said. They also plan to challenge the retroactive aspect of the law, which he said illegally seeks to reverse a decision legislatively that was made by the court.
“Governor Jindal has just signed a bill into law that violates his own state constitution. Mr. Sandlin repeatedly lost in the courts so he found a way to make his own one-man law,” Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Stephen Wells said in a statement. “We will not let Tony suffer because of this back-door sidestepping of the legal system.”
Though relieved to have the burden lifted of Tony being seized, Sandlin said he continue with his discrimination lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the 2006 exotic cat ban and will likely seek further legislation excepting private owners from the exotic cat ban.
Leibman said Sandlin’s indication that he plans to seek further legislation to let him have more tigers is indicative of what happens when laws are passed to grant individuals special privileges. “He’s going to keep asking for more and more, and we intend to fight it.”
Despite animal rights advocates’ efforts to convince the governor to issue a veto, Sandlin said after the House overwhelmingly passed the legislation on May 30, he was pretty sure Jindal would either sign it or let it turn into law without a signature.
“I’m glad that he did sign it,” Sandlin said. “He stood up for personal freedoms. He stood up for small business. And he stood up for keeping Tony the tiger safely home.”
The bill becomes officially effective August 1, though the result is essentially inaction of the state by letting the truck stop continue to exhibit Tony.
June 22, 2014
Tony the Tiger can stay put in his quarters at a Grosse Tete truck stop, at least for now.
Gov. Bobby Jindal quietly signed into law Senate Bill 250, granting an exception for the tiger and immediately sparked promises of legal action by animal rights advocates. The bill, which the governor sent to the Secretary of State’s Office as part of a huge batch of signed legislation, now is Act 697.
Legislators wrestled with the bill, struggling with whether the tiger should remain at a truck stop or move to an animal sanctuary. Animal advocates pointed to federal citations against the truck stop, including one for failure to provide veterinary care to an arthritic tiger. Tiger Truck Stop’s owner, Michael Sandlin, countered that he only has one tiger now, and the animal has a swimming pool, an air-conditioned den and a grassy play area.
Sandlin said Friday that the signature means he successfully knocked down propaganda and lies put forth by animal rights groups. “The governor, possibly one running for president, is not afraid of domestic terrorists,” Sandlin said.
However, the governor’s action did not quiet the uproar over the tiger’s living conditions at an interstate truck stop. The Animal Legal Defense Fund vowed to challenge the new law in court, launching yet another chapter in a protracted legal battle over the 14-year-old tiger.
Matthew Liebman, senior attorney for the Animal Legal Defense Fund, said the organization will file a constitutional challenge next week in the 19th Judicial District. He said the bill violates Louisiana’s constitutional ban on the Legislature passing a local or special law.
“It’s quite unfortunate that Gov. Jindal and the Legislature decided to grant preferential treatment to a single owner,” Liebman said.
SB250 was one of the lingering issues still on the governor’s desk nearly three weeks after the legislative session ended. Animal rights groups pressured the governor to veto it, while Sandlin asked Jindal to keep Tony in the only home he’s ever known.
The bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Rick Ward III, applauded the governor’s decision Friday.
“I’m glad it’s done and taken care of and Tony can live out the rest of his life there. (I’m) happy for those involved who were for it,” said Ward, R-Maringouin.
At issue in SB250 was whether a licensed owner who obtained an exotic animal legally and has been in continuous possession and ownership since Aug. 15, 2006, should be exempted from state law that bans anyone other than colleges, sanctuaries, zoos, wildlife research centers and scientific organizations from possessing big exotic cats. The legislation allows Tiger Truck Stop at the Grosse Tete exit off Interstate 10 to keep its Siberian-Bengal tiger named Tony.
Sandlin told legislators during the session that he has spent $500,000 on legal bills fighting to keep Tony. Some of the litigation still is in play.
SB250 only allows Sandlin to keep Tony. He cannot obtain more tigers, even after Tony dies.
Sandlin is suing the state for discrimination. He wants the option of buying a companion for Tony or a successor.
“He is an older tiger. When he expires, we would be able to get another tiger to replace him,” he said.
Update June 20, 2014: Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has signed “SB 250”—a bill exempting the owner of Tony the Tiger from existing Louisiana law that prohibits private possession of dangerous and exotic large cats. That 2006 law was passed unanimously by the Louisiana legislature and was drafted by Rep. Warren Triche, Jr. specifically with Tony’s plight in mind. Michael Sandlin, owner of the Tiger Truck Stop, pushed for this controversial bill after several Louisiana courts rejected his permit to keep Tony caged as a gimmick in a gas station parking lot. This bill grants preferential treatment to one individual and has outraged Louisiana residents concerned with public safety and drawn criticism from animal welfare advocates across the nation. The Animal Legal Defense Fund believes this law is unconstitutional and plans to immediately challenge its validity.
There’s been much emotional rhetoric about Senate Bill 250, which would allow Michael Sandlin to keep his tiger, Tony, at his Gross Tete truck stop. The following time line may be useful to readers and Gov. Bobby Jindal, who will decide the animal’s fate.
1993: Iberville Parish Ordinance prohibits keeping wild animals as pets or for display. Despite this, Sandlin started buying, breeding, selling and exhibiting tigers at Tiger Truckstop.
2003: After numerous USDA citations for “unsanitary feeding practices, failure to provide veterinary care, shelter from inclement weather, clean drinking water and knowledgeable employees to care for the tigers,” three tigers were removed. Tony was left behind.
2006: Our Louisiana Legislature passed Act 715, requiring the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries to enact regulations prohibiting citizens from keeping tigers as pets. They provided an exception for big cats legally owned before 2006 but required an annual permit from LDWF. Sandlin was ineligible because he and Tony do not live on the same property.
2009: Iberville Parish amended its ordinance to allow Sandlin to keep Tony if he met a number of physical conditions and was permitted by LDWF. Despite the fact that Sandlin was ineligible for a permit, the LDWF issued him one.
2010: The Animal Legal Defense Fund, along with several Louisiana residents as co-plaintiffs, sued the LDWF for unlawfully issuing Sandlin a permit.
November 2011: Judge Michael Caldwell ruled that Sandlin was ineligible for a permit under state regulations and ordered LDWF to revoke Sandlin’s permit and not issue any new permits. ALDF filed another lawsuit demanding LDWF enforce the law.
April 2013: Louisiana Court of Appeal agreed with Judge Caldwell that Sandlin is ineligible for a permit to keep Tony.
Judge Caldwell’s original ruling that Sandlin cannot have a permit still stands. LDWF has agreed to uphold the law.
Last month, Sandlin garnered enough support in our Legislature to create a new law, just as he had the Iberville Parish ordinance amended, just for him. In my opinion, this is a last-gasp attempt by Sandlin to avoid and evade the law. He has never had the “right” to keep a tiger at his truck stop, as he claims. Creating a loophole for one individual has attracted national attention and makes Louisiana look ridiculous.
Tony is a pawn in this debate, but as a living creature, he doesn’t deserve to remain a roadside attraction at a gas station when he could live his remaining years free roaming at a big cat sanctuary. And, surely, Colorado is an environment much closer to his native Siberia than south Louisiana.
Hopefully, Gov. Jindal will veto Senate Bill 250. It’s the right thing to do.