BY JOE GYAN JR.
Advocate staff writer
May 05, 2012
A judge refused Thursday to order the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries to remove Tony the 550-pound tiger from a Grosse Tete truck stop enclosure where he has been kept for more than a decade.
State District Judge Mike Caldwell cited the separation of powers between the judicial and executive branches of government, and also said the Animal Legal Defense Fund and several other individually named plaintiffs lacked legal standing to try to compel LDWF to take action against the truck stop.
ALDF attorney Erin Pelleteri argued during a hearing that Tiger Truck Stop’s state permit for the Siberian-Bengal tiger expired Dec. 31. She said Michael Sandlin, owner of the Iberville Parish truck stop, is “blatantly’’ violating Louisiana law and endangering the public, and should be prosecuted.
“There is no permit in place. Mr. Sandlin is in violation of the law,’’ Pelleteri argued. “The department is doing nothing.’’
Jennifer Treadway Morris, an attorney for Sandlin and his truck stop, countered that the facility has a federal permit to house the tiger. She also disputed Pelleteri’s safety allegation.
“There is no public safety concern here,’’ Morris told the judge.
Sandlin, who attended the hearing, said afterward he loves tigers.
“I love Tony. I love (LSU’s) Mike the tiger,’’ he said. “The people of Grosse Tete want Tony to stay.’’
LDWF attorney Fred Whitrock argued during the hearing that ALDF and the individual plaintiffs, including Baton Rouge resident Brandi Sutten, have no direct interest in the outcome of the case but are merely morally opposed to Tony being displayed at the truck stop off Interstate 10.
“That is not sufficient for legal standing,’’ he said.
Sutten testified she visits Tony from time to time and finds it “emotionally draining’’ to see a tiger housed near an interstate, something she considers “inappropriate’’ and “absolutely crazy.’’
Morris told Sutten there are neighborhoods closer to Exxon’s Baton Rouge refinery than Tony is to the highway. After Sutten testified she has never visited Mike the tiger at LSU, Morris asked her if she is generally opposed to tigers being kept in cages or just opposed to Tony the truck stop tiger.
“Just Tony,’’ she acknowledged.
In response to an earlier ALDF lawsuit against LDWF, Caldwell last year barred the state agency from issuing any new permits to Tiger Truck Stop to keep 11-year-old Tony there. Sandlin has appealed that ruling to the state 1st Circuit Court of Appeal.
Caldwell said a state permit can be issued only to an individual, not a corporation, and Tiger Truck Stop is the permit holder, not Sandlin.
If Sandlin’s appeal is ultimately denied, LDWF has said it would give Sandlin 30 days to move Tony to a sanctuary of Sandlin’s choosing.
Sandlin, in a suit he filed against the state and Iberville Parish in January, is challenging the constitutionality of a 2006 state law that banned private ownership of large and exotic cats.
The state law includes a grandfather exception that allows people to keep exotic cats as pets as long as the animals were legally owned before Aug. 15, 2006, when the law went into effect.
ALDF contends Tony was not legally owned by Tiger Truck Stop before that date because a 1993 Iberville Parish ordinance prohibits anyone from owning wild, exotic or vicious animals for display or exhibition.
Sandlin’s suit also says the ordinance is unconstitutional. He argues the ordinance does not have an exception for persons with proper permits under federal law.
ALDF has filed a petition to intervene in Sandlin’s suit. State District Judge Janice Clark is scheduled to hold a hearing on that request Monday.