From The Animal Legal Defense Fund: Making Sense of the Current Status of the Tony the Tiger Cases   Leave a comment

Posted by Matthew Liebman, ALDF Staff Attorney on May 14th, 2012

We at the Animal Legal Defense Fund are committed to doing everything within our power to make sure that Tony finds his way to a reputable, accredited sanctuary where he can live out the rest of his life in an environment that caters to his needs rather than one that exploits him as a profitable spectacle.

To that end, our litigation team has been busy making sure that Louisiana’s big cat ban is defended and enforced. We are currently involved in three separate lawsuits concerning Tony, and with all the various developments, we thought it was time for a big picture overview on where things stand.

The first lawsuit is the one ALDF filed last April to have Michael Sandlin’s tiger permit revoked. In November, Judge Michael Caldwell ruled in our favor, holding that Mr. Sandlin was ineligible for a permit under the state regulations. Judge Caldwell ordered the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries to revoke Sandlin’s permit and not issue any new permits. Mr. Sandlin and the Tiger Truck Stop have appealed that decision to the Louisiana Court of Appeal. We are currently waiting for the court to set a briefing schedule, which we expect in the coming months. It’s worth noting that the Department has complied with the court’s order and not issued a new permit to Mr. Sandlin, meaning that Mr. Sandlin and the Tiger Truck Stop continue to possess and exhibit Tony without the required permit.

In an attempt to remedy the Tiger Truck Stop’s open violation of the law, ALDF filed a second lawsuit to force the Department to enforce the state’s wildlife laws and turn Mr. Sandlin and the Tiger Truck Stop over to the District Attorney for prosecution.  Unfortunately, earlier this month, Judge Caldwell held that enforcement decisions by an agency are discretionary duties that cannot be compelled by the judiciary, and that our plaintiffs lacked legal standing to bring the case. (Standing is a constant hurdle in animal law cases that limits who can bring a lawsuit. More information on standing is available here and here.) We are still considering our options on whether to appeal the decision. Supporters should understand that the decision in this second case does not undermine our victory in the first case. Judge Caldwell’s original ruling that Mr. Sandlin cannot have a tiger permit still stands, and it is still illegal for Mr. Sandlin to possess and exhibit Tony. This loss means only that we cannot force the Department to enforce the law. The Department has said publicly that it intends to enforce Louisiana law once litigation has concluded. Although that is not the timeline we hoped for (after all, Mr. Sandlin and the Tiger Truck Stop are violating the law at this very moment and the Department could seize Tony at any time), we expect the Department will eventually do the job entrusted to it by Louisiana’s citizens: enforce the law and protect wildlife.

The third lawsuit is one filed by Mr. Sandlin and the Tiger Truck Stop against the State of Louisiana, the Department, and Iberville Parish, seeking to invalidate the state ban on private possession of big cats. If successful, the case would not only allow Mr. Sandlin to keep Tony, it could also open the floodgates to captivity for countless other captive wild animals. Mr. Sandlin and the Tiger Truck Stop did not name ALDF as a party to the suit, but given the high stakes, we insisted on being part of the case. We filed what is called a petition to intervene, which asks the court to allow the intervener into the case with the same rights and opportunity to be heard as the named parties. Although Mr. Sandlin and the truck stop objected to our intervention, Judge Janice Clark held that ALDF had a right to intervene in the case and granted our petition. Interestingly, we are now on the same side as the Department, our adversary in the other two lawsuits. Although we wish they were more proactive in enforcing the ban, both ALDF and the Department want the Louisiana big cat ban upheld. The next step is for our litigation team to file exceptions to Mr. Sandlin’s case and an opposition to his request for an injunction against the big cat ban.

We are optimistic that we will prevail and the court will uphold Louisiana’s right to protect public safety and animal welfare by prohibiting private possession of majestic animals like Tony. Our hope is that once Mr. Sandlin’s case is over, the Department will act quickly to ensure Tony’s removal to a humane sanctuary.

If this sounds complicated and frustratingly slow, that’s because it is. In order to manage large case loads and protect the due process rights of litigants, the legal system may take a while to resolve contentious issues. We too are growing impatient with every extra day Tony spends in captivity at the truck stop, and we are doing everything we can to accelerate his release to a proper sanctuary.

Still have questions about the cases? Post them below and we will answer as best we can.

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