The owner of Tiger Truck Stop scored a victory in court Monday (Nov. 17), allowing him to keep Tony, a Bengal tiger, as a roadside attraction at his gas station off Interstate 10 in Gross Tete. Tony’s fate is still unclear, however, as the tiger’s ownership is still the subject of another, ongoing court case.
Nineteenth Judicial District Court Judge William Morvant dismissed a lawsuit on Monday challenging an amendment, which the state legislature adopted at its most recent session, to a law regarding Tony the tiger. Morvant said in court that the lawsuit, which the Animal Legal Defense Fund argued on behalf of former state Rep. Warren Triche Jr., attempted to address the same issues in a still-pending lawsuit in another judge’s court.
The heart of both lawsuits, the court found, addresses the constitutionality of Louisiana’s big cat ban, a 2006 law sponsored by Triche. In the other case, Tiger Truck Stop owner Michael Sandlin is challenging the constitutionality of the 2006 law in Judge Janice Clark’s court.
“You can’t have two suits about the same main issue,” Sandlin’s attorney Jennifer Treadway Nixon said outside the courtroom.
With similar cases ongoing in two courts, lawyers could be accused of “forum shopping,” to gain a favorable outcome. And in these cases, problems could arise if there’s contradicting outcomes regarding: 1) the constitutionality of the 2006 law cat ban; and 2) the constitutionality of the 2014 amendment to the 2006 cat ban.
Sandlin said the cat ban in 2006 cat ban “turned us into criminals overnight” and he’ll continue to fight to protect his property rights to Tony.
ALDF spokeswoman Carney Ann Nasser said the organization won’t halt it’s challenge of the amendment giving Sandlin a special exception.
He maintains Tony is happy and healthy at the truck stop in his 3,200-square-foot habitat. He also argues transporting the tiger to some unknown location could possibly cause Tony distress or even threaten his life — a point disputed by those who want him released to a refuge or somewhere else.
Animal rights activists and those who want Tony taken away from the truck stop say, however, have described the habitat as a diesel-fumed cage off of noisy interstate.
ALDF in June filed the suit, which was dismissed Monday, days after Gov. Bobby Jindal signed Senate Bill 250 into law. One of the group’s arguments was that the new amendment makes a special exception for Sandlin, which is illegal according to the state’s own constitution.
Sen. Rick Ward, R-Port Allen, filed the legislation in question at Sandlin’s behest after the Louisiana First 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 is 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 exotic cat ban by allowing Sandlin to keep Tony until the tiger dies.
Also on Monday, a separate case similar to the big cat challenge in Clark’s court was dismissed.
That case, brought by Yogie and Friends Exotic Cat Sanctuary in DeSoto Parish, also challenges the constitutionality of the 2006 big exotic cat ban. Nasser said Judge Bob Downing, who is filling in for 19th JDC Judge Kay Bates since her retirement, dismissed it because the same issues were addressed in Sandlin’s case.
It’s still unclear if Yogie and Friends will appeal Dunning’s judgment or seek to join Sandlin’s suit, said their attorney Nixon, who’s also handling Sandlin’s case.