Judge gives activists role in tiger lawsuit
State District Judge Janice Clark ruled in Baton Rouge that the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s “intervention is not only permissible, it is a right.”
Michael Sandlin, owner of Tiger Truck Stop in Grosse Tete, is suing the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, as well as Iberville Parish, in an effort to hang onto Tony.
District Judge Mike Caldwell ruled last year that parts of a 2006 state law do not permit Sandlin to house Tony at the truck stop exhibit. Caldwell also ordered Wildlife and Fisheries not to renew the truck stop’s big-cat permit in December.
Sandlin is asking the 1st Circuit Court of Appeal in Baton Rouge to reverse Caldwell’s decision. He is asking Clark to rule that Wildlife and Fisheries lacks statutory and constitutional authority to bar him from keeping Tony.
Brandy Sheely, an attorney for the Animal Legal Defense Fund, argued Monday that Sandlin should not be permitted to allege the state law is unconstitutional because he never made that allegation in the case decided by Caldwell.
“The big cat law is constitutional,” Sheely added. “We’re asking for the ability to be heard.”
Jennifer Treadway Morris, one of Sandlin’s attorneys, countered that her client did not have grounds for a constitutional argument before Dec. 31, when Wildlife and Fisheries refused to renew his permit.
“This court doesn’t need to hear what a special interest group thinks about the law,” Morris added.
Clark disagreed. The judge said she will announce a date for a future hearing on the constitutional issues raised by Sandlin in his suit in her court.
Sandlin’s suit also is targeted at a 1993 Iberville Parish ordinance that bans ownership of “wild, exotic or vicious animals for display or for exhibition.”
Sandlin contends he has held a federal permit to keep tigers at the truck stop, just off Interstate 10, since 1988, and that the parish ordinance cannot trump federal rules.
If Sandlin loses his appeal of Caldwell’s rulings, Wildlife and Fisheries officials have said they will give him 30 days to transfer the 11-year-old tiger to a sanctuary of Sandlin’s choice.