Tiger Truck Stop scores a victory in court

By Tyson Fisher, Land Line staff writer | Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A truck stop in Louisiana is allowed to keep its cat. More specifically, the 19th Judicial District Court ruled in favor of Gross Tete, La., Tiger Truck Stop in a case to keep Tony, a Bengal tiger that currently resides at the truck stop.

Judge William Morvant ruled on Monday, Nov. 17, that the suit brought against Tiger Truck Stop by the Animal Legal Defense Fund is dismissed due to the fact it is already being argued in a separate case. Michael Sandlin, owner of Tiger Truck Stop, currently has a lawsuit against the State of Louisiana through the Department of Wildlife over the constitutionality of a 2006 law banning the ownership of large cats.

“We’re disappointed by the decision, but it’s important to note that the judge did not rule that Tony’s captivity is legal or humane,” Matthew Liebman, senior attorney for ALDF, told Land Line. “We will continue to fight for Tony’s release to a humane and reputable sanctuary that can provide him with the habitat he deserves.”

Dating back to an original lawsuit against Sandlin in 2011, ALDF sued the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries using Rep. Warren Triche as a plaintiff. At the time, Sandlin legally obtained a permit of ownership for the tiger through an ambiguous grandfather clause in the 2006 law. ALDF claimed that the issuance of the permit violated state codes. State court ruled in favor of ALDF.

“All they do is file lawsuits and waste taxpayers money and private individuals having to fight their ‘legal terrorism,’ lawsuit harassment,” Jennifer Treadway Nixon, Sandlin’s attorney, told Land Line.

Nixon suggested that the ruling was the judicial branch overriding the authority of an executive branch to carry out their decisions. Nixon pointed out that the spirit of the law was meant to give Sandlin the exception and that a technicality gave ALDF the victory.

“(ALDF’S) goal is merely political, and the Constitution is clear, as well as the Federalist Papers, that the courts are not supposed to be used for hypothetical situations and to air out political beliefs,” Nixon said.

Back in 2012, Sandlin had filed a lawsuit against the state arguing that 2006 law banning the ownership of large cats was unconstitutional. That lawsuit is still pending under the same court with Judge Janice Clark presiding over the case. Since then, Gov. Bobby Jindal has signed an amendment to the law giving Sandlin an exception through a more detailed grandfather law

ALDF’s latest lawsuit, which was dismissed on Nov. 17, was in response to the amendment that favored Sandlin. They argued the constitutionality of that ruling. However, since Sandlin already has a pending suit arguing the constitutionality of the underlying law, the court ruled that both arguments would be settled with Judge Clark’s ruling.

“It’s still a constitutional attack on a statute that is already under constitutional attack in the other lawsuit,” Nixon explained. “So if the statute is struck down as unconstitutional in (Sandlin’s) lawsuit, then it doesn’t matter if there were amendments made because those amendments wouldn’t cure the problem of the attacks we have pending.”

Tiger Truck Stop still has possession and ownership of Tony at this time. Judge Clark’s ruling in the pending lawsuit could be the ultimate decision in deciding whether Tony stays at the truck stop or has to be released to a sanctuary.

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