Tony the tiger case pivots on a constitutional issue
Jennifer Treadway Morris, who is representing Tiger Truck Stop owner Michael Sandlin in his legal battle to keep a Siberian-Bengal mix tiger named Tony at his Grosse Tete truck stop, says a lawsuit filed Tuesday against Louisiana and Iberville Parish is centered on the separation of powers outlined in the state constitution.
“The impression has been given that this is a federal-versus-state issue, and that our whole argument boils to permits,” Morris says. “This is not a state-versus-federal argument. This is a separation of powers argument.”
The suit, she says, states the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries should not have the authority to draft rules and regulations for issuing permits for private possession of exotic animals. She says a 2006 law central in the case unconstitutionally gave the DWF legislative power it shouldn’t have.
“The department (of wildlife and fisheries) shouldn’t be able to define what actions are criminal. It should only be administering the laws that the Legislature has created—and the Legislature didn’t say in that law possession of exotic cats in Louisiana is illegal,” Morris says. “The state Legislature did not have the authority to delegate its legislative power to the executive branch: the department, in this case.”
In a separate lawsuit filed by the Animal Legal Defense Fund against DFW, District Court Judge Mike Caldwell barred the department from issuing any further permits to Sandlin. That decision is on suspensive appeal, Morris says, allowing Tony to remain at the truck stop in the meantime.
“We weren’t invited to be a party in that lawsuit, so we never got a chance to discuss the constitutionality of this,” Morris says. “We’re kind of backing up now and saying: You have been focused on the language of this regulation, but we believe the regulation is unconstitutional to begin with.”
Morris says the hope is that the suit filed Tuesday, if won, will allow Sandlin to both continue displaying Tony and obtain permits to show other tigers in the future. As it stands, even if the appeal of Caldwell’s ruling goes Sandlin’s way, he will only be able to display Tony until that animal’s death and no tigers thereafter.
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