April 26, 2013 04:05

A permit to keep a tiger named Tony at a truck stop outside Baton Rouge was invalid because the truck stop's owner wasn't the animal's legal owner, the state 1st Circuit Court of Appeal ruled Thursday. NEW ORLEANS (AP) - A permit to keep a tiger named Tony at a truck stop outside Baton Rouge was invalid because the truck stop's owner wasn't the animal's legal owner, the state 1st Circuit Court of Appeal ruled Thursday.

The three-judge panel upheld most of a district court ruling in the case involving the 12-year-old Bengal-Siberian tiger mix displayed as an attraction at Tiger Truck Stop in Grosse Tete, about 20 miles west of Baton Rouge. The panel, in its decision, also upheld an order barring the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries from granting a new permit to truck stop owner Michael Sandlin.

"We're thrilled," said Matthew Liebman, attorney for the Animal Legal Defense Fund, of Cotati, Calif.

The court ruled that the funddidn't have legal standing to go to court against the permit but four individual plaintiffs did. Liebman said that being disqualified was "a footnote" in the case since the non-profit also represented the four individuals.

Truck stop attorney Jennifer Treadway Morris said she will request a rehearing - and, if that fails - ask the Louisiana Supreme Court to consider the case.

"We think there's plenty of reasons we can seek a rehearing," she said.

The state, not Sandlin, is the defendant in this case. Sandlin has filed a separate lawsuit challenging the law. It is still in court.

There have been tigers at the truck stop since 1988. Tony and his 40-by-80-foot cage have been a focus of animal rights complaints at least since 2008.

Treadway Morris said her challenges in this case include the contention that the four people accepted by the appeal court as plaintiffs should not have been able to sue because they don't have any financial stake in the matter.

The 1st Circuit found that all taxpayers have a right to go to court if they feel a state agency has acted unlawfully.

"What the court said is that taxpayers do have an interest in how their money is spent," Liebman said. "And when the government is spending money for permits that are inhumane and illegal, you have a right to challenge that decision in court."

A department spokesman did not immediately respond to an email asking for comment on the ruling, which The Associated Press received from Liebman after 5 p.m.

Until all appeals are completed, Tony will stay in his cage at the truck stop, Liebman said.

If the animal rights attorneys win, he said, "we would expect the department to step in and seize Tony and send him to a reputable sanctuary."

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