Tiger owner to get hearing

An appeals court on Monday threw out a Baton Rouge judge’s May ruling that barred state officials from issuing any new permits to an Iberville Parish truck stop to keep a 550-pound tiger on display.

A three-judge panel of the state’s 1st Circuit Court of Appeal sent the matter back to state District Judge Mike Caldwell for another hearing.

The panel said Tiger Truck Stop Inc. in Grosse Tete and its owner, Michael Sandlin, deserve to be heard.

Caldwell’s ruling in May came after the Animal Legal Defense Fund sued the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries to have Tony, a Siberian-Bengal mix, removed from the Interstate 10 truck stop.

Only attorneys for the animal rights group and the state agency took part in the first hearing.

Caldwell later denied Sandlin’s and Tiger Truck Stop’s request for a new trial.

First Circuit Judges Edward “Jimmy’’ Gaidry, Michael McDonald and Jeff Hughes said Sandlin and the truck stop “were parties needed for just adjudication in this case.’’

The appellate court reversed Caldwell’s denial of the new trial request, vacated his May ruling in favor of the Animal Legal Defense Fund and sent the matter back to him “for further proceedings.’’

“We’re very pleased. This will give us a chance to correct the situation,’’ said Steve LeBlanc, an attorney for Sandlin and his truck stop, on Monday.

Animal Legal Defense Fund attorney Matthew Liebman called the 1st Circuit ruling “a minor setback.’’

“We are confident that the trial court got the law right the first time around and will rule the same way when we go through it again with Mr. Sandlin and the Tiger Truck Stop as parties,’’ he said.

LeBlanc also expressed confidence, saying, “We’re in compliance with their (Department of Wildlife and Fisheries) rules and regulations.’’

Caldwell had agreed with the animal rights group that a permit can only be issued to an individual, not a corporation, and the individual must live on the premises.

Tiger Truck Stop is the permit holder, not Sandlin, the judge said.

The last annual permit that the state agency issued to Tiger Truck Stop was in December.

Caldwell has said Tony has been on display at the truck stop since 2001.

The animal rights group cited a 2006 Louisiana law that prohibits the private ownership of large and exotic cats.

The law includes a grandfather exception that allows people to keep exotic cats as pets as long as the animals were legally owned before Aug. 15, 2006, when the law took effect.

The animal rights group claims the tiger was not legally owned by the truck stop before that date because a 1993 Iberville Parish ordinance prohibits anyone from owning “wild, exotic or vicious animals for display or for exhibition.’’