A judge ruled this week that a lawsuit brought by the federal government against Jeff and Lauren Lowe of Tiger King Park will continue.
The lawsuit argues Jeff and Lauren violated the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) and that the pair continued exhibiting animals after their U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) license was revoked.
The lawsuits seeks to have a court order that would:
Declare Jeff and Lauren have violated the ESA and AWA
Enjoin Jeff and Lauren from interfering with USDA inspections of Tiger King Park
Prohibit Jeff and Lauren from exhibiting animals without a license and placing the animals’ health and safety at risk
Require Jeff and Lauren to relinquish possession of all of their animals that are protected by the ESA
In May, authorities removed all of the ESA protected big cats from Tiger King Park and temporarily placed them at accredited sanctuaries. The DOJ’s lawsuit seeks to have the animals awarded to the government for permanent placement at sanctuaries.
There are still 62 non-ESA protected animals remaining at Tiger King Park, according to a June 2 USDA inspection. Jeff and Lauren were cited with 14 AWA violations at that inspection. Court documents indicate the animals that remain at Tiger King Park are suffering with rotten food, filthy water and no medical care.
On Monday, Judge John Heil III ruled on two motions brought by Jeff and Lauren’s attorney Daniel Card. The first was Card’s motion to withdraw as the attorney for Tiger King Park due to “health reasons.”
Card submitted several requests to withdraw as the Lowe’s attorney and stated in court documents that if the judge demanded he showed up to represent Jeff and Lauren at the upcoming Show Cause hearing that he will inevitably “say nothing” at the hearing and he won’t be “advocating for anyone.”
The Department of Justice (DOJ) argued Card should not be dismissed as attorney until Jeff and Lauren have secured a replacement. The DOJ said the case is time sensitive because of the animals involved.
The DOJ cited another Oklahoma case involving an entity owned by Jeff Lowe that “failed to obtain counsel for more than two and a half years after the district court granted a motion to withdraw and ordered the entity to have new counsel enter an appearance within thirty days,” according to court documents.
Judge Heil ordered Card to appear and represent Tiger King Park at their next hearing. At that hearing, Heil said he will give Card the opportunity to provide a factual argument as to why he should be dismissed as the Lowe’s attorney.
Heil’s second ruling was on Card’s motion to dismiss the Tiger King Park lawsuit. Card argued the lawsuit should be dismissed because the DOJ’s definition of “exhibit” was too broad and it violates the First Amendment. He also argued the DOJ failed to state a claim against Tiger King, LLC.
In court documents, Heil said he can only dismiss the lawsuit “where it is obvious that the plaintiff cannot prevail on the facts he has alleged.”
Heil said the DOJ’s allegations are plausible and sufficiently allege facts that support the necessary elements under the legal theories proposed by the DOJ.
He said the USDA has determined that a person acts as an exhibitor “simply by making animals available to the public,” court records indicate.
Heil said the AWA’s regulations on exhibiting animals are not a violation of the First Amendment because the AWA is content neutral; meaning that because the AWA is sharply focused on animal welfare and treatment, it serves purposes unrelated to the content of Jeff and Lauren’s expression, therefore their free speech rights are not being violated, according to court records.
Heil also dismissed Card’s argument that the DOJ did not significantly state a claim against Tiger King LLC and “barely mentions” them in the complaint.
Heil said the DOJ’s complaint refers to four defendants: Jeff Lowe; Lauren Lowe; GWEAP, LLC; and Tiger King, LLC and he listed nine claims the DOJ outlined against all four defendants in their complaint.
Heil said when the Legislature amended the AWA to include exhibitors, the amendments represented “a continuing commitment by Congress to the ethic of kindness to animals.”
Judge Heil denied the motion to dismiss the case. Jeff and Lauren are due back in court September 16 for a Show Cause hearing.
Full court documents: