12:58, August 15 152 0 abajournal.com

2019-08-15 12:58:05
Tony the truck-stop tiger wasn’t an individual under FOIA, 9th Circuit rules

Tony the Tiger

Tony the tiger in 2012. Photo by Cult Gigolo/Flickr

A captive tiger named Tony wasn’t an individual under a Freedom of Information Act provision that allows expedited processing of some records requests, a federal appeals court has ruled.

The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the position of the Animal Legal Defense Fund, which wanted the U.S. Department of Agriculture to quickly release records about an inspection to determine whether Tony was getting adequate care. How Appealing noted the Aug. 12 decision.

At issue was a FOIA provision that allows expedited processing when a failure to quickly obtain records “could reasonably be expected to pose an imminent threat to the life or physical safety of an individual.”

The dispute has outlived Tony.

Tony had lived in an enclosure at a truck stop near Baton Rouge for 17 years until his owner euthanized him in October 2017 because of kidney failure. Tony was replaced with Caspar the friendly white camel, the Advocate reported last year.

Before Tony’s death, the Animal Legal Defense Fund had learned from a veterinarian that he was suffering from serious health issues. The animal rights group asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture in April 2017 to conduct an inspection under the Animal Welfare Act.

The USDA informed the group that it would have to file a freedom of information request to obtain its findings. Inspection reports had previously been posted online, but a policy change enacted in February 2017 did not allow posting of reports that had not received a final adjudication. Those reports were available only through FOIA requests.

The ALDF submitted its FOIA request in May 2017 and requested expedited processing. The request was denied on the basis that Tony was not an individual. The USDA released four pages of records in August 2017 and 43 more pages of records four days after Tony’s death.

The 9th Circuit ruled for the USDA, noting a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision that found the term “individual” in another federal law referred to a “natural person” rather than a group.

“We do not deny that animal welfare is an important goal that has been recognized by Congress in a variety of statutes,” the 9th Circuit said in an opinion by Judge William Fletcher. “It has not, however, been recognized in FOIA’s expedited processing provision.”

The case is Animal Legal Defense Fund v. U.S. Department of Agriculture.