Houston Aquarium seeks to dismiss tiger suit, says 'only standards' the aquarium does not meet are plaintiff’s

By Elizabeth Alt | Dec 18, 2017

HOUSTON – The Houston Aquarium and Landry's Inc. have filed a motion to dismiss a Texas woman's suit alleging that the tigers at the Downtown Aquarium are being mistreated.

HOUSTON – The Houston Aquarium and Landry's Inc. have filed a motion to dismiss a Texas woman's suit alleging that the tigers at the Downtown Aquarium are being mistreated.

Claiming that “the aquarium is a highly regulated facility that provides humane care for its animals,” the defendants filed their motion Dec. 4 in the Houston Division of the Southern District of Texas.

Conley filed her suit in September. The motion to dismiss says plaintiff Conley failed to state a claim for an Endangered Species Act (ESA) violation, that her complaint lacks a cognizable injury for Article III standing, has failed to allege harm and adequately allege harassment. Conley’s complaint seeks declaratory and injunctive relief, costs and attorneys’ fees.

Conley filed suit against Houston Aquarium earlier in 2017, but notified the defendants of her intent to sue back in 2016. A state-licensed animal rehabilitator and board member for several local wildlife organizations, Conley’s complaint alleges that the four tigers have been kept in inhumane conditions that have injured them and disrupted their behavior patterns. Conley claims that the tigers have not been outside in more than 10 years, and are kept in small metal cages with hard floors and only small windows for sun. Conley alleged that the conditions are not only violations of the ESA, but completely unacceptable by zoo standards and by the Animal Welfare Act. 

The aquarium says that it follows expert agreed practices for the care of its tigers, noting that because Conley is not an authorized export or doctor is just one reason her complaints should be dismissed.

“The aquarium also voluntarily assumes additional obligations beyond federal statutory and regulatory standards by submitting to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums ('AZA')’s additional accreditation requirements, something that is undertaken by less than 10 percent of American zoos… (Plaintiff’s allegation) amounts to a claim that she has such a strong connection with the aquarium tigers after seeing them just one time that her aesthetic sensibilities are and will continue to be injured by their treatment, and that the owners of the aquarium have somehow committed an illegal 'take' of their tigers, despite never being out of compliance.”

In the motion to dismiss, the aquarium states that Conley only saw the tigers once at the aquarium. The motion states Conley’s claims that she is offended or harmed by the tigers’ alleged ill treatment, “that she is ‘drawn’ to tigers or that she ‘felt a strong connection’ to the tigers during her one visit, are not sufficient to establish the type of connection necessary for a true aesthetic injury” under Article III. The aquarium claims Conley does not pinpoint normal behavioral patterns for captive tigers or allege any actual harm, just the possibility of the two, and thus can’t claim that the aquarium’s cages have caused actual harm or disruption.

The aquarium states in its motion, “The only 'standards' the aquarium does not meet are plaintiff’s. Non-compliance with plaintiff’s personal views, however, is not an ESA 'take.'"

Conley is represented by Kristen Schlemmer of Irvine & Conner in Houston.

Houston Aquarium and Landry’s Inc. are represented by John M. Simpson, Michelle C. Pardo, Rebecca E. Bazan, Layne Kruse and Peter Tipps of Norton Rose Fulbright US LLP.

U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas Houston Division case number 4:17-cv-2877

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