9th Circuit Rejects Big Game Hunters’ Appeal

     (CN) – The 9th Circuit on Friday rejected the forfeiture appeals of two big-game hunters who attempted to import the skins and skulls of African leopards into the United States without proper permits.
     The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service seized the trophies in San Francisco on two separate occasions. Hunters Patricio Miguel Madero Blasquez and Colin Crook both bagged their big cats while hunting in Africa in 2007. Blasquez hunted in Zambia with a tour company, and Crook killed his leopard in Namibia, according to the ruling.
     Blasquez tried to import the skin and skull of his leopard home without a permit, claiming that the Zambians had lost it. A copy of the permit sent from Zambia a month later lacked a signature and was a copy of the original, Fish and Wildlife said. Crook attempted to import his trophy about eight months after the hunt. The agency said his Namibian permit had expired.
     Under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, it’s illegal to import leopards, whether alive or dead, into the country without a proper permit. The African leopard is one of 30,000 species of animals and plants protected from overexploitation by the agreement.
     Officials seized both trophies, and later denied the hunters’ petitions to have them returned.
     With the help of the Louisiana-based Conservation Force, a nonprofit group that supports hunting and fishing rights, Blasquez and Crook sued the agency and several federal officials in California District Court for violations of the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2000, the Eighth Amendment and the Due Process Clause.
     U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction and failure to state a claim. A three-judge panel of the federal appeals court affirmed unanimously in a ruling Friday.
     Since both Blasquez and Crook chose to appeal the forfeitures via the administrative route, rather than suing in Federal Court, they have no further path to relief, the panel found.
     “If a party pursues the administrative path, files a petition for remission, and the petition is denied, the only avenue to set aside the declaration of forfeiture is if the notice of forfeiture was not received,” wrote Judge Procter Hug for the San Francisco-based appeals panel. “This is the exclusive remedy after pursuing the administrative path for setting aside a forfeiture decision by the Office of the Solicitor.”
     The hunters “received proper notice of the proposed forfeitures,”
     chose to file petitions for return rather than a legal claim, and those petitions were denied. That’s the end of it, the panel ruled.
     “Because plaintiffs chose to pursue administrative remedies,” Hug wrote, “they waived the opportunity for judicial forfeiture proceedings.”

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