Who Will Handle the 16 Tigers?

TAMPA (CN) – A company that exhibits 16 white circus tigers claims in court that Uncle Sam cost it $672,000 when it reneged on its permission to employ a trainer with a revoked license.
     The Hawthorn Corp. sued three officials in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), in Federal Court.
     The dispute involves Lancelot Kollman, whom Hawthorn hired in 2012 to train and exhibit its 16 white tigers. Kollman is not a party to the complaint.
     Named as defendants are Dr. Chester Gipson, deputy administrator of animal care for APHIS, and two APHIS veterinarians.
     After it passed inspections “repeatedly,” Hawthorn claims, APHIS told it that it could not employ a trainer with a revoked license – which caused a client to back out of a 96-week contract.
     “Hawthorn’s representatives knew that Kollman’s own USDA exhibitor’s license had been revoked as a result of a procedural default, but Hawthorn also knew that many licensed exhibitors hire unlicensed individuals to handle and present their animals,” the company says in its complaint. “Thus, Hawthorn (and Kollman) reasonably understood that even though Kollman was not licensed, he could train and present Hawthorn’s tigers so long as he was Hawthorn’s employee.” (Parentheses in complaint.)
     “APHIS inspectors, in fact, repeatedly inspected Hawthorn’s tigers with Kollman present and reported no violations, further leading Hawthorn to believe that Kollman was free to work for Hawthorn or another licensee,” according to the complaint.
     Hawthorn says it entered into a contract to exhibit its tiger act with nonparty Soul Circus, which agreed to pay $7,000 a week, from Jan. 18, 2013 until Nov. 24, 2014 for a total of $672,000.
     “Soul Circus was aware that Kollman’s license had been revoked, and it therefore contacted defendant Gipson to seek reassurance from APHIS that Kollman was allowed to present the tiger act under Hawthorn’s license,” the complaint states. “Gipson subsequently stated that even though Kollman and Hawthorn had repeatedly passed his agency’s inspections, Kollman was not permitted to handle or present Hawthorn’s tigers, even as a Hawthorn employee, because his license had been revoked.
     ” As a result of defendant Gipson’s about face, Soul Circus rescinded its contract with Hawthorn and Hawthorn was forced to incur substantial costs, including but not limited to approximately 7,000 pounds of meat to feed the tigers, freight costs, additional handlers, and sawdust. The tigers remain in Illinois, where they generate no income for Hawthorn.”
     Hawthorn seeks damages for negligence, lost income, and transportation and upkeep costs of the tigers.
     Hawthorn is represented by William Cook, with Barker, Rodems & Cook.

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