United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Tampa Division
ARNOLD SANSONE, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Inc. (PETA) moves for
an order transferring two tigers-Luna and Remington-from the
Endangered Animal Rescue Sanctuary, Inc. (EARS) to the
Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge (Turpentine Creek). (Doc.
292). Neither EARS nor Turpentine Creek oppose the motion,
but Stearns Zoological Rescue & Rehab Center, Inc. d/b/a
Dade City's Wild Things, Kathryn P. Stearns, and Randall
E. Stearns (collectively, DCWT) oppose the motion. (Doc.
2017, DCWT and nonparty Kenneth Stearns transferred
twenty-four of their tigers to other wildlife facilities to
lower their tiger inventory prior to a court-ordered site
inspection. (See Doc. 282). DCWT and Mr. Stearns
transferred four of those tigers-Luna, Remington, Rory, and
Rajah- to EARS, a facility managed by Gail Bowen in Citra,
Florida. DCWT and Mr. Stearns transferred nineteen tigers to
Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park (Wynnewood) in Oklahoma.
November 2017, PETA and Wynnewood jointly moved for an order
permitting the transfer of the twenty tigers at Wynnewood to
The Wild Animal Sanctuary. (Doc. 148). DCWT informed the
court that DCWT and Mr. Stearns did not object to the
transfer of the nineteen tigers. (Doc. 150). DCWT indicated
that they and Mr. Stearns “no longer had a legal
interest in these tigers” and no legal grounds to
object to the transfer. (Id.). The court ordered the
transfer of those twenty tigers from Wynnewood to The Wild
Animal Sanctuary. (Doc. 149).
February 2018, PETA moved for an order authorizing the
transfer of Luna, Remington, Rory, and Rajah from EARS to
Turpentine Creek. (Doc. 195). The court denied the motion
without prejudice because of the case's then-procedural
posture, which included DCWT's pending motion to dismiss
and PETA's pending motion for sanctions in the form of
default judgment. (Doc. 267). The court later denied
DCWT's motion to dismiss and the undersigned issued an
amended report and recommendation on PETA's motion for
sanctions. (Docs. 272, 282). The objections to the amended
report and recommendation are pending consideration. (Doc.
October 8, 2019, PETA learned from a former EARS employee
that earlier this year Ms. Bowen shot and killed Rory and
Rajah after they escaped from their enclosures at
EARS. (See Doc 292, Ex. 1). On October 9, 2019,
a lioness also breached her enclosure at EARS. (See Doc 292,
Ex. 3). Fortunately, the state authorities were on site for
an inspection and tranquilized the lioness and return her to
her enclosure before she could escape. (Id.).
now renews its motion for an order authorizing the donation
and transfer of Luna and Remington from EARS to Turpentine
Creek. (Doc. 292). DCWT opposes the motion. (Doc. 295). EARS
consents to the donation and transfer. (Doc. 292, Ex. 6,
90:18-20; Doc. 195-1).
asserts that the donation and transfer of Luna and Remington
is necessary to ensuring the continued safety of the tigers
and the public. (Doc. 292). PETA claims DCWT relinquished any
right to Luna and Remington when it donated them to EARS as
part of its plan to violate this court's orders and
deprive PETA the ability to inspect the tigers as they
existed at DCWT. (Id.).
response, DCWT argues the escape of Rory and Rajah is
inconsequential to PETA's motion to transfer because it
occurred nearly a year ago and was caused by unusual
circumstances. (Doc. 295). DCWT contends Luna and Remington
are at EARS on bailment, not as a donation. (Id.).
Thus, DCWT contends, the donation and transfer of Luna and
Remington is unlawful and a violation of Kenneth Stearns'
due process rights. (Id.).
to DCWT's argument, the official paperwork marked the
exchange of Luna and Remington as a “Donation”
and not an “Exchange or Transfer.” (Doc. 292, Ex.
5). The paperwork also lists Kenneth Stearns as the
“Seller or Donor” and EARS as the “Buyer or
Florida law, bailment is defined as the delivery of
personalty for some particular purpose, or on mere deposit,
upon a contract, express or implied, that after the purpose
has been fulfilled it shall be redelivered to the person who
delivered it...” Affiliated FM Ins. Co. v.
Dependable Warehousing & Distribution, Inc., 303
F.Supp.3d 1329, 1331 (S.D. Fla. 2018) (citation omitted).
DCWT transferred twenty-four tigers, including Luna and
Remington, for the unlawful purpose of lowering its tiger
inventory to limit what PETA would see at a court-ordered
site inspection. (Doc. 292, Ex. 6, 49:20-50:24, 85:1-87:7)
(Bowen testified both Kathy Stearns and Kenneth Stearns
admitted they transferred the tigers to EARS to avoid the
court-ordered site inspection). DCWT donated nineteen of
those tigers to Wynnewood in Oklahoma. A few months later,
Wynnewood transferred those tigers to The Wild Animal
Sanctuary with no objection by DCWT or Mr. Stearns. (Doc.
has not compensated EARS or otherwise helped with any
expenses for EARS having Luna and Remington for the past two
and a half years. Although Bowen testified that she had
boarded other peoples' tigers in the past, she stated she
was not boarding DCWT's tigers. (Doc. 292, Ex. 6,
90:3-114). Instead, Bowen testified that she considered the
tigers to be hers (Id. at 61:13-16, 83:14-17,
90:15-17) but would return the tigers if DCWT asked.
(Id. at 83:14-17, 141:2-4, 14-24). The testimony
does not support what a bailment would require-that the
delivery of Luna and Remington to EARS was for a particular
purpose and, after the purpose has been fulfilled, EARS ...