USARK FL and Florida Business Owners Sue Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Over Due Process Violations
Today (May 28, 2021), the United States Association of Reptile Keepers, Florida (USARK FL), along with several Florida business owners, filed a lawsuit in state court challenging the adoption of new rules by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) that ban the ownership and commercial breeding of 16 reptile species, with extremely narrow and temporary exemptions for only tegus and green iguanas, notwithstanding the success of the prior regulations which had authorized that conduct for more than a decade.
The lawsuit contends that FWC did not follow its own due process procedures when banning the commercial pet trade of these reptiles. Specifically, FWC “failed to afford Plaintiffs [a] requested draw-out proceeding”—an administrative hearing “specifically designed to ensure credible, scientific data supports [FWC’s] classification of species; failed to prepare a statement of estimated regulatory costs that complies with [FWC’s] own due process procedures; [and] failed to consider and adopt less costly regulatory alternatives that would accomplish [FWC’s] objectives” without destroying an entire industry, among other failures.
Currently, the reptile industry in Florida generates approximately $160 million in revenue to the state. These new rules will force hundreds of Florida reptile businesses to either shutter their doors or leave the state, and in some instances require individuals to give up animals they have raised from birth and consider as pets.
Phil Goss, President of the national USARK organization, said, “Common sense walked off a cliff with this latest action by FWC. It has been proven for over a decade that the Conditional Species program, not the Prohibited listing, does in fact ‘close the barn door’ for species listed as Conditional. However, this Prohibited Species proposal is uncharted territory for species commonly found in trade and has a much greater chance of creating problems, including a new black market and planned releases, rather than stopping them.”
“Many of our members came to Florida because of the business-friendly environment the Governor and legislative leaders have cultivated,” stated Elizabeth Wisneski, President of USARK FL. “These new rules by the FWC, which eliminated a successful and highly-regulated permit program for these reptiles and implemented an outright ban, will have devastating consequences for small mom-and-pop businesses in our industry, at a time when we are just getting back on our feet.”
Two plaintiffs, Michelle Watts and John McHugh, said, “We relocated to Florida just last year and came into compliance with the restrictive FWC regulations. Now we are forced to move again, as we will not surrender or euthanize our animals. These animals are both our lives and our business, and now FWC has forced our family to suffer extreme emotional and financial duress without any attempt to discuss or consider the effects of the new rules on us.”
USARK FL Government Affairs Director Eugene Bessette remembers far different times in Florida. “All we asked for was a fair shake and we did not get it. I have owned a reptile business for over 40 years in Florida. FWC historically collaborated with us responsible businesses but those days are gone. Rather than the teamwork that once existed to allow sensible dialogue, we now have a shift to unreasonable rules and an unwillingness to consider those affected. As disappointed as we are, it must be clear that we are not against regulation but we do oppose government overreach We will always offer our expertise to collaborate with FWC to do what is best for Florida and our environment.”
A copy of the complaint is available HERE.
A copy of the motion for temporary injunction is available HERE.
What can you do?
Currently, we need donations! This lawsuit will be expensive and we have retained one of Florida's top law firms, Holland & Knight, who prevailed on our lawsuit in 2020 to repeal the legislation that passed as Senate Bill 1414. We could not have a better firm and team representing us!
How to donate:
1. via our website at USARK FL - Donate
2. mail checks made out to USARK FL to:
4525 S Florida Ave. #22
Lakeland, FL 33813