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U.S. District Court Judge Kimberly Mueller (Photo: www.caed.uscourts.gov)

District Court Judge Rules California Cannot Ban Sale Of Alligator, Crocodile Products

State of Louisiana wins case after 3 years in the courts

By Evan Symon, March 9, 2023 2:00 pm

A U.S. District Court judge ruled on Wednesday that California cannot ban the sale of alligator and crocodile products, finalizing a suit that began over three years ago.

While California has had a ban on Alligator meat and skins for approximately fifty years, the state allowed exemptions over the decades. However, decreasing demand for alligator skin products in the 2010s led the state Senate and Assembly end exemptions in the 2020s, with all sales set to end December 31, 2019.

Seeing one of their largest markets about to fizzle, the state of Louisiana, the largest exporter of gator and crocodile products in the U.S., was spurred into action.

Louisiana claimed that their $245 million industry was at risk. The California ban had the potential of impacting more than $100 million from Louisiana’s annual economy and related wetland and alligator protection programs. Louisiana sued California only days before the ban was to go into effect in December 2019. U.S. District Judge Kimberly Mueller put a temporary injunction in place to allow trade to continue until the court issued its ruling.

The case progressed slowly, largely due to judicial interruptions and delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and intra-state logistics. In 2020, Judge Mueller combined Louisiana’s lawsuit with another from businesses in California, Florida, and Texas challenging the California ban. Judge Mueller made the temporary injunction more permanent, with the exemption allowed until the court made its decision.

The next year, Louisiana and proponents of the exemption were given another boost, with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service looking to remove the 12 words that let states regulate sales or transfers of “any American alligator specimen” within their boundaries.

All of this led to Judge Mueller’s ruling on Wednesday: California cannot ban the importation of alligator and crocodile products.

California’s main argument supporting regulating alligator and crocodile product activity within the state was directly challenged by the Judge, who wrote, “California is not regulating crocodile takings with its borders. Nothing in the record suggests crocodiles reside in California, migrate into California or have been introduced into California.”

The Judge also said with federal law allowing the importation, exportation, and sale of alligator products, California could not preempt the law.

Judge rules against California

The state of Louisiana, as well as the businesses in states part of the suit, celebrated their victory on Wednesday. Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry said that Judge Mueller’s ruling would not only protect one of Louisiana’s industries, but would also help the state’s alligator and wetlands conservation efforts.

“The alligator trade has directly led to the resurgence and conservation of the American alligator as well the protection and maintenance of their natural wetland habitat,” Landry said in a press release Wednesday. “California’s ban would have completely disrupted the entire supply chain – not only decimating the industry and our wetland protection programs, but also removing over $100 million from Louisiana’s annual economy.”

While Californian officials didn’t comment on the case or respond to press questions, those in the clothing business and other trades in California affected by the ban explained that the ruling would help preserve their industries as well.

“Alligator skin isn’t exactly the most used thing for clothing, but there are a lot of specialty companies that do rely on it,” Los Angeles-based materials importer Pete Wang told the Globe Thursday. “We still get some requests for it. There are those that are shocked we still have it available, but enough people like the look and the sturdiness of it to still be profitable here. And remember, a lot of alligator skin products made in California or listed by companies here are then exported out. Alligators aren’t endangered or anything, and in a way, it’s like being chastised for using leather from cows. Alligator skin is just way more niche.”

As of Thursday, it is not known if California will appeal the District Court ruling.

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