As promised in October 2015, SeaWorld LLC dba SeaWorld San Diego has commenced litigation against the California Coastal Commission over a decision to condition SeaWorld’s new orca enclosure on numerous onerous conditions, including those that dealt with the husbandry practices and transportation restrictions of the orcas. The initial Petition for Writ of Mandate and Complaint for Declaratory Relief was filed on Tuesday, December 29, 2015 after an agreement by the parties to extend the time period for which SeaWorld had to file its lawsuit.
In its Petition for Writ of Mandate and Complaint for Declaratory Relief, SeaWorld alleges that the “Coastal Commission process became unhinged,” which led to an “extraordinary condition” being imposed on the park. Namely, the Coastal Commission decided that “SeaWorld could receive its permit to expand the orca pools only if it agreed to never allow another orca to breed at its San Diego park and to never transfer an orca to or from its park.” (Petition for Writ at pg.3). According to SeaWorld, such an extreme condition is “unprecedented” and “plainly illegal” because the Coastal Commission’s jurisdiction “does not extend to the care, breeding or transport of the SeaWorld orcas because the orcas are not, in any way, part of the coastal or marine environment.” (Petition for Writ at pg. 3). Additionally, SeaWorld alleges that the “no breeding or transport” condition is illegal on the basis that it is preempted by federal law – the Marine Mammal Protection Act (16 U.S.C. Section 1361 et seq.) in conjunction with the Animal Welfare Act of 1970 (7 U.S.C. Section 2131 et seq.). (Petition for Writ at pg. 4).
In response to SeaWorld’s lawsuit, the Coastal Commission stated that it “stands by its decision in October to protect killer whales,” but had no other comment with regard to the current proceedings. The Coastal Commission has yet to file a responsive pleading in the litigation.
Although this blog previously highlighted this apparent power-grab back in October, it will certainly be interesting to follow these legal proceedings as they continue into 2016. This case will serve as a test to the see whether the Coastal Commission simply exists to “regulate development within the coastal zone and to preserve, protect, and restore the coastal resources of California” or whether its’ powers are much greater than granted under the Coastal Act.
L. Sue Loftin is the Founder and Shareholder of The Loftin Firm. For questions relating to this blog or any other California real estate, corporate governance, land use, or estate planning matter, contact Ms. Loftin at 760-814-9649.