Court: Delta Air Lines Doesn’t Have To Ship Rhino Trophy If It Doesn’t Want To

Image courtesy of Quinn Dombrowski

It’s up to you whether or not you want to spend $350,000 to hunt and kill an endangered black rhinoceros, but if you do, it doesn’t mean Delta Air Lines is obligated to ship it home for you.

U.S. District Judge Barbara M.G. Lynn said the plaintiffs, including a Texan who paid $350,000 to kill the endangered animal in Africa and a Dallas-based safari company, can’t sue Delta for refusing to ship his prize home. It can ship whatever it wants to, the judge ruled, as long as it applies that rule to all passengers across the board.

Judge Lynn said the plaintiffs “misappl[y] the equal protection” common law principle that allows common carriers to refuse to ship items, Courthouse News reports.

“Delta’s policy bans its shipment of Big Five trophies. Obviously, it does not ban the hunting of Big Five game,” the judge wrote in her opinion. “Such hunters are free to ship allowed cargo with Delta, including trophies of other game. Although, because Plaintiffs are hunters or other parties who benefit from the hunting of the Big Five, Delta’s ban negatively affects them, that impact does not mean Delta’s decision is unlawful or actionable.”

The man received a permit from Namibia’s Ministry of Environment and Tourism to kill the rhino in January 2014. Despite an outcry from animal rights groups, he killed the rhino four months later.

He filed a lawsuit against Delta in October 2015, after Delta implemented a ban on shipping Big Five trophies in response to the controversy over a Minnesota dentist killing a beloved lion named Cecil in Zimbabwe. The “Big Five” animals include lions, leopards, elephants, rhinoceros, and buffalo.

He accused Delta of robbing “wildlife habitat of its economic value, encouraging habitat conversion to agriculture, grazing, and industry, and undercutting range states’ tried-and-true conservation strategy.” The ban “jeopardizes the benefits of tourist hunting and its centrality to conservation” in Africa, he claimed.

Delta sought dismissal in January 2016, saying it was an “absurdity” for the plaintiffs to claim it has to carry Big Five trophies if it’s carrying other trophies.

“If it were true, an airline that accepted hunting shotguns as checked baggage would also have to accept AK-47s and grenade launchers,” Delta’s dismissal motion stated. “Not surprisingly, the case law rejects this position.”

The judge dismissed the plaintiffs’ claim of tortious interference — a claim for damages against a defendant who wrongfully interferes with the plaintiff’s contractual or business relationship — on Monday, along with the rest of the case entirely.

“Although plaintiffs correctly conclude that claims arising out of defamatory conduct would not usually relate to an airline’s service, plaintiffs’ tortious interference claim in this case does relate to Delta’s services,” the opinion states. “There is, in fact, no defamatory statement alleged. Delta merely altered the scope of its services by refusing to transport a designated kind of commodity — Big Five trophies. It never said the hunting or transport of such species was unlawful.”

Delta Airlines Need Not Transport Rhino Trophy [Courthouse News]

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.