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Federal judge dismisses challenge to deer, elk ban

LOUISVILLE — A federal judge has dismissed a challenge to Kentucky's ban on transporting deer and elk into the state, saying the lawsuit was premature because a state court has already struck down the law.

U.S. District Judge Danny Reeves on Tuesday at least temporarily turned away a challenge to the law brought by the North American Deer Farmers Association.

Reeves, who is based in Frankfort, cited a ruling in April by McCracken Circuit Judge Craig Clymer that said the law was vague and therefore unconstitutional. Until there's a final appellate ruling on the law in state court, any federal challenge is untimely, Reeves said.

Reeves wrote that it's uncertain whether the law would be enforced if members tried to transport deer and elk along Kentucky roadways.

The dispute arose in September 2007 after officers from the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife arrested Timothy Cory Looper of Livingston, Tenn., as he passed west of Paducah with a load of elk and deer.

The animals were headed from Hostetler Wildlife Farms in Miller, Mo., and destined for a hunting lodge in Tennessee, but the state destroyed the animals.

Looper was charged with six felony counts of illegally importing elk and deer into Kentucky. Looper challenged the indictment and law in state court and the Lake City, Minn.-based deer farmers association attacked the law in federal court.

Kentucky state law banned the importation of elk and deer to protect the state's elk and white-tailed deer herds from chronic wasting disease. State officials had enforced the law to prohibit anyone from bringing deer or elk across state lines, even if the animals were destined for another state.

Violating the law is a felony, punishable by up to $10,000 in fines and five years in prison.

Looper attacked the law as being vague because it doesn't give fair notice of what activities are prohibited or include language that would prevent arbitrary enforcement.

The deer farmers attacked the law on the grounds that it violates the Commerce Clause of the Constitution.

Lawyers for the state asked Reeves to dismiss the challenge in federal court because the constitutionality of the law was being questioned in state court and a final ruling had not been handed down.