KEY WEST — The fabled cats at the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum, many of them the six-toed variety that the author favored, are still living in legal limbo after a federal judge last week dismissed the attraction’s lawsuit seeking to define their status.
Cara Higgins, an attorney for the Key West landmark where about 50 of the cats descended from Hemingway’s polydactyls live, said the owner is mulling whether to appeal or ask for a rehearing.
The Department of Agriculture, meanwhile, is continuing to pursue an administrative complaint against the museum.
Filed a month after the June lawsuit, the complaint alleges that the museum violated the Animal Welfare Act by exhibiting the free-roaming felines without a license and by failing to contain them on the Hemingway compound.
If found guilty, the attraction could face a fine of $3,750 per violation per day, USDA spokesman Darby Holladay said.
In last week’s decision, U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore ruled that sovereign immunity laws protect the USDA from a suit and dismissed the museum’s legal challenge. His order came after an assistant U.S. attorney argued that the attraction had not exhausted its administrative appeals and hearings and chose the wrong venue to pursue its claims.
The suit asked the judge to decide whether the animal-welfare law applied to the cats, and if so, to rule that a 6-foot brick wall Hemingway built in 1937 met the “containment” requirements.