Baltimore; March 22, 2022: Last night, small business owners and mental health professionals in Hawaii filed a lawsuit challenging the National Marine Fisheries Service’s ban on swimming with dolphins in Hawaii. The Hawaii-specific regulation prohibits people, vessels, and objects from swimming with, or coming within 50 yards of, dolphins—even when the dolphins themselves approach swimmers to play.

For professionals like Eliza Wille, a therapist in Kona, swimming with dolphins is an important part of her practice. This powerful form of experiential therapy draws out emotions in patients who have difficulties in traditional talk-therapy settings. The ban completely shuts down this mode of therapy, without regard for the value individuals receive from interacting with the playful animals, despite the lack of harm to Hawaii’s spinner dolphin population. The prohibition of dolphin interactions also threatens the tourism industry that relies heavily on respectful interactions with wildlife.

The rule is also unconstitutional: It was created by an agency civil servant who did not have the authority to make the rule, because he was not appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate.

“Especially when regulations have devastating implications for businesses and individuals, it is crucial that decision-makers can be held accountable,” said Pacific Legal Foundation attorney Michael Poon. “Under the Constitution, issuing regulations is the job of appointed officials who answer to the democratic process, not low-level career bureaucrats.”

The case is Eliza Wille v. Raimondo, filed in the United States District Court for the District of Maryland.


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About Pacific Legal Foundation

Pacific Legal Foundation is a national nonprofit law firm that defends Americans threatened by government overreach and abuse. Since our founding in 1973, we challenge the government when it violates individual liberty and constitutional rights. With active cases in 34 states plus Washington, D.C., PLF represents clients in state and federal courts, with 18 wins of 20 cases litigated at the U.S. Supreme Court.

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