Today, Thursday, December 4, a New York appeals court unanimously affirmed the dismissal of a lawsuit seeking legal personhood for a chimpanzee. This appeal was in response to an earlier dismissal by a court in Fulton County that denied a request by the Nonhuman Rights Project for a writ of habeas corpus last December.
The Supreme Court of the New York Appellate Division, Third Judicial Department specifically pointed to the definition of “person” in Black’s Law Dictionary which defines a person as, "[a] human being" or, as relevant here, "[a]n entity (such as a corporation) that is recognized by law as having the rights and duties [of] a human being."
In affirming the dismissal, the court stated, “Needless to say, unlike human beings, chimpanzees cannot bear any legal duties, submit to societal responsibilities or be held legally accountable for their actions. In our view, it is this incapability to bear any legal responsibilities and societal duties that renders it inappropriate to confer upon chimpanzees the legal rights – such as the fundamental right to liberty protected by the writ of habeas corpus – that have been afforded to human beings.”
To support its ruling, the court also cited two law review articles authored by Pepperdine Law Professor Richard L. Cupp Jr., who presented at a NABR Webinar “Understanding Animal Legal Personhood Issues” in April. The law review articles argued that rather than creating new rights for animals, society and its laws should place greater focus on humans’ moral responsibility for our treatment of animals.
In a separate case filed by the same organization, judges in a Rochester, NY appeals court on Tuesday heard arguments that a privately owned chimpanzee in Niagara Falls should be considered a legal person with a right to “not be owned or imprisoned.” A decision is not expected in this case until early 2015.