Legal Scholars Taking a Look at Chimps’ Personhood

The recent court cases brought by the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) have started to garner attention, not only from animal activists and the research sector, but from the general public as well.  Recently, Matthew Goldberg, a Boston-area writer who has been featured in the Federalist and New Boston Post, wrote a thought-provoking opinion piece on the subject.

In his article, Goldberg discussed the difference between legal rights and duties, which was a major focus  of the court in its most recent decision. The court explained that NhRP’s personhood argument is specious—chimps cannot have the legal right to exist without potential use as research subjects precisely because they also cannot, for example, pay a parking ticket or serve a prison sentence for mauling another chimp (or human for that matter).

Goldberg addressed another argument by NhRP, that primate intelligence warrants legal personhood explaining the potential for the use of that precedent to deny rights to humans with limited intelligence or cognitive impairment.

The article seems to conflate rights—to which animals are entitled, as, for example, undergirds laws against animal cruelty—with full personhood, to which animals are not entitled because they are not capable of fulfilling the attendant legal duties.

Goldberg asked thoughtful questions in this piece, leaving room for more dialogue on the subject and possibly signifying increased public attention to and interest in personhood arguments (as will play out again in NhRP’s appeal).

Animal Extremist Sentenced for Violating the AETA

As we reported on January 4, Nicole Kissane pled guilty to the charge of conspiracy to violate the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA). Yesterday she was sentenced to 21 months in prison and $423,000 in restitution. Her accomplice, Joseph Buddenberg, was sentenced in May of last year to two years in federal prison and to $398,272 in restitution payments.

The two were arrested in July 2014 for their involvement in a months-long campaign of animal extremism by vandalizing property and illegally releasing mink from farms in five separate states.

In 2008, Buddenberg was charged in California for alleged illegal activity against researchers, but the charges were dropped two years later.

Found to be constitutional by numerous federal courts, enforcement of the AETA has been an effective law in deterring campaigns of violence against biomedical researchers, their families, and their institutions.

Another Extremist Reaches Plea Deal in AETA Case

Last week Nicole Kissane pleaded guilty to the charge of conspiracy to violate the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA). She joins codefendant Joseph Buddenberg who pleaded guilty to the same charge last year in connection to a campaign of animal extremism against the fur industry.

Kissane and Buddenberg were arrested in July 2014 for their participation in a cross-country campaign of vandalism against the fur industry which included the release of mink from farms. Their months-long crime spree covered 40,000 miles of travel over five states. A Newsweek article, Animal Activists Are Shouting out Their Crimes Online, gives more background on Buddenberg and Kissane, as well as other extremists boasting about their actions anonymously. Buddenberg once faced charges in California for alleged illegal activity against researchers in 2008 but they were dismissed in 2010.

According to news coverage by ABC News, it is expected that prosecutors will recommend an 18-month sentence. She has agreed to pay more than $420,000 in restitution. Buddenberg was sentenced in May to two years in federal prison and must pay $398,272 in restitution. For more news coverage of Kissane’s plea, please see the San Diego Union-Tribune story by clicking here.

The AETA has been found constitutional by the courts numerous times and has been influential in deterring campaigns of violence against biomedical researchers, their families, and their institutions.

Second Activist Sentenced in AETA Case

Tyler Lang, an animal rights activist from California, was sentenced Wednesday for his involvement in the 2013 raid of a fur farm in Morris, IL.  In handing down the sentence, U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve called Tyler Lang's actions "counterproductive," noting that hundreds of the minks died and many others suffered.  Judge St. Eve sentenced Lang to three months time already served, six months of house arrest, six months community confinement and one year of supervised release. He is also required to make a $200,000 restitution payment to the farm operators.  "This is a very serious offense that caused a substantial loss to the victim. It wiped out their business and life savings," St. Eve said at Lang's sentencing hearing, reported the Chicago Tribune. "You destroyed their feelings of security and their trust of others, in addition to their business."

Lang and his partner in crime Kevin Johnson (a.k.a. Olliff) were on a cross-country journey to sabotage animal farms when they were stopped by police a few days after the Morris incident. They were arrested in possession of tools and masks while staking out a fox farm near Peoria, which they planned to sabotage as well, authorities said.  The pair was convicted of conspiracy under the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA).  Last month, Johnson received a three-year prison sentence and was ordered to make a $200,000 restitution payment.  In a statement, Lang and Johnson's support team said "Tyler and Kevin's case should be a reminder to us all that we have to show each other love and support in the face of State oppression."

Latest Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) Chimpanzee Lawsuit Rejected

A New York judge on Friday, January 29 blocked an animal rights group from pursuing a new lawsuit seeking release of a chimpanzee from a Niagara Falls sanctuary, despite support from primatologist Jane Goodall.

State Supreme Court Justice Barbara Jaffe refused to sign an order sought by Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) to force facility directors into her Manhattan courtroom to defend keeping the animal in captivity. Judge Jaffe is the same jurist who granted a hearing requiring Stony Brook University to “show cause” for maintaining two research chimpanzees. Following that hearing, the court denied NhRP’s petition for a writ of habeaus corpus and Stony Brook subsequently returned the two chimpanzees to their owner, the New Iberia Primate Research Center in Louisiana.

According to the UK Telegraph, Judge Jaffe said the group previously filed four similar petitions in other federal courts in the state and, despite the new affidavits from Goodall and others, did not show why its latest request to release the Niagara Falls chimpanzee belonged in Manhattan. Copies of NhRP documents related to this case, including new supporting affidavits, are available here.

New York’s Highest Court Deals Serious Blow to Chimpanzee “Personhood” Movement

Earlier today, the New York Court of Appeals, the state's highest court, declined to hear appeals brought forward by animal rights lawyer Stephen Wise and the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP).

Previous attempts by Wise and NhRP to seek a writ of habeas corpus for privately-owned chimpanzees had failed in lower courts. Wise argued that chimpanzees were denied their basic legal rights, comparing them to slaves and prisoners.  Previously, three justices in a midlevel court denied legal standing for chimpanzees by saying the animals "cannot bear any legal duties, submit to societal responsibilities or be held legally accountable for their actions."  Most recently, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Barbara Jaffee noted in Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) v. Stanley that, "Animals… are accorded no legal rights beyond being guaranteed the right to be free from physical abuse and other mistreatment.”

To read more about today's developments, please see the coverage by U.S. News & World Report and ABC News.

New York Judge Rules Against Habeas Corpus for Chimps

Today, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Barbara Jaffee ruled against a writ of habeas corpus for chimpanzees.

The case, Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) v. Stanley, brought forward by animal rights lawyer Stephen Wise and the NhRP, sought to establish legal rights on behalf of two chimpanzees currently located at Stony Brook University.  Wise and the NhRP had argued that these animals were denied their basic legal rights, going so far as to compare them to slaves and prisoners.

In her decision, Justice Jaffee defined "persons" as those who have "rights, duties, and obligations" and noted that, "Animals, including chimpanzees and other highly intelligent mammals, are considered as property under the law. They are accorded no legal rights beyond being guaranteed the right to be free from physical abuse and other mistreatment.” She also wrote, "The past mistreatment of humans, whether slaves, women, indigenous people or others, as property, doesn't, however, serve as a legal predicate or appropriate analogy for extending to nonhumans the status of legal personhood."

Justice Jaffee's decision is available for viewing here.

To read more about today's ruling, please see the coverage by The Wall Street JournalReuters, The New York Daily News, and The New York Post.

Please stay tuned for a more in-depth legal analysis from NABR.

ALF Destroys Animal Research-Related Trucks in Canada

Canadian Regional Police are investigating claims by the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) that it is responsible for setting fire to two trucks in west Mississauga, a suburb of Toronto, over the weekend. In an anonymous email to the ALF Press Office, the organization says it planted incendiary devices under trucks belonging to Harlan Laboratories. The ALF claims Harlan is “owned” by longtime animal rights extremist target Huntingdon Life Sciences, and the company is responsible for supplying research animals and animal feed. Police received multiple calls about a loud bang, flash of light and heavy smoke just after 3 a.m. Sunday. Officers responded and located a transport truck fully engulfed and part of another in flames behind an industrial warehouse unit. Firefighters quickly extinguished the blaze before it could spread to the warehouse. There were no injuries and no one was on scene when crews arrived, police report.

A photograph of the burning trucks and the full, anonymous email “communiqué” are available at this ALFPO link. The ALF message says in part, "This action was undertaken in order to eliminate this...company's means of transportation, to disrupt the systematic torture and murder of innocent animals, and to cause as much monetary damage as possible." The email also states, "Fortunately, news reports have said that the devices ignited successfully, damaging one truck and completely destroying the other. Our only regret is that the flames were extinguished before they had a chance to spread to Harlan’s offices."

New York Judge Amends Order in Chimpanzee ‘Personhood’ Case

Questions about the legal rights of chimpanzees, including their possible “personhood,” have received considerable media attention, beginning in the late 1990’s as the field of animal rights law began to grow more active. So when a New York judge issued an order April 20 in a case filed by the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) on behalf of two research chimpanzees, a Google News search produced nearly 150 results about it. Media outlets often parrot animal rights organizations’ interpretations of the facts, and this was all too true in this instance. A NhRP press release mistakenly claimed for the “first time in world history” a judge “recognizes two chimpanzees as legal persons and grants them writ of habeas corpus.” Many media outlets repeated these statements and/or went even further with their headlines.

It appears the New York Post was the first news organization to actually contact the court for clarification and reported that Judge Barbara Jaffe had “her principal court attorney send out an email blasting the activists’ ‘inaccurate press release’ and insisting that her order merely scheduled a May 6 hearing in the case.” She also quickly amended her written order by crossing out reference to a Writ of Habeas Corpus from the pre-printed title. The New York Daily News updated their account saying the action was a “routine determination to consider the matter [and] stopped short of implying that chimps are persons — as the group exuberantly proclaimed in a press release that got international attention.” The New York Times (subscription required) also carried a more complete, updated story. Nature published a reliable question and answer piece about the confusing legal implications. However, while some other media outlets have done second or revised reports, there are still erroneous news articles available online and new ones are appearing.

NABR’s Special Update of April 21 was correctly cautious about the New York court’s order in this case and its implications thanks to the advice of our own legal counsel and that of Pepperdine School of Law Professor Richard Cupp, who are following developments closely. In that regard, the Office of the New York Solicitor General, representing Stony Brook University in the matter, requested a postponement for submitting their response. The hearing of same is now set to take place on May 27 in Manhattan.

Chimpanzee “Personhood” Case to Have Habeas Corpus Hearing in New York

A New York judge issued an order yesterday requiring the President of the State University of New York at Stony Brook  and the university itself to show cause why an order should not be entered granting a writ of habeas corpus to two chimpanzees.  The Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) filed the Petition for the order on March 19, asking that the two research chimpanzees be immediately released from Stony Brook and transferred to Save the Chimps, a private Florida facility.  The same request had already been dismissed by a Suffolk County, NY court, and NhRP’s appeal of the decision was subsequently denied.  Rather than appealing the case further, NhRP decided to re-file their petition in Manhattan. As a result, NY State Supreme Court Justice Barbara Jaffee issued the subject order and has scheduled a hearing in New York City on May 6, or as soon thereafter as counsel can be heard.  Stony Brook, as a state institution, will be represented by the Office of the New York Attorney General.

A NhRP press release carries the headline claim, “First Time in World History Judge Recognizes Two Chimpanzees as Legal Persons, Grants them Writ of Habeas Corpus.”  However, that interpretation is debatable.  According to Science, Richard Cupp, a law professor at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California, and a noted expert on the issue of personhood for animals, cautions against reading too much into the ruling. “The judge may merely want more information to make a decision on the legal personhood claim, and may have ordered a hearing simply as a vehicle for hearing out both parties in more depth,” he said in an e-mail to Science. “It would be quite surprising if the judge intended to make a momentous substantive finding that chimpanzees are legal persons if the judge has not yet heard the other side’s arguments.”

This is the latest development in the quest of NhRP President Steven Wise to establish chimpanzees as legal persons.  Three suits were originally filed in New York in December 2013.  Thus far, none has met with success, although a final appeal in the other cases is still pending.

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