WaPo Covers Animal Personhood Case in Oregon

The Washington Post reported on a lawsuit in Oregon that could have ramifications for the animal personhood movement, filed by the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF). A horse, formerly named Shadow, now re-named Justice, was found to be severely underweight and ill at a veterinarian exam last year. Its previous owner pled guilty to criminal neglect last summer.

Now, the ALDF has filed a lawsuit against the former owner, in the horse’s name. The lawsuit is claiming negligence and is seeking $100,000 in damages for pain and suffering. Animal personhood could have sweeping and disastrous effects on biomedical research, agriculture, and pet ownership.

There have been numerous previous attempts to obtain legal personhood for nonhuman primates (NHPs), and more recently, elephants. The elephant personhood lawsuit in Connecticut has so far been a failure for animal rights activists, though the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) is seeking a review of the Superior Court Decision. Many readers will remember the infamous “monkey selfie” case, brought by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), which ultimately failed to grant copywrite rights to nonhumans.

Matthew Liebman, Director of Litigation at ALDF, told WaPo that he hoped this case would be different: “There have been a lot of efforts to try to get animals not only to be protected but to have the right to go to court when their rights are violated. Those haven’t found the right key to the courthouse door. And we’re hopeful that this is the key.”

However, animal law experts, like Richard L. Cupp, a Pepperdine University law professor, have argued that these types of personhood lawsuits are extreme and dangerous. If any animal protected under Oregon’s anti-cruelty law can have a lawsuit filed on their behalf, animal litigation could overwhelm the courts. Cupp expounds on the point, “Once you say a horse or dog or cat can personally sue over being abused, it’s not too big a jump to say, ‘Well, we’re kind of establishing that they’re legal persons with that.’”

NhRP Files Second Habeas Petition on Behalf of Elephants

The Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) is making a second attempt to remove three elephants from a Goshen, CT petting zoo. In their habeas corpus petition on behalf of the elephants, NhRP claims the animals are autonomous beings which deserve bodily freedom. NhRP seeks to remove the elephants from the zoo and relocate them to a California-based sanctuary.

A previous ruling by Litchfield Superior Court Judge James Bentivegna in December of 2017 stated NhRP’s first attempt at habeas corpus for the elephants was “wholly frivolous” and NhRP had no standing in the state of Connecticut. NhRP founder and attorney, Steven Wise, is pinning his hopes on a recent opinion from a New York Court of Appeals ruling from May. In the May ruling, the court refused to grant a pair of chimpanzees personhood however Judge Fahey wrote in a concurring opinion, “While it may be arguable that a chimpanzee is not a ‘person,’ there is no doubt that it is not merely a thing.”

The goal of NhRP is to find a court which is willing to assert that animals have the same legal protections as humans, which would likely open a Pandora’s Box of problems for the animal research community should the effort succeed. Wise and the NhRP have been largely unsuccessful thus far in their efforts. However, the research community should be cognizant of the fact that these legal attempts to grant animals personhood will continue, and will negatively impact, or halt, research if they are not defeated.

Court Ruling on PETA ‘Monkey Selfie’ Case

As CNN said, “Monkey ©. Monkey don't.” On Monday, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit upheld a lower court ruling that monkeys can’t own copyrights or bring copyright infringement suits. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) brought the case forward on behalf of Naruto, the Indonesian macaque who became a sensation when he snapped a selfie with the unattended camera of wildlife photographer David J. Slater.

The level of criticism the court leveled against PETA was surprising. According to the court, PETA “failed” as a friend of Naruto noting, “Puzzlingly, while representing to the world that ‘animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, use for entertainment or abuse in any other way,’ PETA seems to employ Naruto as an unwitting pawn in its ideological goals.”

Slater, who reached a settlement with PETA in October to donate 25% of earnings from his book to charities “that protect the habitat of Naruto and other crested macaques in Indonesia,” told the Washington Post he was “thoroughly delighted” with the outcome of the case and that attorneys’ fees were granted.

Time, USA Today, and NPR also covered the ruling.

Should Chimps Have Same Legal Rights as People? NYU Professor Thinks So.

The Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) submitted an amicus brief in the State of New York Court of Appeals on February 23 arguing that two chimpanzees, Kiko and Tommy, should be granted habeas corpus, or legal personhood. The brief was signed by 16 people including New York University (NYU) Professor Jeff Sebo. Sebo told the Washington Square News, NYU’s independent student newspaper, “I think that personhood should be based on features such as conscious experience which are widely shared on the phylogenetic tree, which many non-human animals have, independently of how intelligent they happen to be or how similar to humans they happen to be.” NABR Update readers will recall, NhRP lost a similar lawsuit in February of last year and July of 2015. Another New York case was dismissed in 2014. According to her quote in the student newspaper, Vice President at The Primate Sanctuary, Carmen Presti, is not concerned, saying that NhRP has, “lost every case in court, and it’s just a waste of my time and taxpayers’ money.” Presti added, “It’s beating a dead horse. They keep trying different angles, and they just keep losing.” To read the news coverage of this amicus brief, please click here.

NhRP submitted last week a Motion for Articulation with the Connecticut Appellate Court regarding their case for personhood for three Connecticut elephants. “Through our Motion, we are asking the Superior Court to adequately explain its reasoning with reference to specific Connecticut judicial precedent, rules, or statutes,” wrote NhRP in their blog. The Motion filed last week follows their March 16, 2018 Notice of Appeal when a judge ruled to deny the elephants personhood.

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).

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.