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.

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.

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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