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.’”