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Matter of Nonhuman Rights Project v Stanley

This is the latest in a series of habeas corpus petitions, uniformly unsuccessful but notable nonetheless, brought by the Nonhuman Rights Project in an effort to have various captive chimpanzees recognized as “persons.” The strategy is that granting habeas relief to chimps necessarily entails recognition of their personhood, since habeas relief is available only to “persons.” As with the others, this petition has been dismissed, but this time not without achieving the minor victory of having obtained a hearing on the merits.

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I have previously reported attempts by the Nonhuman Rights Project to have chimpanzees recognized as legal persons, through the vehicle of writs of habeas corpus. (here and here) Well, here we go again.

The New York Times reported yesterday that a judge in Supreme Court, New York County has signed an Order to Show Cause for a writ of habeas corpus relating to Hercules and Leo, two chimpanzees kept at SUNY Stony Brook. The petition is at least the fourth such brought by the Nonhuman Rights Project, one in each Department. The main argument made in the petitions is that chimpanzees, being undeniably sentient, intelligent beings, are “persons” within the meaning of the Great Writ of habeas corpus, and are therefore entitled to its protections. As the article properly notes, merely signing the Order to Show Cause is not an indication that the judge will ultimately grant the writ and declare the chimpanzees to be legal persons. The initial press release by the Nonhuman Rights Project trumpeted the claim that by signing the Order to Show Cause, the court necessarily recognized the humanity of Hercules and Leo. That seems an overly optimistic reading. As if to underscore that point, the judge later amended the order by striking the words “& WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS”. Still, this is the first time one of these proposed Orders to Show Cause has actually been signed, and therefore the first time one will reach the stage of a hearing.  Read More

Matter of The Nonhuman Rights Project, Inc. v Presti,

___ AD3d ___, ___ NYS2d ___, 2015 NY Slip Op 00085
Last week I reported the decision of the Third Department rejecting habeas corpus relief for Tommy the chimpanzee. The court held squarely that chimps, regardless of their cognitive abilities, are not “persons” within the meaning of CPLR 7002, and that it would be inappropriate to confer legal rights on them. The Fourth Department here rejects a similar petition on behalf of a chimp named Kiko, but on entirely different grounds. Assuming, for the sake of argument, both that Kiko is a “person” and that the petitioner have standing to seek habeas relief on his behalf, the petition would still be denied on settled principles. The petitioner sought only to have Kiko transferred to a different facility, not to have him released. Habeas corpus does not lie where the challenge is to the conditions of confinement rather than the confinement itself, or where the subject of the proceeding would not be entitled to immediate release.

The petitioner, the Nonhuman Rights Project, maintains a blog, with a fascinating post here concerning the reasons for the trio of New York habeas petitions, and another here concerning the status of the Argentinian proceeding reported in several (apparently overblown) news stories. The Argentinian court did not recognize an orangutan as a legal person.

People ex rel. Nonhuman Rights Project, Inc. v Lavery , ___ AD3d ___, ___ NYS2d ___, 2014 NY Slip Op 08531 [3rd Dept., 2014]

The newspapers have recently reported that an Argentinian court has extended the right to habeas corpus relief to an orangutan.
Here the Third Department rejected a similar petition to extend habeas corpus rights to a chimpanzee named Tommy, but gave it serious consideration on the merits instead of rejecting it out of hand.
The court noted that habeas relief has never been extended to non-human entities. That does not end the discussion, however, for the history of the Great Writ has been one of gradual extension of its reach, in large part due to its flexibility and the very vagueness with which it is expressed in the statute. As grounds for rejecting it in this case, the court pointed to the nature of the social contract, which balances rights against duties and responsibilities. Legal “personhood” is defined in terms of both rights and duties. Since it cannot be said that chimpanzees can bear any legal duties or be held legally accountable for their actions, it would be in the court’s view inappropriate to confer legal rights on them, such as the liberty rights which are the focus of habeas relief. To the extent that the petitioners viewed the rights governing the confinement of animals generally as inappropriate, their redress had to be through the Legislature and not habeas corpus. Read More