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Not monkey business - Chimpanzees are not persons


In March 2018, I wrote a blog post about a New York attorney who was arguing that chimpanzees should be treated as a legal persons for purposes of habeas corpus.

A few days ago, on June 8th, the New York state appellate court, the Supreme Court, Appellate Division, First Judicial Department ruled against the petitioner attorney (see Matter of Nonhuman Rights Project, Inc. v. Lavery, 2017 NY Slip Op 04574). In its ruling, the appellate court stated:

The gravamen of petitioner's argument that chimpanzees are entitled to habeas relief is that the human-like characteristics of chimpanzees render them "persons" for purposes of CPLR article 70. This position is without legal support or legal precedent.

The court found that:

petitioner does not cite any sources indicating that the United States or New York Constitutions were intended to protect nonhuman animals' rights to liberty, or that the Legislature intended the term "person" in CPLR article 70 to expand the availability of habeas protection beyond humans. No precedent exists, under New York law, or English common law, for a finding that a chimpanzee could be considered a "person" and entitled to habeas relief. In fact, habeas relief has never been found applicable to any animal.

The court dispatched the argument that other jurisdictions have recognized non-human entities to be 'persons' stating:

Petitioner's additional argument that "person" need not mean "human," as evidenced by a river in New Zealand designated as a legal person owning its own riverbed pursuant to a public agreement with indigenous peoples of New Zealand and pre-independence Indian court decisions recognizing various sacred entities as legal persons is not relevant to the definition of "person" here in the United States and certainly is of no guidance to the entitlement of habeas relief by nonhumans in New York.

The court found an additional problem with the requested relief:

Even assuming, however, that habeas relief is potentially available to chimpanzees, the common-law writ of habeas corpus does not lie on behalf of the two chimpanzees at issue in these proceedings.... Since petitioner does not challenge the legality of the chimpanzees' detention, but merely seeks their transfer to a different facility, habeas relief was properly denied by the motion court.

The court then went on to acknowledge the petitioner's goals, but referred them to the legislative process stating:

While petitioner's avowed mission is certainly laudable, the according of any fundamental legal rights to animals, including entitlement to habeas relief, is an issue better suited to the legislative process.

#personhood

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