In a stunning decision, the Appellate Division of the Third Judicial Department in the State of New York denied personhood status for Tommy, the chimpanzee, expressly rejecting The Nonhuman Rights Project fundamental assertion that chimpanzees are “legal persons.”  In the Order, which upheld the lower court’s denial of a petition for a writ of habeas, the Court addressed the issue presented directly:

 “This appeal presents the novel question of whether a chimpanzee is a ‘person’ entitled to the rights and protections afforded by the writ of habeas corpus. . . . the petitioner requests that this Court enlarge the common-law definition of ‘person’ in order to afford legal rights to an animal.”  The Nonhuman Rights Project, Inc., on Behalf of Tommy v. Lavery, Case No. 518339, Slip. Op., (N.Y. App. Div. Dec. 4, 2014).

The Court declined to do so.

“Petitioner does not cite any precedent – and there appears to be none – in state law, or under English common law, that an animal could be considered a ‘person’ for the purposes of common-law habeas corpus relief. In fact, habeas corpus relief has never been provided to any nonhuman entity.”  Slip. Op. (citations omitted).

But the Court did not stop there.  It went on to discuss when, why, and how society provides rights consistent with legal personhood and what responsibilities are associated with those rights, citing to the legal scholarship of Richard L. Cupp Jr., a law professor who has written extensively on this topic.

Consistent with Cupp’s position, “[c]ase law has always recognized the correlative rights and duties that attach to legal personhood,” that non-human animals do not have.

The Court also addressed petitioner’s assertion that since non-human entities like corporations have been afforded personhood-type rights, there is no bar to do the same for non-human animals.

“Associations of human beings, such as corporations and municipal entities, may be considered legal persons, because they too bear legal duties in exchange for their legal rights.”

While ultimately rejecting that a chimpanzee should be afforded “the fundamental right to liberty protected by the writ of habeas corpus [because] unlike human beings, chimpanzees cannot bear any legal duties, submit to societal responsibilities or be held legally accountable for their actions,” the Court listed the specific legal protections that have been afforded to animals, including chimpanzees in New York. 

These “rights,” like the protection against cruel treatment, are routinely ignored by activists claiming that animals have no rights.   

Expect to see many citations to this decision in response to other lawsuits to “free” animals from captivity and “slavery.”

The Nonhuman Rights Project announced that it is pursuing an appeal in response to this decision.