On November 19, 2020, the First Judicial Department, Supreme Court of the State of New York, Appellate Court heard oral argument, remotely, regarding the Nonhuman Rights Project’s (the “Project”) appeal of the dismissal of their habeas corpus petition filed to establish personhood status for Happy an elephant housed at the Bronx Zoo.  The purported purpose of the petition is to permit Happy transfer from the Bronx Zoo to an elephant sanctuary the Project believes will provide her with better housing.  According to the Project’s website, they seek “[t]he right to bodily liberty, ie. Not to be imprisoned [for their clients, currently chimpanzees and elephants] and (where relevant) the right to bodily integrity, i.e. not to be experimented on.”  See Nonhuman Rights Project Frequently Asked Questioned available at https://www.nonhumanrights.org/frequently-asked-questions/.

Interestingly, when the Justices expressed concern about the impact the grant of personhood status would have to Happy or other animals, particularly in light of amendments that would be required to a plethora of existing statutes related to animal protection.  In response, the Project stated that such rights may be more limited than the legal rights people have, and may not necessarily include the right to file lawsuits.  This appeared to bolster the Court’s concern and suggestion that the legislature was in a better position to consider this issue than the courts, also noting the large number of statutes that would be impacted by the grant of personhood status to Happy.

The Court also stated that the interested amici would be able to present their arguments and concerns to the legislature during relevant legislative hearings.

In a recap of the hearing posted on youtube, at 11/19/20 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C_ICw9DZlIw, a member of the Project stated that, if this appeal were denied, they would appeal to the Court of Appeals where they believe Judge Fahey is aligned with the Project’s position.

Time will tell.