The New York Supreme Court Appellate Division, First Judicial Department rejected an argument this month by the Nonhuman Rights Project seeking to grant personhood to captive chimpanzees. The Nonhuman Rights Project wanted the court to authorize the release of two chimpanzees owned by private companies.
The petition as to Tommy was brought in December 2015. It is alleged that Tommy, who is owned by respondents Circle L Trailer Sales, Inc. and its officers, is in a cage in a warehouse in Gloversville, New York. The petition as to Kiko was brought in January 2016. Kiko, who is owned by respondents the Primate Sanctuary, Inc. and its officers and directors, is allegedly in a cage in a cement storefront in a crowded residential area in Niagara Falls, New York.
. . .
Petitioner has filed four identical petitions in four separate state courts in four different counties in New York. Each petition was accompanied by virtually the same affidavits, all attesting to the fact that chimpanzees are intelligent, and have the ability to be trained by humans to be obedient to rules, and to fulfill certain duties and responsibilities. Petitioner has failed to present any new information or new ground not previously considered. The “new” expert testimony presented by petitioner continues to support its basic position that chimpanzees exhibit many of the same social, cognitive and linguistic capabilities as humans and therefore should be afforded some of the same fundamental rights as humans.
Any new expert testimony/affidavits cannot be said to be in response to or counter to the reasoning underlying the decision of the Court in People ex rel. Nonhuman Rights Project, Inc. v Lavery (124 AD3d at 148). In declining to extend habeas relief to chimpanzees, the Court in Lavery did not dispute the cognitive or social capabilities of chimpanzees. Nor, did it, as argued by petitioner, take judicial notice that chimpanzees cannot bear duties and responsibilities. Rather, it concluded:
“[U]nlike human beings, chimpanzees cannot bear any legal duties, submit to societal responsibilities or be held legally accountable for their actions. In our view, it is this incapability to bear any legal responsibilities and societal duties that renders it inappropriate to confer upon chimpanzees the legal rights — such as the fundamental right to liberty protected by the writ of habeas corpus — that have been afforded to human beings” (id. at 152).
. . .
The asserted cognitive and linguistic capabilities of chimpanzees do not translate to a chimpanzee’s capacity or ability, like humans, to bear legal duties, or to be held legally accountable for their actions. Petitioner does not suggest that any chimpanzee charged with a crime in New York could be deemed fit to proceed, i.e., to have the “capacity to understand the proceedings against him or to assist in his own defense” (CPL 730.10). While in an amicus brief filed by Professor Laurence H. Tribe of Harvard Law School, it is suggested that it is possible to impose legal duties on nonhuman animals, noting the “long history, mainly from the medieval and early modern periods, of animals being tried for offenses such as attacking human beings and eating crops,” none of the cases cited took place in modern times or in New York. Moreover, as noted in an amicus brief submitted by Professor Richard Cupp, nonhumans lack sufficient responsibility to have any legal standing, which, according to Cupp is why even chimpanzees who have caused death or serious injury to human beings have not been prosecuted.
The Nonhuman Rights Project issued a statement saying that it would appeal this decision to New York’s Court of Appeals.
Steven M. Wise, founder of the NhRP and the attorney who argued on behalf of Tommy and Kiko in Manhattan in March of 2017, said in response to the ruling, “For 2000 years all nonhuman animals have been legal things who lack the capacity for any legal rights. This is not going to change without a struggle. That fight has begun and we remain confident that Tommy’s and Kiko’s fundamental right to bodily liberty will be recognized as a matter of justice so that they too may experience the freedom they so desperately deserve. Public opinion has begun to tilt in our favor since we started filing these lawsuits, likely as a result of them.”