Appellate Court Decision in Tommy Case
The New York State Appellate Court, Third Judicial Department, issued its decision this morning, December 5th, 2014, in the case of Tommy the Chimpanzee.
Noting that the Nonhuman Rights Project “requests that this Court enlarge the common-law definition of ‘person’ in order to afford legal rights to an animal,” the Court’s decision was that “We decline to do so, and conclude that a chimpanzee is not a “person” entitled to the rights and protections afforded by the writ of habeas corpus.
The Nonhuman Rights Project has issued the following statement:
Statement from The Nonhuman Rights Project following Appellate Court Decision in Case of Tommy
The Court today has ruled that Tommy the chimpanzee is not a “legal person” who is eligible for a writ of habeas corpus on three grounds. All are wrong and will be the subject of our appeal to New York’s highest court, the Court of Appeals.
First, it denies the relief of a writ of habeas corpus to Tommy simply because no one has ever sought a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a chimpanzee or any nonhuman animal before. That habeas corpus has never been demanded before on behalf of a chimpanzee is not a reason for denying it now. The Court ignores the fact that the common law is supposed to change in light of new scientific discoveries, changing experiences, and changing ideas of what is right or wrong. The Court recognizes that the Nonhuman Rights Project’s affidavits reveal “that chimpanzees exhibit highly complex cognitive functions-such as autonomy, self-awareness, and self-determination, among others—similar to those possessed by human beings.” It is time for the common law to recognize that these facts are sufficient to establish personhood for the purpose of a writ of habeas corpus.
Second, the Court erroneously claims that in order for Tommy to have rights he must be able to assume responsibilities. This statement contradicts a decision of the Court of Appeals of New York in the case of Byrn v. New York City Health & Hospitals Commission Corporations, 31 N.Y.2d 194 (1972). The Court in Byrn said,
“Upon according legal personality to a thing, the law affords it the rights and privileges of a legal person.”
There is no mention of responsibilities. Both the Court of Appeals in Byrn and the Third Department (Tommy’s Court) cite a secondary source that states that there may be “systems of law in which animals have legal rights.” They add specifically that “animals may conceivably be legal persons.”
Third, the ruling further contradicts the Court in Byrn by resting Tommy’s eligibility for legal personhood on his species. The Court in Byrn was clear that:
“The point is that it is a policy determination whether legal personality should attach and not a question of biological or ‘natural’ correspondence.”
The Nonhuman Rights Project is already pursuing an appeal to the New York Court of Appeals.
(End of statement.)