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.

Download (PDF, Unknown)

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.)

Comments
24 Responses to “Appellate Court Decision in Tommy Case”
  1. anna says:

    thank you

  2. Lupana says:

    Interesting that corporations are accorded legal personhood yet other sentient beings are not..

  3. If there is a court film of the arguments or there will be a court film of the Appellate Court augments please give us the link. In the meantime you might find the MSJC of MA (US) interesting. They basically said towns could not tax conservation land and that keepers of non-profit conservation land did not have to prove it was conservation land; towns had to prove it was not. See the court video. The NEFF (New England Forestry Foundation) council volunteers that a forest is also occupied by all the animals and trees. Aside from me, I have never witnessed any lawyer refer to the native forest species as occupants. See video (truly amazing) —> Argument video: New England Forestry Foundation, Inc. v. Board of Assessors of Hawley, SJC-11432
    http://www2.suffolk.edu/sjc/archive/2014/SJC_11432.html Was NEFF simply speaking for their logging interests or was there a hint at the Rights of Nature here. A SPECIES’ FOREST is of, by and for all the other native animals, plants, fungi and soil microbes that occupy or have occupied that place. At lease that is what I believe.

  4. Mike says:

    It’s appalling that a judge would conflate rights and responsibilities. Young human children can’t be meaningfully viewed as having responsibilities, and that has no bearing on whether we deem them worthy of direct moral consideration. This is a distinction that teenagers taking a freshman course in moral philosophy are expected to grasp. I’m concerned about whether this judge has the mental capabilities necessary to do his job.

    • John Seal says:

      “Young human children can’t be meaningfully viewed as having responsibilities, and that has no bearing on whether we deem them worthy of direct moral consideration”

      It is also true that young children are not afforded the rights of adult humans. It is also true that the non-human status of chimpanzees does not preclude their receipt of moral consideration.

  5. Andrea Boggs says:

    I’m sorry for Tommy the Chimpanzee that he lost in this appeals case. I do not think it was a very bright decision. Keep up the good work Attorney Wise & everyone in trying to help these wonderful creatures with feelings that do indeed have more rights than they are currently given by our laws.

  6. lauraleebb says:

    No suprise there. Why would the courts want to interfere with business as usual?

    Thank you for all your efforts in behalf of Tommy and all the animals. I am vegan and boycott anything that exploits the poor animals.

    Best Regards,
    Laura
    Cape Cod, MA

  7. Kevin McG says:

    In its ruling, the judges wrote: “So far as legal theory is concerned, a person is any being whom the law regards as capable of rights and duties.

    “Needless to say, unlike human beings, chimpanzees cannot bear any legal duties, submit to societal responsibilities or be held legally accountable for their actions.”

    That is absurd, and cannot be allowed to stand. It would imply that no human infant is a person, and that neither is any human adult who is unable to bear any legal duties or be held legally accountable for their actions. It would justify the actions of the Nazis in killing people with severe learning difficulties.

    This goes far wider than the question of whether or not it is right to recognise chimpanzees or other nonhuman creatures as having rights. It seeks to deny such rights to many many humans in adult life and in fact to all humans in infancy.

    • Richard Grimm says:

      I don’t think ruling that chimpanzees cannot bear any legal duties, submit to societal responsibilities or be held legally accountable for their actions implies that human infants are not people.

      Everyone knows that the State can have adults who are unable to bear any legal duties or be held legally accountable for their actions committed to institutional or custodial care. That can happen even if such commitments must be performed forcefully and against the will of the adult human(s).

  8. Melanie says:

    Wishing you and Tommy a successful appeal! Let us hope justice is not denied, and the process moves quickly.

Trackbacks
Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] Source: Appellate Court Decision in Tommy Case […]

  2. […] In a statement, the Nonhuman Rights Project said the grounds on which the court had denied its case “are wrong.” It said it would appeal to the Court of Appeals. […]

  3. […] In a statement, the Nonhuman Rights Project said the grounds on which the court had denied its case “are wrong.” It said it would appeal to the Court of Appeals. Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/. […]

  4. […] In a statement, the Nonhuman Rights Project said the grounds on which the court had denied its case “are wrong.” It said it would appeal to the Court of Appeals. Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/. […]

  5. […] In a statement, a Nonhuman Rights Project pronounced a drift on that a justice had denied a box “are wrong.” It pronounced it would interest to a Court of Appeals. […]

  6. […] Non-Human Rights Project says it will appeal to N.Y. State’s highest court, the Court of […]

  7. […] carefully reading the seven-page ruling (which you can find here), we’ve concluded that the appellate court is mistaken on all three grounds on which it bases its […]

  8. […] disappunto di Non human rights Project non si è fatto attendere. Dalle pagine del loro sito hanno annunciato di non volersi fermare e di ricorrere alla Corte di Appello di New York. La Corte, […]

  9. […] December 4, 2014, the Third Department ignored the Second Department and threw out Tommy’s case on a different ground. It said that only an entity capable of assuming duties and responsibilities – not chimpanzees […]

  10. […] made in US courts, and none have to date been successful. For example, a New York court recently held that the writ was not available to a chimpanzee named Tommy being held in private captivity. They […]

  11. […] December 4, 2014, the Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Third Judicial Department declared that Tommy is not a “person” entitled to a common law writ of habeas corpus because he […]

  12. […] it wouldn’t make sense if it did. As for precedent, the Nonhuman Rights Project has previously lost its “similar-to-humans” argument in New York’s intermediate appellate court, not to mention […]

  13. […] carefully reading the seven-page ruling (which you can find here), the NhRP legal team concluded that the appellate court is mistaken on all three grounds on which […]



Leave A Comment