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Dec 10 2013

NY Courts Reject Suits Arguing That Chimps Have Same Rights As People

No that’s not a headline from The Onion – it’s a true fact. In case you haven’t heard, a group calling itself The Non-Human Rights Project filed three lawsuits across NY State arguing for the release of four chimpanzees held in captivity by various owners. But while the Supreme Court has ruled that corporations are “persons” under the First Amendment, NY courts did not extend personhood to chimps.

The lawsuits asked that the four chimpanzees be moved to a sanctuary “where they can live out their days with others of their kind in an environment as close to the wild as is possible in North America,” the group said. Why North America as opposed to being returned to their native countries of origin, I don’t know – I mean, how free is a sanctuary after all? Had they won couldn’t another group then sue arguing that the chimps are being overly restrained in the sanctuary and should be released to the wild? If they were declared legal persons under the law, could the chimps then sue for public benefits like Welfare and Medicaid? When the issue was raised that the chimps don’t even know that they are suing, the plaintiffs argued that many times lawsuits are brought on behalf of children who are not cognizant that claims are being made on their behalf. Equating chimps to children is patently ridiculous, though as the father of three boys I can certainly attest that there are times when the comparison is dead on.

Courtroom Scene Planet of The Apes

Courtroom Scene Planet of The Apes – Maybe someday but not today

But I chose to write about this case because the group is appealing according to their spokesperson who stated “These outcomes allow the NHRP to proceed to the appellate courts.” (which is as rosy a way of saying “We lost, but are appealing” as I’ve ever heard). Not only does NHRP have a plan to appeal they claim to be ready to file similar lawsuits across the country on behalf of captive animals “who are scientifically proven to be self-aware and autonomous, such as elephants, dolphins and whales.” These people need to be reined in themselves. This morning I read the second installment in a NY Times series about the harsh life of an 11 year old girl living in the shelter system. The poor in this country have such limited access to justice -particularly on the civil side – that I couldn’t help but wonder why this group would not devote the same time and energy to helping out “captive humans” who need a place to live out their lives in as decent and dignified a way as humanly possible.

Courts should treat these cases harshly. These cases never had any merit. Many laws already protect animals from abuse and if there was abuse, action can be taken by a number of organizations and agencies specifically set up to do so. So it’s not as if animals have no rights – they certainly have the right to be free from neglect and harm,. But to claim that they are persons for all purposes under the law is a frivolous attempt to grab headlines and attention and thereby no doubt secure donations from fanatical animal-rights activists who will support this futile endeavor. Once this appeal is rejected, if they file again in NY a court should sanction them for filing frivolous claims and enjoin them from bringing further actions on behalf of non-humans. The court system can barely take care of homo sapiens as it is.

9 comments

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  1. Ralph

    I disagree. It’s a legitimate lawsuit. As legitimate as any of the other nonsense lawsuits out there. Primates and other high functioning animals such as whales, elephants, etc., suffer excruciatingly at the hands of humans. Just watch the HBO documentary “Blackfish.” Higher functioning animals deserve increased rights. A primate or elephant is not like a horse. You complain that these advocates should switch their energies to the poor and children. Who are you do demand this. Everyone has their causes. Not all are for helping children. Some are for helping animals. Some are for helping people avoid paying damages when they infringe on a copy right. We all have our causes.

    1. Oscar Michelen

      Sorry -it is not a legitimate lawsuit. There was no proof the animals were being harmed nor was there any proof of neglect or abuse. I am well aware of the mistreatment of animals and I firmly believe there should be support to prevent that abuse. But to equate a chimp’s rights with a person’s rights is just foolish. And frankly, who are you to say that an elephant is more entitled to rights than a horse. I have many friends who own horses and they would argue that they are every bit as intelligent as an elephant. Another friend has an African Grey parrot that can have an entire conversation with you and whistles when a woman (and only a woman) walks by. Can I bring a lawsuit saying its not fair that he’s kept in cage all day?

  2. Carlos Danger

    I thought it a weak post Oscar.

    This “argument”, really ? “could the chimps then sue for public benefits like Welfare and Medicaid?.” Didn’t slow down personhood for corporations, did it.

    That example was illustrative of your post which was filled with hysterical statements like ” Equating chimps to children is patently ridiculous,” (why pretend to miss the point that both may have advocates when they can’t do or decide themselves what is in their best interest) and bizarre ones like ” I don’t know – I mean, how free is a sanctuary after all? .” Let’s put you in a cage and maybe do some experiments on you and then ask you the same question again. It’s as if you are purposefully being dense because you are clearly hostile to the idea that we shouldn’t be permitted to do as we wish with Great Apes. The baloney about there are already laws to protect the Great Apes show vacuous your arguments are.

    $ > animal welfare. Period. Make that argument, at least it’s honest.

    http://www.rollingstone.com/feature/belly-beast-meat-factory-farms-animal-activists

    1. Oscar Michelen

      Carlos – As unlikely of you as it is, it is you who missed the point entirely. This was not a lawsuit brought to stop abuse or neglect. There have been plenty of those filed in support of animals and they have succeeded. Here, the organization wanted the chimps moved from one confined space to a larger confined space. Corporations were given equal free speech rights in political contest, that’s it. At least corporations are essentially the embodiment of the people that run them or own the shares. Citizens United merely stated that it wold be unfair to distinguish the right of a person to spend money on a candidate or cause from right of a corporation to do so. This lawsuit if successful would have opened up a can of worms and brought a flood of litigation. Courts are for people and legal entities – not for animals.

  3. ewa kozyra

    I support this law suit and think it is reasonable. If it is not grounded in the present law, it just means the law needs an overhaul. There is nothing pointing to humans as being “better” or “worthier” than any other living being except our saying so. You are thinking in a box = getting old and lazy, please try to be a little more open minded.

    1. Oscar Michelen

      Ewa – I am open minded. But equating animals with humans is not thinking out of the box, it’s taking a concept to a level that would wreak havoc. Animals should be treated with kindness and care and the humans who don’t do so should be punished for their conduct – the animals should not however have a right to redress what other humans perceive as their grievances. What if my neighbor decides I leave my dog out in the yard too long – can he bring an action on my dog’s behalf against me? What if another neighbor believes that me having three cats are too many cats or three parrots are too many birds, can they bring a lawsuit on the birds’ behalf? We have so many people who need the courts to save their lives, tying the courts up with cases brought on behalf of animals who are not being abused would shut our judicial system down.

  4. Jay Chong

    The NRP should follow this with a political campaign because the judiciary alone can’t do this. The best solution is for legislators to create a new category for non-human entities which are not solely property, but have some self-autonomy outside human command.
    http://lawblog.legalmatch.com/2013/12

    1. Oscar Michelen

      And who would pay for this new mid-level system? How many courts would be built? Who would have the right to bring suits on behalf of animals? We have lengthy delays for people in prison who are awaiting trial or others waiting to have their cases heard in courts. We don;t want to spend money to give humans justice, how can we spend money to dole this form of justice?

  5. David Lamb

    If we are only animals, why do we have to treat any other animal with any sort of care or concern – small confinement or large? As the “stronger or more clever” animal, isn’t it only within our animalistic right to dominate a weaker or less clever, or even evolved, animal?

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