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Apr 21 2015

Sorry But NY Chimp Case Is Waste of Time

NY Supreme Court Judge Barbara Jaffe granted a motion for a writ of habeas corpus to two chimps being held for research by Stony Brook University. The writ was brought by The Nonhuman Rights Project (NHRP) which originally filed a lawsuit on behalf of the chimpanzees in 2013 with a view to having them transferred to a sanctuary in Florida. In that instance the courts -exercising common sense and rational jurisprudence – refused to issue a writ. I wrote about that case here on this blog back in December 2013. The link to that post is here. I caught some abuse for being “Close-minded” or “simple” for failing to see the beauty in this “outside-the-box-argument” It’s not creative, its foolhardy and a waste of time. I said then that if NHRP brings another such action in NY they should be fined. I stand by that position and I repeat it. Judge Jaffe should have denied the writ and sanctioned NHRP for filing a frivolous lawsuit.

habeascorpusHowever, instead she issued the writ, meaning a hearing will now be held on May 6 in which the university’s lawyers will have to explain the legal basis of the chimpanzees’ detention. Why should they have to explain their legal holding of the animals for legal research? This is a monumental waste of everyone’s time and a completely illegal order. The chimps do not have standing because they are not human. Plain and simple. Courts and the Constitution are reserved for human beings. It’s so frustrating for someone who has filed writs of habeas corpus for wrongfully incarcerated humans which get routinely and flatly denied to see any court waste its resources and efforts on a case like this.

Let’s make one thing clear – if the NHRP had evidence that the chimps were being mistreated or abused, they have a remedy. File a complaint with local law enforcement for charges to be brought under the many numerous animal protection laws which are already on the books. If they feel that all animals being held in captivity or for animal research are per se being abused or mistreated, then they have to go through Congress or their local legislature to outlaw such activity.

But going to court on the chimps behalf is a wrong and insupportable method. Its a waste of court resources as the plaintiff does not have standing to bring it. While I can take a half of a semester to just deal with legal issues surrounding “standing” let me give you the five-cent definition of it: Standing is capacity of a party to bring a suit in court. Here State laws would define standing but at the heart of these statutes is the requirement that plaintiffs have sustained or will sustain direct injury or harm and that this harm is re-dressable in court. Legal actions cannot be brought simply on the ground that an individual or group is displeased with a situation or an activity that is going on somewhere. For example, Federal courts only have constitutional authority to resolve actual disputes (“cases or controversies”). Only those with enough direct stake in an action or law have “standing” to challenge actions or activities which they oppose.

Redress about general situations that displease you or situations that you would like to see changed (like animals being used for research for example) must be changed through political or legislative means. There are other serious problems with the case that are not readily apparent from the order. What has changed since NHRP last brought this action and which was denied? Why are they not bound by the prior denial? How are they bringing this in Manhattan (where Judge Jaffee sits) when the chimps are in Suffolk County?

Look, who doesn’t love chimps? But to use the courts – and even worse to use The Great Writ of Habeas Corpus- for what appears to be simply grandstanding is shameful. This case has a snowball’s chance in Hell of surviving past May 6 but if it does it has no chance of getting past the appellate courts.

Follow Oscar Michelen on Twitter @oscarmichelen

8 comments

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  1. Carlos D.

    Your points are no more persuasive the second time around. Perhaps three times a charm.

    1. Oscar Michelen

      Thank you. The third time will be when the judge either changes her mind or the appellate court reverses this ridiculous ruling. The court system is already backpedaling and declaring that the judge definitely did not say chimps have legal rights.

      1. Carlos Danger

        It’s no more “ridiculous” then granting personhood to corporations. It makes sense when it achieves certain desirable ends, e.g., capital formation. Great Apes should not be treated as property — period. If it requires limited “personhood” to get there then so be it.

        It’s not like this is something new or people you would simply dismiss because the notion isn’t to your liking haven’t thought about it before.

        http://scholarship.shu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1102&context=student_scholarship

        http://www.huffingtonpost.com/stephen-wells/legal-personhood-for-apes_b_6378486.html

        However one stands on the issue I do find your attitude patronizing. I might find your no doubt mundane (to me) legal practice a waste of court resources but I would be too polite to mention it.

        1. Oscar Michelen

          Perhaps you should read the articles your reference before citing to them. (Oh I’m sorry, was that too patronizing?) Both of them recognize exactly what I said – that the difficulty is that animals are property under the law. The first article specifically agrees with me by stating that this must be changed through legislative means. The second article only cites a single case in Argentina where a court agreed to transfer an orangutan from an Argentinian zoo to a Brazilian sanctuary. And what happens when a person in Brazil feels that is not good enough and he ape belongs in Sumatra? Comparing these cases to slavery is preposterous. Like it or not apes are not human beings. There are laws in place to protect them from harm. If “personhood” is granted to apes why not whales, dolphins, dogs, turtles, pigs and many other intelligent creatures. Couldn’t they bring claims that they are being discriminated against because apes are treated as persons but they are not? Your comments will lend comfort to those who opposed gay marriage by saying that it would lead to legal bestiality and marriage between humans and animals. As for your attack on my practice, calling it “mundane” shows how little you know of it. Just in the past year, I have exonerated a man who spent 29 years in jail for a crime he didn’t commit (my third exoneration in 12 years); I successfully argued a case of first impression before the highest court in Georgia over a blogger’s First Amendment rights; and I helped over a dozen women on a pro bono basis who were victims of “revenge porn.” I just started a podcast to help struggling lawyers “Reboot” their law practices which Bar Associations have already contacted me about using. I run a not-for-profit speakers’ bureau called The Law Squad that brings police officers, judges, mental health professionals, and lawyers to area high schools to talk to teens and their parents about what’s going on legally in their communities. In 2014, I was awarded a Pro Bono Champion Award from my local Bar Association for my help with folks who are losing their homes in foreclosure or still dealing with issues arising out of Hurricane Sandy. That is all in addition to my thriving, successful, lucrative, regular practice representing businesses, individuals, and municipalities in a wide variety of litigation throughout NY and even across the country. My practice is anything but mundane – it is highly challenging and different all the time. Most lawyers hate what they do – I can’t wait to get to work. I am blessed that after practicing law for over 28 years, I still find it exciting, interesting and challenging. The vast majority of lawyers would give their right arm to have such a diverse, successful and important practice. I am used to snarky comments from you , but that one was inane. I now realize that you may be taking this position because you yourself are part chimp.

          1. Carlos Danger

            Fascinating, absolutely fascinating practice ! TO YOU. Does it really have to be said that because an issue is interesting (or important) to you does not necessarily make it so for me or anyone else. Thankfully, you don’t get to decide what makes it through the courthouse door and what does not (or what is interesting for that matter).

            Yes, you are patronizing though. And I do not think you really want me to address your various “arguments” — you like to lecture.

            Thanks for the lecture on standing but I’ll pass:

            “New York Law School is no longer ranked by U.S. News & World Report.”

            http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/new_jobs_data_spurs_changes_in_us_news_rankings_which_law_schools_are_now_u/

  2. Frank Thumb

    “Redress about general situations that displease you or situations that you would like to see changed (like animals being used for research for example) must be changed through political or legislative means”

    A preposterous statement from anyone that has any familiarly with the legal system let alone someone that teaches law part-time.

    Yes, it may well describe your practice and 99%+ of most litigation but you are delusional if you think the courts are not used to change “general situations that displease you or situations that you would like to see changed.” Presently and most obviously see SCOTUS gay marriage case.

    1. Oscar Michelen

      Frank: I am not delusional I am correct. I suggest you research the legal doctrine of “Standing.” Analogizing this to the gay marriage fight show your lack of understanding of the concept. The gay marriage cases are brought by humans who are being prevented from marrying by State laws. I would not be able to bring a gay marriage case because I am not gay and am not suffering any actual harm from the law besides a moral distaste for the discrimination.The “plaintiffs” in this case do not own the chimps (sorry but under law in all 50 states animals are property) they have no standing to fight for the chimps. If the chimps were being abused the plaintiffs could file a criminal complaint and then the State may have standing to enforce its laws. But a court cannot give non-humans civil rights. That can only be one through the Legislature. If you cannot understand the difference between me wanting to change something because I think its wrong even though I am not personally receiving actual harm from the wrong (no standing) and me bringing a lawsuit to change society because society is harming me actually and directly (Standing) then I can’t help you any further.

  3. Frank

    Ape does not kill ape. — Ceasar

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