Animal Law

Appeals court denies habeas for Tommy the chimp, said to be in 'solitary confinement'

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An appeals court in New York has ruled that Tommy the chimpanzee does not qualify as a person entitled to the protections of a writ of habeas corpus.

The Supreme Court Appellate Division, Third Department ruled against the petition filed by lawyer Steven Wise of the Nonhuman Rights Project, who sought Tommy’s release from “solitary confinement,” the New York Law Journal (sub. req.) reports. Other publications with stories include the Wall Street Journal Law Blog, the New York Times and the Albany Times Union. How Appealing links to the opinion (PDF) and additional coverage.

The New York Law Journal says Tommy is being held at Santa’s Hitching Post in Gloversville, New York, while the Law Blog says he resides at Circle L Trailer Sales. Wise says Tommy should be relocated to an animal sanctuary. He argued that new research shows chimpanzees have complex cognitive functions such as self-awareness, autonomy and self-determination, entitling them to personhood.

The appeals court rejected the argument. Legal personhood has traditionally been defined both in terms of rights and duties, the appeals court said. “Unlike human beings, chimpanzees cannot bear any legal duties, submit to societal responsibilities or be held legally accountable for their actions,” the court said. “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.”

Tommy is owned by Patrick and Diane Lavery of Gloversville. In an interview with the Times, Patrick Lavery said Tommy has toys in his cage, outdoor access and cable TV. A lawyer for the couple told the New York Law Journal in October that they had tried placing Tommy in a sanctuary but the appeals court had issued an injunction preventing the chimp from being moved pending the decision.

Wise plans to appeal. He is making similar arguments in New York and other states in cases filed on behalf of chimpanzees and elephants, the Times Union says.

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