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Appellate Brief Filed in Connecticut Elephant Rights Case

By Lauren Choplin

Following Two Recent Nonhuman Rights Wins In New York, the Nonhuman Rights Project Files Appellate Brief In Connecticut Elephant Rights Case 

Sept. 25, 2018—Hartford, CT—Citing errors by the Connecticut Superior Court and New York judges’ recent embrace of nonhuman animal legal personhood and rights, the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) has filed a brief in The Appellate Court of Connecticut, where it is seeking review of the lower court’s dismissal of its petition for a common law writ of habeas corpus on behalf of Beulah, Karen, and Minnie, three elephants held captive at a traveling circus based in Goshen.

The Connecticut Superior Court’s assertion that the NhRP’s lawsuit is “wholly frivolous on its face” contrasts sharply with the increasing receptivity to nonhuman animal legal personhood and rights in neighboring New York State. In June, just weeks after New York Court of Appeals Judge Eugene Fahey issued an historic opinion criticizing the lower courts for holding that only human beings could be persons with rights, New York’s Fourth Judicial Department “unanimously accepted the claim the NhRP has made to the New York courts for almost five years: nonhuman animals can be legal persons,” said Steven M. Wise, founder and president of the NhRP.

Citing to the NhRP’s chimpanzee rights case on behalf of Kiko, the Fourth Department wrote in its decision in People v. Graves—a case about the vandalizing of cars belong to an auto dealership—that “it is common knowledge that personhood can and sometimes does attach to nonhuman entities like corporations or animals.” The individual alleged to have committed the crime that was the subject of the appeal claimed that the dealership whose property he damaged was not a “person,” as only human beings can be persons, and therefore he could not be convicted of damaging the property of a “person.” The court disagreed.

This decision is “tremendously promising,” Wise said. In the NhRP’s view, the Fahey opinion—the first from a high court judge anywhere in the United States to hold that “there is no doubt that [a chimpanzee] is not merely a thing”—together with the Graves decision constitute a breakthrough in the worldwide struggle for legal personhood for nonhuman animals.

“In May, Judge Fahey opened the door to nonhuman animal legal personhood in New York and throughout the United States. A month later, this New York appellate court walked right through that doorway,” Wise said.

The NhRP argues that the Connecticut trial court erred not only in dismissing the NhRP’s petition on the grounds that is frivolous, but also in claiming that the NhRP lacked standing to bring the claim because it lacked a relationship with the elephants. The NhRP points out in its brief that, for two centuries, Connecticut courts have permitted anyone to seek habeas corpus on behalf of someone who is imprisoned and unable to seek habeas corpus herself. The NhRP is asking the appellate court to reverse the trial court’s decision and remand with instructions for the court to issue the writ and proceed according to the Connecticut Practice Book, which outlines habeas corpus procedure.

“No case has been brought in Connecticut seeking habeas corpus relief for any nonhuman animal, let alone an autonomous being such as an elephant, and the Trial Court offered no persuasive reason why the principles underlying the Connecticut cases concerning human petitioners cannot and should not extend to the case at bar,” writes the NhRP in its brief.

“These elephants have been deprived of their freedom and forced to work for their whole lives,” said Elizabeth Stein, a staff attorney with the NhRP. “The law is clear that they deserve their day in court.”

Connecticut common law, numerous cases from other jurisdictions, and diverse expert opinions all bolster the NhRP’s legal argument that Beulah, Karen, and Minnie are entitled to recognition of their legal personhood and fundamental right to liberty and should be released to an elephant sanctuary, the NhRP maintains.

Through Sept. 30th, the Commerford Zoo will compel the elephants to give rides at The Big E, a fair held at a stadium in West Springfield, MA, and attended by over a million people each year. A Facebook post of elephant Minnie giving rides at the fair went viral this week.

NhRP President Steven M. Wise is available for select interviews. For biographies of Beulah, Karen, and Minnie and a complete timeline of their court case, including links to all legal documents, visit their client page. For photos and videos of Minnie at The Big E, visit this page. To learn more about the NhRP, visit

Media Contacts:

Karen Hinton

Lauren Choplin

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About the Nonhuman Rights Project
Founded in 1996 by attorney Steven M. Wise, the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) works to secure legally recognized fundamental rights for nonhuman animals through litigation, advocacy, and education. Our mission is to change the legal status of at least some nonhuman animals from mere “things,” which lack the capacity to possess any legal right, to “persons,” who possess such fundamental rights as bodily integrity and bodily liberty and those other legal rights to which evolving standards of morality, scientific discovery, and human experience entitle them. Our current plaintiffs are members of species who have been scientifically proven to be autonomous: currently, great apes, elephants, dolphins, and whales. We are working with teams of attorneys on four continents to develop campaigns to achieve legal rights for nonhuman animals that are suited to the legal systems of these countries. We filed our first cases in December of 2013, and our work is the subject of the 2016 Pennebaker Hegedus/HBO documentary film Unlocking the Cage, which has been seen by millions around the world.

About NhRP President Steven M. Wise
Steven M. Wise began his mission to gain rights for nonhuman animals in 1985. He holds a J.D. from Boston University Law School and a B.S. in chemistry from the College of William and Mary. He has practiced animal protection law for four decades and is admitted to the Massachusetts Bar. Professor Wise taught the first class in “Animal Rights Law” at the Harvard Law School and has taught “Animal Rights Jurisprudence” at the Stanford Law School, as well as the University of Miami, Vermont Law School, St. Thomas, and John Marshall Law Schools, and is currently teaching “Animal Rights Jurisprudence” at the Lewis and Clark Law School. He is the author of four books: Rattling the Cage – Toward Legal Rights for Animals; Drawing the Line – Science and the Case for Animal Rights; Though the Heavens May Fall – The Landmark Trial That Led to the End of Human Slavery; and An American Trilogy – Death, Slavery, and Dominion Along the Banks of the Cape Fear River. His TED Talk from the TED2015 Conference in Vancouver, Canada was released in May of 2015 and has over one million views.

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