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NhRP to Seek Review of Connecticut Superior Court Decision in Elephant Rights Case

By Nonhuman Rights

Nonhuman Rights Project Statement on Connecticut Superior Court Decision On Motion for Articulation in Beulah, Karen, and Minnie Elephant Rights Case

This week we learned that Connecticut Superior Court Judge James M. Bentivegna granted just one of the Nonhuman Rights Project’s sixteen requests for “articulation”—that is, clarification of the legal and factual basis for his previous dismissal of our Connecticut elephant habeas corpus case.

Addressing only “request number ten,” Judge Bentivegna reasserts what he sees as the “frivolousness” of our petition for a common law writ of habeas corpus on behalf of captive elephants Beulah, Karen, and Minnie:

Under either standard [of frivolousness in Connecticut law], the court found the nonbinding legal and nonlegal authority cited by the petitioner to be unpersuasive. Accordingly, the court expressly concluded that the petitioner was unable to point to any authority demonstrating a possibility or probability of victory for its theory that an elephant is a legal person for the purpose of issuing a writ of habeas corpus.

The judge dismissed the relevance of nonhuman rights cases from outside Connecticut that demonstrate the willingness of other judges to address the novel and important legal questions we and others are putting before the courts. These cases include the well-known cases of chimpanzees Hercules and Leo in New York and chimpanzee Cecilia in Argentina, the latter of whom was recognized in 2016 as a “non-human legal person” with “inherent rights”and transferred to a sanctuary.

Judge Bentivegna’s position contrasts sharply not only with the substantive conversations about nonhuman rights taking place in the public sphere, but also decisions of courts in India, Israel, Argentina, and Colombia and the concurring opinion issued earlier this month by a judge on New York’s highest court in our chimpanzee habeas corpus cases.

In that opinion, New York Court of Appeals Judge Eugene Fahey rightly asserted that the failure of the New York courts to grapple with the issues the NhRP raises on behalf of chimpanzees Tommy and Kiko “amounts to a refusal to confront a manifest injustice,” and the question of nonhuman animals’ legal personhood and rights constitutes “a deep dilemma of ethics and policy that demands our attention.” He concluded that “(w)hile it may be arguable that a chimpanzee is not a ‘person,’ there is no doubt that it is not merely a thing.”

Through a Motion to Review, we will immediately ask The Appellate Court of Connecticut to review the correctness of Judge Bentivegna’s refusal to respond to the other fifteen requests we placed before him. As soon as The Appellate Court rules and we have received any further responses to our Request for Review to which we are entitled, we will proceed with our appeal of Judge Bentivegna’s December 26, 2017 decision (which asserted that we lacked standing and that our habeas corpus petition was “wholly frivolous on its face as a matter of law”) and his February 27, 2018 decision (a denial of our Motion to Reargue, in which we detailed the initial decision’s significant errors regarding standing, frivolousness, and other issues) by filing a brief.

We look forward to taking to the Connecticut appellate courts our legal arguments in support of Beulah, Karen, and Minnie’s personhood and fundamental right to bodily liberty protected by a common law writ of habeas corpus as well as their transfer to PAWS sanctuary. Far from being frivolous, our case demands that the Connecticut courts take seriously, as a matter of public policy and moral principle, the fact that elephants Beulah, Karen, and Minnie are not legal “things,” but rather, autonomous nonhuman beings who are entitled to their right to bodily liberty—just as autonomous human beings are.

Read our Motion for Articulation here, our Motion to Reargue here, and our Memorandum of Law here. To learn more about Beulah, Karen, and Minnie and read and download all other court filings, visit their court case page. 


Media Contact:
Lauren Choplin
Communications Director

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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, St. Thomas, and John Marshall Law Schools, and is currently teaching “Animal Rights Jurisprudence” at the Lewis and Clark Law School and Vermont 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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