In November of 2018, our client Happy became the first elephant in the world to obtain a writ of habeas corpus requiring a court to determine the lawfulness of her imprisonment. In the weeks that followed Happy’s historic habeas corpus hearing in Albion, New York, the Orleans County Supreme Court issued an order to transfer Happy’s case to Bronx County, where Happy is held alone in captivity at the Bronx Zoo. We then asked the Court to review the correctness of this decision; ultimately the Court reaffirmed it but granted us 60 days to ask the Fourth Judicial Department appellate court, which sits above it, for permission to appeal the order to transfer the case to the Bronx.
We continue to view this order as wrong—based on a misunderstanding of the law which we’ve repeatedly brought to the Court’s attention.
That is why we have just filed a motion with the Fourth Judicial Department seeking discretionary appellate review on the issue of venue. As we detail in our Memorandum of Law (see also: Attorney Affirmation of Kevin Schneider), transferring Happy’s case to Bronx County is not only a serious legal error, but will also cause intolerable delay and prolong the injustice currently being visited on Happy as an imprisoned autonomous being.
In our court filings and public statements, we have been clear about why we did not file Happy’s case in Bronx County. The First Judicial Department, which oversees Bronx County, has insisted that only human beings can have legal rights, a position that Court of Appeals Judge Eugene M. Fahey sharply criticized last May. In contrast, the Fourth Judicial Department, which oversees Orleans County, has correctly stated that it is common knowledge that nonhuman animals can be legal persons with the capacity for legal rights.
As with all our clients, we are prepared to continue the fight for Happy’s fundamental right to bodily liberty and her release to a sanctuary wherever it takes us. We think in this case the law of New York requires that to be the Fourth Judicial Department.