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Second Petition Filed on Behalf of Captive Elephants in Connecticut

By Nonhuman Rights

Nonhuman Rights Project Files Second Habeas Corpus Petition on Behalf of Three Elephants in Connecticut

– Seeking to avoid undue delay in securing the liberty of its captive elephant clients and supported by the affidavit of a prominent Connecticut attorney, the May 2018 opinion of a New York Court of Appeals judge, and the affidavits of world-renowned experts on elephant cognition, the NhRP has filed a second petition for habeas corpus on behalf of Beulah, Karen, and Minnie – 

June 11, 2018—Hartford, CT—Today the Nonhuman Rights Project filed a petition for a common law writ of habeas corpus in Connecticut Superior Court, Tolland County that demands recognition of the legal personhood and fundamental right to bodily liberty of three elephants held in captivity at a traveling circus based in Goshen, Connecticut.

This is the second habeas corpus petition the NhRP has filed on behalf of Beulah, Karen, and Minnie, three elephants “owned” by the Commerford Zoo and forced to perform for human entertainment for decades throughout the Northeast, including at the upcoming Meadowlands State Fair in New Jersey. The first petition was filed in November in Litchfield County, where the elephants are held. The NhRP seeks the elephants’ transfer to the Performing Animal Welfare Society’s ARK 2000 natural habitat sanctuary, where their right to bodily liberty will be respected.

“Because Beulah, Minnie, and Karen are currently being deprived of their bodily liberty,” writes the NhRP in its second petition, “the NhRP promptly filed this Petition to avoid any undue delay in securing their liberty while the appellate process is proceeding on the first petition.”

In December, Judge James Bentivegna of the Connecticut Superior Court, Litchfield County refused to issue a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to the NhRP’s first petition on the grounds that the NhRP lacked standing and its case was “frivolous on its face as a matter of law.” That decision is being appealed to The Appellate Court of Connecticut.

In addition to responding to the urgency of the elephants’ situation, the NhRP filed the second suit in Tolland County because of that Court’s extensive experience and expertise with habeas corpus petitions.

“Under Connecticut law, we have the right to file a second petition for habeas corpus,” said NhRP President and lead attorney Steven M. Wise. “A denial of standing is not considered a judgement on the merits. Beulah, Karen, and Minnie deserve to have their case fully and fairly litigated in the Connecticut courts—not just for their sake, but because these novel legal issues demand it.”

Reinforcing the urgency and necessity of the courts taking up the debate about nonhuman rights is the May 8 concurring opinion by a judge on the New York Court of Appeals in the NhRP’s chimpanzee rights cases and cited in the NhRP’s second petition. In that opinion, Judge Eugene M. Fahey asserts that the failure of the New York courts to grapple with the issues the NhRP raises on behalf of captive 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.” Judge Fahey concludes:

The issue whether a nonhuman animal has a fundamental right to liberty protected by the writ of habeas corpus is profound and far-reaching. It speaks to our relationship with all the life around us. Ultimately, we will not be able to ignore it. While it may be arguable that a chimpanzee is not a ‘person,’ there is no doubt that it is not merely a thing.

Though this opinion is not binding on the Connecticut courts, it “severely undermines the finding of the [Connecticut Superior Court, Litchfield County] that the first petition is frivolous,” writes the NhRP.

Submitted with the second petition is an affidavit by Mark A. Dubois, a Connecticut attorney and expert in legal ethics and professional responsibility who served as Connecticut’s Chief Disciplinary Counsel for nearly a decade and has taught law and lawyers’ ethics at Yale Law School, the University of Connecticut School of Law, and Quinnipiac University School of Law. In his affidavit, Dubois states that the NhRP’s case “is not frivolous, in whole or in part” and urges the Court to allow the NhRP’s case to proceed.

“Applying the relevant legal and ethical standards,” writes Dubois, “[Beulah, Karen, and Minnie’s case] is supported by facts and an objectively reasonable argument for the expansion of the existing law.”

Under Connecticut law, the Court must issue the writ of habeas corpus unless it lacks jurisdiction or finds the petition is frivolous.

“The NhRP welcomes Attorney Dubois’ expert, highly informed opinion that our case is not frivolous in any way,” said Wise. “We are confident that the Court has jurisdiction and that the case is not frivolous. If the writ is issued, the NhRP will serve it on the Commerford Zoo and begin to litigate the merits of the case.”

Steven M. Wise is speaking today in Hartford at the Connecticut Bar Association’s annual conference as part of Session C, Animal Law: Habeas Corpus and Nonhuman Rights.” He is available for interviews.

To learn more about Beulah, Karen, and Minnie and read and download all court filings, visit their court case page

  • Verified Petition For A Common Law Writ Of Habeas Corpus
  • Memorandum In Support Of The Verified Petition For A Common Law Writ Of Habeas Corpus
  • Motion for Review of Connecticut Superior Court, Litchfield County’s Partial Denial of Motion for Articulation

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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