Black's Law Dictionary To Correct Definition of "Person" In Response To Nonhuman Rights Project Request
NhRP notifies appellate court: legal persons capable of “rights or duties,” not “rights and duties."
NhRP Communications Director
April 11, 2017, New York, N.Y.—Today the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) filed a motion seeking leave from the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, First Judicial Department to file a letter and reply that corrects a longstanding error in Black’s Law Dictionary definition of a legal “person” that has adversely impacted the NhRP’s ongoing chimpanzee habeas corpus litigation in New York. The NhRP currently has two chimpanzee habeas appeals pending before the First Department (Tommy and Kiko).
The Third Judicial Department relied on this erroneous definition—that a “person” must have the capacity to bear “rights and duties” rather than the capacity to bear “rights or duties”—to deny personhood to Tommy the chimpanzee.
The NhRP legal team spent considerable time tracking down the source Black’s Law Dictionary used to formulate its definition “with confidence that the Lavery ruling was flawed,” in the words of NhRP President Steven M. Wise. An NhRP volunteer attorney—Spencer Lo—recently located the source, Sir John Salmond’s Jurisprudence (10th edition), with the assistance of the Library of Congress. “So far as legal theory is concerned, a person is any being whom the law recognizes as being capable of rights or duties,” Salmond states, which supports the NhRP’s arguments that its chimpanzee clients Tommy and Kiko need not be able to bear duties to be recognized as legal persons with the fundamental right to bodily liberty.
In an April 6th email sent in response to a letter from NhRP Executive Director Kevin Schneider requesting the correction, the editor-in-chief of Black’s Law Dictionary, Bryan Garner, thanked Schneider for drawing the error to his attention and wrote that he had “marked it for correction in the [next] edition.”
“We have been arguing that one reason the Lavery decision is incorrect is that it relied upon Black’s definition, and a second reason is that many of the cases the Lavery court cited also relied upon it,” Wise said. “These are two of several reasons why no court should endorse the Lavery decision or adopt its reasoning.”
The First Judicial Department heard oral arguments in both chimpanzees’ cases on March 16th, 2017 in Manhattan. A lower court denied the NhRP’s habeas petitions on behalf of Tommy and Kiko in part on the grounds that it believed itself bound by the Third Judicial Department’s 2014 ruling in Lavery.
The NhRP also delivered a letter to the First Judicial Department on March 27th to make the Court aware of the “person” error and to ask it to also consider a recent ruling in India that recognizes the fundamental rights of two rivers and a recent article by Craig Ewasiuk in the Columbia Human Rights Law Review that argues that the Lavery case was wrong in “claiming that modern social contract theory precludes granting legal rights to animals because the capacity for assuming duties is a precondition for being granted rights.”
“It is now up to the Court to decide whether to allow the NhRP to file the letter,” said Wise.
The NhRP expects the First Judicial Department’s ruling on both chimpanzee habeas appeals in two to six weeks.
CASE NO. Tommy: Index. No. 162358/15 (New York County) & Kiko: Index. No. 150149/16 (New York County)
CASE NAMES: THE NONHUMAN RIGHTS PROJECT, INC., on behalf of TOMMY, Petitioner-Appellant, -against- PATRICK C. LAVERY, individually and as an officer of Circle L Trailer Sales, Inc., DIANE L. LAVERY, and CIRCLE L TRAILER SALES, INC., Respondents-Respondents. & THE NONHUMAN RIGHTS PROJECT, INC., on behalf of KIKO, Petitioner-Appellant, -against- CARMEN PRESTI, individually and as an officer and director of The Primate Sanctuary, Inc., CHRISTIE E. PRESTI, individually and as an officer and director of The Primate Sanctuary, Inc., and THE PRIMATE SANCTUARY, INC., Respondents-Respondents.
For more information on Tommy, Kiko, and the NhRP’s court cases on their behalf, visit https://www.nonhumanrights.org/litigation/
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About the Nonhuman Rights Project
Founded in 1996 by attorney Steven M. Wise, the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) is the only civil rights organization working to achieve actual legal rights for members of species other than our own. 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. Our first cases were filed in December of 2013.
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 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.