Friday, August 16, 2019
The Connecticut Appellate Court affirmed denial of habeas relief in a matter brought on behalf of three elephants
The petitioner, Nonhuman Rights Project, Inc., appeals from the judgment of the habeas court declining to issue a writ of habeas corpus that it sought on behalf of three elephants, Beulah, Minnie, and Karen (elephants), who are alleged to be confined by the named respondents, R.W. Commerford & Sons, Inc. (also known as the Commerford Zoo), and its president, William R. Commerford, at the Commerford Zoo in Goshen.
Only a limited number of courts have addressed the issue of whether a nonhuman animal who allegedly has been injured has standing to bring a claim in a court of law. There are even fewer cases addressing whether a nonhuman animal can challenge its confinement by way of a petition for a writ a habeas corpus. The petitioner asserts that this case ‘‘turns on whether [the elephants] are ‘persons’ solely for the purpose of the common-law right to bodily liberty that is protected by the common law of habeas corpus.’’ In its view, the elephants are entitled to a writ of habeas corpus as a matter of common-law liberty because the writ of habeas corpus is deeply rooted in our cherished ideas of individual autonomy and free choice. It essentially invites this court to expand existing common law. This case, however, is more than what the petitioner purports it to be. Not only would this case require us to recognize elephants as ‘‘persons’’ for purposes of habeas corpus, this recognition essentially would require us to upend this state’s legal system to allow highly intelligent, if not all, nonhuman animals the right to bring suit in a court of law. At this juncture, we decline to make such sweeping pronouncements when there exists so little authority for doing so...
There are profound implications for a court to conclude that an elephant, or any nonhuman animal for that matter, is entitled to assert a claim in a court of law. In the present case, we have little difficulty concluding that the elephants—who are incapable of bearing legal duties, submitting to societal responsibilities, or being held legally accountable for failing to uphold those duties and responsibilities—do not have standing to file a petition for a writ of habeas corpus because they have no legally protected interest that possibly can be adversely affected. See Gold v. Rowland, supra, 296 Conn. 207 (‘‘[a]ggrievement is established if there is a possibility, as distinguished from a certainty, that some legally protected interest . . . has been adversely affected’’ [internal quotation marks omitted]). Accordingly, we conclude that the court properly declined to issue a writ of habeas corpus on standing grounds.