Public Policy Group Files Amicus Brief Urging New York High Court to Deny Legal Personhood Status to Animal at Behest of Animal Rights Group

Public Policy Group attorneys Phil Goldberg and Christopher Appel, working with partner Scott Chesin in the firm’s New York office, filed an amicus brief urging the New York high court to reject a writ of habeas corpus that an animal rights group filed in an effort to have an elephant removed from the Bronx Zoo. Both the trial and mid-level appellate courts rejected the writ, concluding that writs of habeas corpus can be filed only for humans, not other animals. As the mid-level appellate court appreciated, under current law animals are categorized as the property of their owners and judicial recognition of independent personhood legal rights in a non-human animal would lead to a labyrinth of questions about the rights of animal owners generally. It concluded that any such change in the animal-human relationship should come from the legislature, which can determine how to impose such a change, if at all.
The brief, submitted on behalf of the American Veterinary Medical Association, New York State Veterinary Medical Society, and American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges, explained the importance of the current ownership-based regime for animal care. It discussed how animal ownership laws reflect wide-ranging roles of animals in society—from pets, to zoo animals to farm animals—and promote animal welfare through accountability. Rules and regulations governing animal welfare can be addressed through legislative enactments, as has been done with animal abuse laws and regulations over zoo animal habitats. Because legal personhood rights in animals would hinder, not advance, animal welfare, the writ should be rejected, the brief argued.

The Nonhuman Rights Project, Inc. v. Breheny, Case No. APL 2021-00087