210 Children’s Legal Rights Journal [Vol. 37:2 2017]
The courts have been reluctant however, to extend personhood rights to other living beings.
The Nonhuman Rights Project, 243 a legal advocacy group, has tried to secure legal rights and
protections for animals such as chimpanzees. 244 One of their clients is a chimpanzee known as
Tommy. 245 The group brought a writ of habeas corpus petition at a New York State Supreme
Court, presenting the argument that the writ of habeas corpus is “aimed at the denial of a legal
person, not necessarily a human-being, but a legal person’s right to bodily liberty.” 246 Counsel
acknowledged that although being a Homo sapiens is a sufficient condition for personhood, there
are other conditions which are sufficient for personhood247 such as exerting choice, and evidencing
self-awareness, autonomy, and self-determination. 248 Despite recognizing the argument’s strength,
the court did not find it persuasive, holding that Tommy was not a human or a person who could
seek a habeas corpus petition. 249
The Nonhuman Rights Project filed an appeal at the New York Supreme Court Appellate
Division, and presented the following question:
Is a chimpanzee, who is a member of a species that possesses the capacities for
autonomy and self-determination, and possesses an autobiographical self, episodic
memory, self-consciousness, self-knowingness, self-agency, referential and
intentional communication, empathy, a working memory, language, metacognition,
numerosity, and material, social and symbolic culture, the abilities to plan, engage
in mental time-travel, intentional action, sequential learning, meditational learning,
mental state modeling, visual perspective-taking, cross-modal perception, the
abilities to understand cause-and-effect and the experiences of others, to imagine,
imitate, engage in deferred imitation, emulate, to innovate and to use and make
tools and who suffers from imprisonment the way a human suffers from
imprisonment, a ‘person’ under the New York common law of habeas corpus? 250
243 NON-HUMAN RIGHTS PROJECT, http://www.nonhumanrights.org/ (last visited Feb. 16, 2017) (The Non-Human
Rights Project is a legal organization working toward achieving legal rights for members of species other than our
own. “Our mission is to change the common law legal status of at least some appropriate 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.”).
244 NON-HUMAN RIGHTS PROJECT, http://www.nonhumanrightsproject.org/qa-about-the-nonhuman-rights-project/
(last visited May 12, 2017) (“Specifically what rights are you seeking? The right to bodily liberty – i.e. not to be
245 David Grimm, Chimpanzee ‘Personhood’ Effort Begins New Court Battle, SCI. (Oct. 8, 2014),
246 Transc. of Proceeding under Article 70 of the CPLR for a Writ of Habeas Corpus at 10 ¶¶ 5-9; NONHUMAN
RIGHTS PROJECT, Inc., av. Lavery, Index No. 0251 at 10, ¶¶ 5-9, http://www.nonhumanrightsproject.org/wp-
content/uploads/2013/12/Fulton-Cty-hearing-re.-Tommy-12-2-13.pdf (N.Y. Sup. Dec. 3, 2013).
247 Id. at 20, ¶¶ 19-22.
248 Id. at 21, ¶¶ 10-23.
249 Id. at 26, ¶¶ 11-25.
250 Appellate Br. of Petitioners-Appellant at 2, People ex rel. Nonhuman Rights Project, Inc., v. Lavery (N. Y. App.
Div. 2013) (No. 2013-02051) available at http://www.nonhumanrightsproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/8.-