ELEPHANTS IN THE NEWS: What does it Mean to be an Elephant in Connecticut?

While perhaps an unusual topic for a legal blog, a three judge panel at the Appellate Court heard arguments this week from an animal rights group on the issue of whether animals possess the same rights as human beings for purposes of a writ of habeas corpus (a way of protection against any detention that is forbidden by law). The Nonhuman Rights Group is trying to specifically free three elephants (Beulah, Minnie and Karen) from the Commerford Zoo, for the reason that it claims they are being detained illegally in deplorable conditions and is looking to move these three elephants to a natural habitat sanctuary.

The trial court denied the petition for writ of habeas corpus and concluded that the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction, and found the petition to be wholly frivolous on its face in legal terms. The issue before the court was whether elephants are “persons” entitled to liberty and equality for the purposes of habeas corpus. The court found that the petitioner, Nonhuman Rights Group, lacked standing in that it failed to allege that it possessed any relationship with the elephants, and found the petition to be frivolous on its face. The court concluded that the petitioner could not point to any specific law that supported its theory that an elephant is a legal person entitled to those same liberties extended to us such as to warrant the granting of a writ of habeas corpus. Thus, the court dismissed the petition and noted that the state’s laws prohibiting cruelty to animals, namely General Statutes §§ 22-329a and 53-247.  (Read More Here) for alternative methods available to ensure the well-being of animals in Connecticut.

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The Nonhuman Rights Group suggests that the main issue is whether these three elephants may be detained at all, and argues that this case goes beyond a standard animal protection/welfare case. Additionally, the Group argued in its brief that the trial court erred in finding no relationship and/or erred in failing to permit it the opportunity to amend its complaint to allege the existence of a significant relationship, once the court concluded one was required. In response to the court’s conclusion that the petition was frivolous, the Group argues that the issues are debatable among jurists of reason; that a court could resolve the issues in a different manner; that the questions are adequate to deserve encouragement to proceed further; and that the trial court essentially found a novel issue of law to instead be a frivolous one.

The issues being presented are definitely new ones in this state, and the briefs submitted certainly provide for a fascinating read on this issue. (Read More Here). It will be interesting to see how the Appellate Court rules with respect to these issues being presented and, specifically, whether these three elephants possess any rights above and beyond those contained in the state’s laws prohibiting cruelty to animals.

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