Legal Technology News

Court Ruling: Chimpanzees Are Not Legal Persons
Download PDF
1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (No Ratings Yet)

Tommy the chimp should not be granted legal rights, an appeals court has ruled.

Summary: A New York appeals court has ruled that a chimpanzee should not have legal “personhood.”

According to, yesterday, a New York appeals court ruled that a pet chimp who goes by “Tommy” does not have the same legal rights that a human does. The court further ruled that Tommy does not have to be released from the cage he lives in.


The appellate panel, comprised of three judges, ruled unanimously to deny the chimp a writ of habeas corpus, as well as “legal personhood.” A writ of habeas corpus aims to protect persons from being held against their will.

Here’s an article from last year about the case.

Clearly, Tommy did not file the complaint. The Nonhuman Rights Project advocates for legal rights for animals, and brought the case to a trial in 2013. The organization’s concern was that Tommy’s environment was akin to one being in solitary confinement. According to the complaint, Patrick Lavery, Tommy’s owner, is holding Tommy against his will, and Tommy should be free to live out his days in a wildlife sanctuary. The court ruled in 2013 that Tommy would not be granted personhood, but a lawyer with the Nonhuman Rights Project, Steven Wise, appealed the ruling.

Get JD Journal in Your Mail

Subscribe to our FREE daily news alerts and get the latest updates on the most happening events in the legal, business, and celebrity world. You also get your daily dose of humor and entertainment!!

Do you think animals such as chimps should be granted legal rights?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Yesterday’s opinion was seven pages long. The panel opined that no precedent existed for considering animals as people, and that there was no legal basis to do so. The issue is further complicated by the fact that the legal definition of personhood involves rights and the ability to perform duties.

The decision read, “Needless to say, unlike human beings, chimpanzees cannot bear any legal duties, submit to societal responsibilities or be held legally accountable for their actions. In our view, it is this incapability to bear any legal responsibilities and societal duties that renders it inappropriate to confer upon chimpanzees the legal rights—such as the fundamental right to liberty protected by the writ of habeas corpus—that have been afforded to human beings.”

Here’s an article from October about Wise’s fight for Tommy.

The plaintiffs based their case on the fact that chimpanzees are of high intelligence, and that they fit the concept of what the court considers a person. Expert testimony presented revealed that chimps have advanced cognitive abilities and can understand the past and anticipate future events and “suffer as much in solitary confinement as would a human being.”

In Switzerland, free legal representation was denied to animals.

Wise argued that Tommy was a legal person, but that human rights were not being sought on behalf of Tommy. “’Personhood’ is the legal word, but it’s not synonymous with human,” he explained.

Wise is working on a similar case involving a chimp named Kiko. A decision is expected to be made early next year.

Photo credit:



Claim Consultant

USA-MI-Grand Rapids

We’re looking for a medical or legal professional who’s looking for a change of pace, re...

Apply now

Associate Attorney - $65,000 minimum to start (more for experience)

USA-FL-Saint Augustine Beach

ST. AUGUSTINE ASSOCIATE ATTORNEY Membership in Good Standing with Florida Bar and able to re...

Apply now

NDA Counsel

USA-NY-New York City

Sterlington, PLLC has developed a growing contract-development service providing routine but sophist...

Apply now

Litigation Attorney

USA-FL-Fort Lauderdale

Seeking a qualified Transactional Attorney with experience in litigation, covenant enforcement and c...

Apply now




Search Now

Litigation Associate Attorney


Maitland office of our client seeks litigation associate attorney with 2+ years of experience in def...

Apply Now

Litigation Associate Attorney


Charlotte office of our client seeks associate attorney with 1-3 years of civil litigation. The cand...

Apply Now

Litigation Attorney at Law


Eatontown office of our client seeks litigation attorney at law with experience. The candidate shoul...

Apply Now

Most Popular


To Top