NONHUMAN RIGHTS PROJECT, INC.
R.W. COMMERFORD AND SONS, INC., ET AL.
April 22, 2019
for a writ of habeas corpus, brought to the Superior Court in
the judicial district of Litchfield at Torrington, where the
court, Bentivegna, J., rendered judgment declining
to issue a writ of habeas corpus, from which the petitioner
appealed to this court; thereafter, the court,
Bentivegna, J., denied the petitioner's motion
to reargue and for leave to amend its petition, and issued an
articulation of its decision. Affirmed.
M. Wise, pro hac vice, with whom were David B. Zabel and, on
the brief, Barbara M. Schellenberg, for the appellant
R. Cherry filed a brief for Laurence H. Tribe as amicus
R. Cherry filed a brief for Justin Marceau et al. as amici
A. Dubois filed a brief as amicus curiae.
Jessica S. Rubin filed a brief for The Philosophers as amici
Lavine, Keller and Elgo, Js.
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. The petitioner argues that the court erred
in (1) dismissing its petition for a writ of habeas corpus on
the basis that it lacked standing, (2) denying its subsequent
motion to amend the petition, and (3) dismissing the habeas
petition on the alternative ground that it was
‘‘wholly frivolous.'' For the reasons
discussed herein, we agree with the habeas court that the
petitioner lacked standing. Accordingly, we affirm the
judgment of the habeas court.
November 13, 2017, the petitioner filed a verified petition
for a common-law writ of habeas corpus on behalf of the
elephants pursuant to General Statutes § 52-466 et seq.
and Practice Book § 23-21 et seq. The petitioner alleged
that it is a not-for-profit corporation with a mission of
changing ‘‘the common law status of at least some
nonhuman animals from mere things, which lack the capacity to
possess any legal rights, to persons, who possess such
fundamental rights as bodily integrity and bodily liberty,
and those other legal rights to which evolving standards of
morality, scientific discovery, and human experience entitle
them.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) The
petitioner alleged that the named respondents are illegally
confining the elephants.
petition makes clear that it ‘‘challenges neither
the conditions of [the elephants'] confinement nor [the]
respondents' treatment of the elephants, but rather the
fact of their detention itself . . . .'' It is
‘‘not seeking any right other than the common-law
right to bodily liberty'' for the elephants. The
petition states that determining ‘‘[w]ho is a
‘person' is the most important individual question
that can come before a court, as the term person identifies
those entities capable of possessing one or more legal
rights. Only a ‘person' may invoke a common-law
writ of habeas corpus, and the inclusion of elephants as
‘persons' for that purpose is for this court to
decide.'' The petition further alleges that
‘‘[t]he expert affidavits submitted in support of
[the] petition set forth the facts that demonstrate that
elephants . . . are autonomous beings who live
extraordinarily complex emotional, social, and intellectual
lives, and who possess those complex cognitive abilities
sufficient for common-law person hood and the common-law
right to bodily liberty protected by the common law of habeas
corpus, as a matter of common-law liberty, equality, or
December 26, 2017, the habeas court issued a memorandum of
decision. Therein, pursuant to Practice Book § 23-24 (a)
(1),  it declined to issue a writ of habeas
corpus because it concluded that the petitioner lacked
standing to bring the petition on behalf of the elephants.
The court concluded that the petitioner failed to satisfy
next friend standing ‘‘[b]ecause the petitioner .
. . failed to allege that it possesses any relationship with
the elephants . . . .'' (Emphasis omitted.)
Additionally, pursuant to Practice Book § 23-24 (a) (2),
the court declined to issue a writ for the elephants because
it concluded that the petition was wholly frivolous on its
face. On January 16, ...