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School’s Research Chimps Defended by Group

MANHATTAN (CN) - To help a pair of chimpanzees being held captive on Long Island, a New York judge must declare them legal "persons," a group says in court.

The Nonhuman Rights Project of Coral Springs, Fla., brought the petition on March 19 in Manhattan Supreme Court to challenge Stony Brook University's detention of two young male chimps, Hercules and Leo.

"Hercules and Leo are autonomous and self-determining beings who possess the New York common law right to bodily liberty protected by the New York common law of habeas corpus and are entitled to petition this court for their liberty," Steven Wise, an attorney and president of the group, contends in the filing.

The group wants the chimps relocated to a sanctuary in South Florida.

Past efforts to free other chimps in New York using habeas corpus have proven unsuccessful.

Wise's last attempt to free Hercules and Leo from the university's primate locomotion research project failed nearly two years ago in Suffolk County Supreme Court, apparently on procedural grounds.

A statement from Wise on the group's website Monday says: "We decided to re-file their case in Manhattan rather than take the time to appeal."

The complaint says the new case does not differ in any way from the earlier filing on the facts, so the new action is not barred by having already been judged on its merits.

"Res judicata does not bar the filing of successive petitions for writs of habeas corpus, and a court is always competent to issue a new habeas corpus writ even on the same grounds as a prior dismissed writ," according to the complaint.

"The legality of Hercules and Leo's detention has never been determined by a court of the state of New York," Wise continues.

In 2013, the Fulton County Supreme Court and the Niagara County Supreme Court shot down Wise's respective bids for the release of two different chimps, Tommy and Kiko, both of which belong to private owners.

Appeals in those cases have proved unsuccessful thus far as well.

This past December, a panel in Albany ruled that there is no precedent for treating animals like Tommy as persons for the purposes of habeas corpus. A Rochester panel meanwhile found in January that habeas corpus could not be used just to seek a change in where Kiko lives.

New York's high court, the Court of Appeals, is considering a motion by Wise for leave to appeal in Tommy's case. Though the Rochester panel denied Wise permission to appeal Kiko's case Friday, a Court of Appeals spokesman said Monday that Wise could petition the high court directly to hear the case.

The Nonhuman Rights Project has worked for nearly two decades to change the legal status of some animals, such as chimps, from "things" to "persons," the nonprofit says in the new habeas complaint for Hercules and Leo.

Wise contends the chimps should be recognized as "persons" within the meaning of habeas corpus, but he is not seeking their designation as human beings.

"The legal term 'person' has never been a synonym for 'human being' and may designate an entity broader or qualitatively different," his complaint states.

Wise buttressed the complaint with nearly a dozen "expert" affidavits, many attesting "that chimpanzees possess the complex cognitive abilities sufficient for New York common law personhood and the common law right to bodily liberty, as a matter of liberty, as a matter of equality, or both," Wise claims.

"The argument of Hercules and Leo's personhood is strongly supported by law, science, history and modern standards of justice, as established by the expert affidavits and accompanying memorandum of law," he says.

The lawsuit does not seek to improve the chimps' welfare but to have Stony Brook University demonstrate that their captivity is lawful.

"It is the fact they are detained at all, rather than the conditions of said detention, that petitioner claims is unlawful," Wise states.

The university did not respond to an email Monday seeking comment on the complaint.

Also representing the Nonhuman Rights Project is Elizabeth Stein of New Hyde Park.

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