In a long-awaited decision about whether Happy the Elephant could be designated a person for the purposes of a writ of habeas corpus, the Court of Appeals of the State of New York has spoken. In a word—no. Specifically, the Court held that “[b]ecause the writ of habeas corpus is intended to protect the liberty right of human beings to be free of unlawful confinement, it has no applicability to Happy, a nonhuman animal who is not a ‘person’ subjected to illegal detention.” In re Nonhuman Rights Project, Inc. v. Breheny, No. 52 (N.Y. June 14, 2022) (emphasis in original) (available at https://www.nycourts.gov/ctapps/Decisions/2022/Jun22/52opn22-Decision.pdf.)
This holding addresses at least two threshold concerns in this case—whether Happy is a “person” and whether she is being held illegally. Since the answer is “no” and “no,” she does not qualify for the requested remedy.
And fundamentally, the requested remedy would not address the alleged wrongs described in the dissents, that if Happy were to be relocated to a different facility she would not be “caged and displayed” (Wilson, J. Op at 70) but could instead behave like non-captive elephants, “a wild highly social species whose bodies and minds are accustomed to traversing long distances to connect with others and to find food” (Id. at 61).