In Justice v. Gwendolyn Vercher, Case No. 18CV17601 (Oregon Judicial Department, Washington County Circuit Court, Twentieth Judicial District, Sept. 17, 2018) the Court dismissed a complaint filed by the Animal Legal Defense Fund, for Justice, the Plaintiff, a quarter horse. The Court held that an animal, including the equine Plaintiff, lacked the legal capacity to sue, pursuant to Oregon Rule of Civil Procedure (ORCP) §21(A)(4) and for failure to state facts sufficient to constitute a claim, pursuant to ORCP 21(A)(8).
The court finds that a non-human animal such as Justice lacks the legal status or qualifications necessary for the assertion of legal rights and duties in a court of law . . . Justice is not the real party in interest. There are profound implications of a judicial finding that a horse, or any non-human animal for that matter, is a legal entity that has the legal right to assert a claim in a court of law. Such a finding would likely lead to a flood of lawsuits whereby non-human animals could assert claims we now reserve just for humans and human creations such as business and other entities. Furthermore, non-human animals are incapable of accepting legal responsibilities.
The Court unfortunately opined that an appellate court or the state legislature might determine that public policy regarding this issue should permit such legal actions from animals, perhaps opening the door for an appeal or legislative action.
The Court declined to award attorneys’ fees and costs to the defendant dragged into this seemingly frivolous lawsuit.
This is not the first—or likely the last—time activist nonprofit organizations have attempted to file suits on behalf of animals, in attempts to elevate their status to those of humans. The Nonhuman Rights Project (NHRP) filed a number of failed attempts to apportion personhood rights to certain animals, Nonhuman Rights Project, Inc., on Behalf of Tommy v. Lavery, 100 N.E.3d 846 (N.Y. 2018); Nonhuman Rights Project, Inc. ex rel. Tommy v. Lavery, 54 N.Y.S.3d 392, 394 (N.Y. App. Div. 2017), leave to appeal denied sub nom. Nonhuman Rights Project, Inc., on Behalf of Tommy v. Lavery, 100 N.E.3d 846 (N.Y. 2018); Nonhuman Rights Project, Inc. ex rel. Kiko v. Presti, 3 N.Y.S.3d 698 (N.Y. App. Div. 2015); Nonhuman Rights Project, Inc., ex rel. Kiko v. Presti, 999 N.Y.S.2d 652 (App. Div. 2015); Article 70 of CPLR for a Writ of Habeas Corpus, The Nonhuman Rights Project, Inc. ex rel. Hercules & Leo v. Stanley, 16 N.Y.S.3d 898 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 2015); The Nonhuman Rights Project, Inc. v. Stanley, 2015 WL 1812988 (N.Y. Sup.); see also, Cetacean Community v. Bush, 386 F.3d 1169 (9th Cir. 2004); Naruto v. Slater, 208 WL 1902414 (9th Cir. April 23, 2018); Tilikum v Sea World Parks & Entertainment, 84 2 F.Supp.2d 1259 (S.D. Cal. 2012).
Recently, the NHRP filed another writ of habeas corpus in Orleans County, New York, “demanding recognition of [an elephant named] Happy’s legal personhood and fundamental right to bodily liberty as well as her transfer to an elephant sanctuary.” Happy has been housed at the Bronx Zoo since around 1977. In the Memorandum of Law filed in support of its application, the NHRP takes great liberties at describing prior court decisions and orders in an attempt to create precedent for the current court to rely upon. In all instances, NHRP misses the mark, and comes close to or has violated its professional responsibilities related to its obligations of duty of candor to the court by characterizing dicta in decisions without providing the ultimate holdings that were not favorable to NHRP’s position.
More to come on this latest legal proceeding and others that continue to change the legal status of nonhuman animals.