A Superior Court judge has denied a Florida-based animal rights group a motion to reargue its case that three elephants held captive at a Connecticut petting zoo should be freed and sent to a sanctuary.
Judge James Bentivegna underscored his Dec. 26 ruling that the Nonhuman Rights Project’s petition for a common-law writ of habeas corpus seeking the release of the elephants from the Commerford Zoo in Goshen was “wholly frivolous.”
The animal-rights group, led by founder and attorney Steven Wise, filed the petition on behalf of elephants Beulah, Minnie and Karen, claiming the group was asserting the animals’ rights to be freed from the 40-year-old petting zoo and amusement park.
Bentivegna reasserted his finding that the group lacked standing, and that it had failed to put forth any controlling principles to reargue the case. “[T]he petitioner’s amendments do not resolve this court’s conclusion that—under the law as it stands today—the petition lacks the possibility or probability of victory, meaning it is wholly frivolous on its face in legal terms,” the judge wrote.
The judge said the petition was not based on constitutionally protected liberty and that the plaintiffs had not established a significant relationship with the elephants.
In a statement, NRP announced plans to immediately appeal the ruling. The nonprofit claims the elephants are autonomous and cognitively complex beings.
Bentivegna stated last December that the animal-rights group’s “theory than an elephant is a legal person” did not hold up under the law. ”The petitioner is unable to point to any authority which has held so, but instead relies on relics on basic human rights of freedom and equality, and points to experts’ averments to similarities between elephants and human beings as evidence that this court must forge new laws.”
NRP did not respond to a request for comment Thursday. Steven Wise’s attorney, David Zabel, a principal with Cohen & Wolf in Bridgeport, also did not respond to a request for comment.
No one from the petting zoo responded to a request for comment.
The decision was one of a string of rulings that have denied precedent for individuals and groups claiming animals have standing in court. U.S. District Judge William Orrick of the Northern District of California ruled in 2016 that animals have no standing to assert copyright authority under the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit law. That decision involved a selfie taken by a crested macaque that quickly went viral.