By Daniel Wiessner
(Reuters) - An animal rights group's "radical attempt" in various lawsuits in New York state to extend legal rights to chimpanzees could undermine ownership of pets and farm animals, the New York attorney general's office said on Friday.
The Nonhuman Rights Project, founded by attorney and animal rights activist Steven Wise, has sued Stony Brook University over two chimps it owns, Hercules and Leo, which are used in anatomical research on primates. The group wants the animals transferred to a sanctuary in Florida.
Stony Brook, part of the State University of New York, is being represented by the New York attorney general's office.
Friday's court filing, in state Supreme Court in Manhattan, came ahead of a hearing in the case scheduled for Wednesday.
The brief, written by Assistant Attorney General Christopher Coulston, said the case "could set a precedent for the release of other animals ... housed at a zoo, in an educational institution, on a farm, or owned as a domesticated pet, and enmesh New York courts in continuing litigation."
Nonhuman Rights Project and Wise say holding chimpanzees in captivity amounts to unlawful imprisonment, citing a legal mechanism known as habeas corpus typically used by prison inmates who claim they have been illegally detained. Neither of them immediately had comment on the state's claims.
Wise has said that if he wins the case against the university, or two others brought on behalf of chimps in upstate New York, he could make similar claims on behalf of elephants, dolphins and other intelligent animals.
The attorney general's office also asked state Supreme Court Justice Barbara Jaffe to dismiss the case on a number of technical grounds, including that it was filed in Manhattan instead of the Long Island county where the university is located.
Wise, meanwhile, is appealing separate decisions by two mid-level state appeals courts that dismissed similar claims against the owners of chimps named Tommy and Kiko. The state's highest court could hear those cases next year.
Stony Brook earlier this month also won the backing of a group of philosophers known as the Center for the Study of Great Ideas, who said in a friend-of-the-court brief that chimps should not be granted legal rights because they cannot bear the responsibilities that come with them.
The case is Nonhuman Rights Project v. Stanley, New York State Supreme Court, New York County, No. 152736-2015.
(Reporting by Daniel Wiessner in Albany, N.Y.; Editing by Ted Botha and Leslie Adler)