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New York State Court Of Appeals Won't Hear Case Seeking Personhood For Chimpanzees

ALBANY, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) -- An animal rights group seeking legal personhood for chimpanzees will not be getting a hearing in the highest court in New York State.

The Court of Appeals, without comment Tuesday, declined to hear the appeals by The Nonhuman Rights Project on behalf of Kiko and Tommy.

Lower courts had rejected the organization's argument that scientific evidence of chimps' emotional and cognitive abilities should qualify them for basic rights, including freedom from imprisonment.

In December, a midlevel court unanimously denied human legal rights to Tommy, who lives alone in a cage. The three justices said chimps ``cannot bear any legal duties, submit to societal responsibilities or be held legally accountable for their actions.''

Tommy's owner said he's cared for under strict state and federal license rules and inspections.

The Nonhuman Rights Project, a nonprofit, was founded in 2007 by Massachusetts lawyer Steven Wise.

When Wise filed the lawsuits two years ago, he told The Associated Press: ``These are the first in a long series of suits that will chip away at the legal thinghood of such non-human animals as chimpanzees.'' If the lawsuits succeed, he said, similar ones could eventually be filed on behalf of other species considered autonomous, such as gorillas, orangutans, whales, dolphins and elephants.

Tommy, an adult male chimp, was kept by his owner in a cage in a shed in a used trailer lot in Gloversville, 35 miles northwest of Albany. The lawsuit said Tommy mainly had a television to keep him company.

Kiko was living in a cage in a brick building of the nonprofit Primate Sanctuary in Niagara Falls.

Wise said they've already begun discussing refiling the cases in New York in other courts, noting briefs filed in support by some legal scholars citing errors and conflicts in the lower court rulings. They also plan to sue on behalf of elephants in another state, he said.

A lawsuit was also filed on behalf of two other chimpanzees named Hercules and Leo, whom the Nonhuman Rights Project claimed were being unlawfully detained by the Stony Brook University science department.

Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Barbara Jaffe dismissed that lawsuit in July, though she said efforts to extend legal rights to chimpanzees are understandable; someday they may even succeed, WCBS 880's Marla Diamond reported at the time.

(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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