March 14, 2023

Toronto Animals in the Law and Humanities Working Group on "Animal Plaintiffs"


In recent years, nonhuman animals have increasingly begun to inhabit the captions of lawsuits. Endangered Hawaiian songbirds, dolphins deafened by Navy sonar, and a neglected horse named Justice are just a few of the nonhuman animals who have appeared as plaintiffs in litigation. These cases raise important jurisprudential questions about what it means to be a plaintiff seeking relief. As we learn more about the richness and diversity of nonhuman life, our legal system will have to rethink its exclusions to meet the demands of interspecies justice. Drawing on a diverse body of philosophical, jurisprudential, and scientific scholarship, this Article is the first to offer a comprehensive theory of plaintiffhood and apply it to nonhuman animals. It defends the plaintiffhood of animals by articulating the conceptual and doctrinal foundations of the plaintiff as a being who complains about injustice, mourns death, and laments the mistreatment of herself and of others. Developments in contemporary animal behavior and cognitive ethology have demonstrated these features in animals – including inequity aversion in monkeys, grief in elephants, and resistance to exploitation amongst many other species. This Article argues that as sentient and plaintive beings, animals are entitled to be plaintiffs in lawsuits and that to deny them the ability to enforce their rights in court is unjust and anthropocentric. 


Matthew Liebman is Associate Professor and Chair of the Justice for Animals Program at the University of San Francisco School of Law. Before coming to USF, Matthew practiced law for 12 years with the Animal Legal Defense Fund, including three years as the organization's director of litigation. Matthew's scholarship has appeared in Ecology Law Quarterly, the Animal Law Review, the Journal of Animal Law, and the Stanford Environmental Law Journal. He is the co-author of A Worldview of Animal Law. Matthew clerked for the Honorable Warren J. Ferguson of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit