The Nonhuman Rights Project, which has been crafting the legal strategy for years, seeks to place a chimpanzee named Tommy in a sanctuary, the New York Times reported.
Tommy is being held captive in a cage at a trailer lot in Gloversville, the group said in its filing.
"This petition asks this court to issue a writ recognizing that Tommy is not a legal thing to be possessed by respondents, but rather is a cognitively complex autonomous legal person with the fundamental legal right not to be imprisoned," the court filing says.
Patrick C. Lavery, the owner of the Circle L Trailer Sales where Tommy lives, said the animal is well cared for, has spacious cage and many toys.
He rescued Tommy from his previous home where he was badly treated, Lavery told the Times.
"If they were to see where this chimp lived for the first 30 years of his life, they would jump up and down for joy about where he is now," he said.
The animal rights group said it plans to file similar suits on the behalf of three more chimps in New York.
The group said it hopes the chimps will be moved to one of the eight sanctuaries in the North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance.