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Disability and Pets: Related Cases

Case Name Citation Summary
Bronk v. Ineichen   54 F.3d 425 (7th Cir. 1995)   Plaintiffs appealed decision of district court denying their claim that defendants violated the Federal Fair Housing Act for failing to allow a hearing dog in their rental unit as a reasonable accommodation for their hearing disability. The landlord denied the request, alleging that the dog was not a "hearing dog," and that the tenants did not have a legitimate need for the dog because the dog lacked professional training. The Court of Appeals held that if the dog was not necessary as a hearing dog then the plaintiffs were not entitled to the dog as a reasonable accommodation under the FHA. Also, the court held that a disabled person must meet two standards in arguing that an accommodation be made: (1) the accommodation must facilitate the disabled person's ability to function; and (2) the accommodation must survive a cost-benefit balancing that takes both parties' needs into account. The court vacated the decision of the lower court and ordered a new trial because of misleading jury instructions.   
Cat Champion Corp. v. Jean Marie Primrose   149 P.3d 1276 (Or. Ct. App. 2006)   A woman had 11 cats which were in a state of neglect and were taken away from her and put with a cat protection agency. Criminal charges were dropped against the woman when it was found she was mentally ill and incapable of taking care of herself or her cats. The court found it could grant the cat protection agency ownership over the cats so they could be put up for adoption, even though the woman had not been criminal charged, and had not forfeited her cats.  
Crossroads Apartments Associates v. LeBoo   152 Misc.2d 830 (N.Y. 1991)   Landlord brought an eviction proceeding against tenant with a history of mental illness for possession of a cat in his rental unit in violation of a no pets policy. Tenant alleged that he needed the cat to alleviate his "intense feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and depression, which are daily manifestations of his mental illness." The court held that in order to prove that the pet  is necessary for the tenant to use and enjoy the dwelling, he must prove "that he has an emotional and psychological dependence on the cat which requires him to keep the cat in the apartment." The court denied the housing authority's motion for summary judgment, stating that there was a triable issue of fact as to whether the cat was necessary for the tenant to use and enjoy the dwelling.  
Dilorenzo v. Costco Wholesale Corp.   515 F.Supp.2d 1187 (W.D.Wash.)   Plaintiff is a disabled individual who suffers from a variety of ailments arising after her service in the armed forces. Plaintiff's claims arise from interactions with Costco store employees on two separate shopping trips with her service dog. Store employees inquired as to what task the dog performed and objected to the dog being carried in plaintiff's arms around the store. Plaintiff brings her claims under the Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD) and the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The court found that Defendant's employees did not exceed the boundaries of a permissible inquiry under the ADA with regard to her service dog, where they never asked Plaintiff to state her disability or demanded proof of special training.  
Green v. Housing Authority of Clackamas County   994 F.Supp. 1253 (D. Oregon, 1998)   Plaintiffs were tenants of a county housing authority and alleged that the housing authority violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Federal Fair Housing Amendments Act, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, by failing to reasonably accommodate their request for a waiver of a "no pets" policy to allow for a hearing assistance animal in the rental unit to reasonably accommodate a hearing disability. The housing authority argued that the dog was not a reasonable accommodation for the tenant's specific disability because the dog was not certified as a hearing assistance animal. The court granted plaintiff's motion for summary judgment, holding that the housing authority violated the federal statutes when it required proof from the tenants that the dog had received hearing assistance training.    
Housing Authority of the City of New London v. Tarrant   1997 WL 30320 (Conn. 1997)   A mother renting housing alleged that her son was "mentally challenged" and required the companionship of a dog pursuant to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. The court rejected the tenant's allegations that her son had a qualifying mental disability, reasoning that the son received high marks in school prior to the commencing of the eviction proceedings. The court held that without evidence of a mental or physical disability, no reasonable accommodation is required.  
In re Kenna Homes Cooperative Corporation   557 S.E.2d 787 (W.V. 2001)   The owners of a cooperative unit kept a dog in their dwelling despite a no pets policy. There was, however, an exception in the policy for service animals, and the Jessups argued that the small dog they kept was necessary due to various medical problems they had, including arthritis and depression. The housing authority denied the request, stating that only animals certified for the particular disability qualify as a "service animal." The West Virginia Court of Appeals held that a housing authority may require that a service animal be properly trained without violating federal law.  
Janush v. Charities Housing Development Corp.   169 F.Supp.2d 1133 (N.D. Ca., 2000)   Tenant brought action under the Federal Fair Housing Act alleging that her landlord failed to reasonably accommodate her mental disability by refusing to allow her to keep companion animals in her rental unit. Tenant put forth evidence establishing that the animals lessened the effects of her mental disability by providing companionship. The housing authority argued that only service dogs are a reasonable accommodation. The court rejected the housing authority's argument, holding that animals other than service animal can be a reasonable accommodation for a disability. Also, the court noted that whether an accommodation is reasonable is a fact-specific inquiry, requiring an analysis of the burdens imposed on the housing authority and the benefits to the disabled person.  
Majors v. Housing Authority of the County of DeKalb Georgia   652 F.2d 454 (5th Cir. 981)  

Tenant had a history of mental illness and kept a dog in her apartment despite a "no pets" policy. The housing authority refused to waive the "no pets" policy and brought an eviction proceeding. Tenant filed a complaint in federal district court alleging violation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act for failure to waive the "no pets" policy as a reasonable accommodation for her disability. The district court granted the housing authority's motion for summary judgment and the tenant appealed. The court of appeals held that the housing authority deprived the tenant of the benefits of the housing program by enforcing the no pets rule, reasoning that waiving the no pets rule would allow the tenant to fully enjoy the benefits of the program and would place no undue burdens on the housing authority.

 
Nason v. Stone Hill Realty Association   1996 WL 1186942 (Mass. 1996)   A tenant with multiple sclerosis took in her mother's cat when her mother became ill. The housing authority had a no pets policy and requested that the tenant remove the pet from the premises. The tenant in turn offered a letter from her physician stating that "there would be serious negative consequences for her health if she was compelled to remove the cat." The court held that the tenant did not meet her burden of proving a nexus between the cat and her multiple sclerosis, reasoning that the physician's note does not state that the cat is necessary to alleviate her symptoms and that a more reasonable accommodation may be available.  
People v. Spence   212 Cal.App.4th 478 (Cal.App. 4 Dist., 2012)  

In this California case, a jury convicted James Spence of two counts of sexual offenses against a child 10 years old or younger (his housemate's daughter). He was sentenced to a total term of 55 years to life. Among other issues on appeal, Spence argues the court erred by allowing a therapy dog or support canine to be present at the child's feet while she testified, and contends this was “overkill” with the additional support person present on the witness stand. Section 868.5 of the Evidence Code allows up to two support persons during testimony. The court found that the dog was not a "person" for purposes of the code. The trial judge's decision to allow the dog was discretionary. The jury was given instructions to base its decision solely on the evidence presented at trial and not on any sympathies. Further, the court found even if more specific express findings of necessity would have been proper prior to allowing both the dog and support person on the the witness stand, any error was harmless.

 
People v. Tohom   969 N.Y.S.2d 123 (N.Y.A.D. 2 Dept.,2013)   This case, as a matter of first impression, considers whether a trial court was authorized to allow a "therapeutic comfort dog" to be present on witness stand for a 15-year-old-girl who was the victim in a predatory sexual assault and child endangerment case. Prosecutors sought to allow a Golden Retriever named Rose to accompany the child on the witness stand while she testified at the defendant’s trial. Prosecutors cited Criminal Procedure Law provisions regarding special witnesses and pointed to Executive Law §642-a, which allows a person supportive of a special witness to be “present and accessible” during testimony by such a witness. On appeal, defendant again argued that the dog would prejudice the jury against the defendant and would convey to the jury that the witness was under stress as a result of testifying and that this stress resulted from telling the truth. In finding that the comfort dog did not violate defendant's right to a fair trial, the appellate court agreed that the trial court's interpretation of Executive Law § 642-a "special witness" provision was correct. Further, the defendant failed to show that the dog Rose's presence was inherently prejudicial.  
Prindable v. Association of Apartment Owners of 2987 Kalakaua   304 F.Supp.2d 1245 (D. Hawaii, 2003)   Condominium resident filed a complaint alleging the housing authority violated the Federal Fair Housing Amendments Act by failing to waive the "no pets" as a reasonable accommodation for his handicap. The court held that where the primary handicap is mental or emotional in nature, an animal "must be peculiarly suited to ameliorate the unique problems of the mentally disabled," and granted the housing authority's motion for summary judgment on the issue of the housing authority's failure to make a reasonable accommodation under the FHA.  
Sak v. City of Aurelia, Iowa   832 F.Supp.2d 1026 (N.D.Iowa,2011)   After suffering a disabling stroke, a retired police officer’s pit bull mix was trained to become a service dog. However, the town where the retired police officer resided had a Breed Specific ordinance that prohibited pit bulls. The retired police officer and his wife brought this suit against the city alleging that the ordinance violated his rights under Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and also sought a preliminary injunction to enjoin the city from enforcing the ordinance. The officer’s preliminary injunction was granted after the court found: 1) the officer was likely to succeed on merits of ADA claim; 2) the officer would suffer irreparable harm absent injunction; 3) the balance of equities was in favor of injunctive relief; 4) and the national public interest in enforcement of ADA trumped more local public interest in public health and safety reflected in ordinance.  
Southeastern Community College v. Davis   99 S.Ct. 2361 (1979)  

Applicant to nursing program brought suit against the college alleging discrimination under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act for denying her acceptance to the program based on her physical disability of being deaf. The college alleged that the applicant was not "otherwise qualified" under the statute because, even if provided accommodations for her hearing disability, she would be unable to safely participate in the clinical training program. The court held that "otherwise qualified" under the statute means that a person is qualified for the program "in spite of" the handicap, and that the applicant here was not otherwise qualified for the program. The court also held that a program authority is not required to ignore the disability of the applicant when determining eligibility for the program. Rather, the statute only requires that the disabled person not be denied the benefits of the program solely because of the disability.

 
State v. Dye   309 P.3d 1192 (Wash.,2013)   The Defendant appealed his conviction for residential burglary. The victim in the case was an adult man with significant developmental disabilities. At trial, the State obtained permission to allow a dog named "Ellie" to sit at the victim's feet during testimony. On appeal of the Court of Appeal's decision, the Supreme Court held that defendant failed to establish that his rights to a fair trial were violated (283 P.3d 1130 (Wash.App. Div. 1,2012)). Further, any prejudice that resulted from Ellie's presence was minor and largely mitigated by the limiting instruction that the trial court gave. The Court found that the trial court did not abuse its discretion and the Court of Appeals decision was affirmed.  
State v. Dye   283 P.3d 1130 (Wash.App. Div. 1,2012)   In this Washington case, Defendant Dye appeals his conviction for residential burglary. The victim in the case was an adult man with significant developmental disabilities. At trial, the State obtained permission to allow a dog named "Ellie" to sit at the victim's feet during testimony. On appeal, Dye contends that his right to a fair trial was compromised because the dog's presence improperly incited the jury's sympathy, encouraged the jury to infer victimhood, and gave Lare an incentive to testify for the prosecution. The court found no prejudice to defendant from the presence of the dog, especially in light of the jury instructions to ignore her. Affirmed.  
Storms v. Fred Meyer Stores, Inc.   120 P.3d 126 (Wash.App. Div. 1,2005)  

This Washington discrimination case was brought by a dog owner (Storms) with psychiatric conditions against a store and its managers who refused to allow her to stay in store with her alleged service dog. The dog was trained to put herself between Storms and other people so as to keep an open area around Storms and alleviate her anxiety (a symptom of her post-traumatic stress syndrome). The appellate court found that there was sufficient evidence to establish a prima facie case of discrimination against Fred Meyer for refusing to allow her to shop accompanied by her dog. Testimony showed that Brandy had been specifically trained to help Storms with her particular disability by placing herself in between Storms and others in a way that alleviated her anxiety, which was further corroborated by testimony that Brandy engaged in such behavior. Thus, evidence showed that the defendants' violated RCW 49.60.215 by not allowing Storms to do her own shopping within the store because she was accompanied by a service animal.

 
Thompson v. Dover Downs, Inc.   887 A.2d 458 (Del.Supr.,2005)  

Vernon Thompson appeals from a Superior Court order reversing a decision and order of the Delaware Human Relations Commission (DHRC) after Thompson was denied access to defendant's casino because Thompson insisted that his dog accompany him, but refused to answer the officials' inquiries about what his alleged support animal had been trained to perform. The DHRC determined that by denying access, Dover Downs had unlawfully discriminated against Thompson in violation of the Delaware Equal Accommodations Law. The Supreme Court here agreed with the Superior Court in reversing the DHRC. It found that Dover Downs' personnel were entitled to ask Thompson about his dog's training. Since Thompson refused to answer these questions, there is no rational basis to conclude that Dover Downs' refusal to admit Thompson accompanied was pretextual.

 
Whittier Terrace Associates v. Hampshire   532 N.E.2d 712 (Mass. 1989)   Defendant was a person with a psychiatric disability and living in public housing. Defendant claimed to have an emotional and psychological dependence on her cat. The court held that the housing authority discriminated against defendant under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act for failure to waive the no pets policy as a reasonable accommodation for the mental disability. The court noted that there must be a narrow exception "to the rigid application of a no-pet rule, involving no untoward collateral consequences," because the handicapped person could fully receive the benefits of the program if provided the accommodation.  
Woodside Village   1993 WL 268293 (Conn. 1993)   A tenant was unable to adhere to the complex rules requiring that dogs be walked in designated areas and that the animal's waste be cleaned up. The court held the landlord made a reasonable accommodation by allowing the pet but requiring that these rules be followed, reasoning that the tenant's failure to adhere to these rules, despite his mental disability and emotional dependence on the dog, placed other tenant's health and safety at risk.  

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