Panel Says District Judge Erred in Imposing Requirement Not Contained in ADA
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A District Court judge erred in holding that a hospital did not violate federal law by denying a woman with psychiatric disorders the companionship of her bichon-poodle mix because the animal was not a certified service dog, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held Tuesday, declaring that certification is not a requirement of the act.
Imposing such a requirement is “inconsistent” with the Americans With Disabilities Act (“ADA”), the opinion declares.
The decision by a three-judge panel vacates a judgment in favor of Del Amo Hospital granted on Sept. 3, 2019 by Judge David O. Carter of the Central District of California. He found that “Plaintiff C.L. is an individual with a disability within the meaning of the ADA” and Del Amo “is a place of public accommodation,” but found that the hospital did not violate the act because the dog, Aspen, trained by C.L., was not “certified.”
He noted testimony by an expert, Katie Gonzalez, that Aspen is a service dog. He remarked, however:
“[T]he Court finds this testimony is contradicted by the fact that Gonzalez—the owner of Little Angels, which follows the standards of Assistance Dogs International, and an expert dog trainer—is still not willing to certify C.L. and Aspen as a service dog and handler team….Accordingly, the Court finds that Plaintiff has not met her burden to show by a preponderance of the evidence that Aspen is currently a trained service dog.”
Ninth Circuit Opinion
In his opinion reversing the judgment and ordering a new trial, Circuit Judge Ronald M. Gould said:
“[A] ruling that service animals cannot be qualified under the ADA if an expert is not able to certify the animal based on the standards of a private organization would have the effect of denying legally protected access to public accommodations for persons who—like C.L.—need service animals to mitigate the effects of their disabilities in these spaces.”
He noted that Gonzales would not certify Aspen because C.L. had not brought Aspen to three particular training sessions. Yet, Gould said, the tasks taught to dogs at those sessions were not ones C.L. needed her dog to perform.
The judge wrote:
“The ADA’s implementing regulations define a service animal as ‘any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability.” including a psychiatric disability, where the work or tasks are “directly related to the individual’s disability.’…The regulations do not specify by whom the dog must be trained. Rather, the statute defines a service dog by the outcome of training—what the dog is capable of doing to ameliorate an individual’s disability. The language also makes clear that the dog’s capabilities must be trained for that purpose: a well-trained companion animal that happens to alleviate a person’s anxiety would not suffice…, but a dog trained by the individual to perform certain tasks to alleviate that anxiety would.”
C.L.—who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”), dissociative identity disorder, anxiety, and depression—trained Aspen to perform such tasks as licking her face to wake her from nightmares, interceding if she attempts to cut herself or bang her head against a wall, and going around corners first to determine if people are approaching.
“A certification requirement would have negative consequences for persons with psychiatric disabilities who rely on service animals. Research shows the significant impact service animals can have on the quality of life of persons with such disabilities.”
The case is C. L. v. Del Amo Hospital, 2021 S.O.S. 19-56074.
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