United States District Court, Central District of California
2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 150838
September 3, 2019
Keywords: ADA, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52, Unruh Act, service animal, accommodation
Update and Appeal
On March 30, 2021, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit vacated the district court’s judgment, after a bench trial, in favor of the defendant in an action seeking injunctive relief under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), which prohibits discrimination in “places of public accommodations,” including hospitals. The Court vacated and remanded for the district court to reconsider whether Aspen was a qualified service dog at the time of trial, and if Aspen is a service dog, whether Del Amo has proved its affirmative defense of fundamental alteration. See: Court Decisions Brief: C.L.v. Del Amo Hosp. (2021).
C.L. was voluntarily admitted to Del Amo Hospital on a number of occasions, due to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and dissociative identity disorder (DID). C.L. wanted to bring her self-described service dog, Aspen, with her during her stay. Del Amo said “no” because in their opinion Aspen was a service animal. The Central District Court agreed with Del Amo.
Facts of the Case
C.L. has been diagnosed with Complex PTSD and DID due to a history of severe childhood trauma, major depression, and anxiety. Due to these disabilities, C.L. experiences hypervigilance, anxiety, flashbacks, intense nightmares, self-harming behaviors, dissociation, and suicidal thoughts.
The National Treatment Center Program at Del Amo specializes in trauma treatment and recovery. C.L. voluntarily checked into the program on seven times from September 2015 through August 2017.
In January 2012, C.L. wanted a service dog, but the lowest price that she could find was $15,000. She could not afford a service dog. So she obtained a companion dog, Aspen, under the care of her doctor, Dr. Foust. When Aspen was three months old, C.L. attended a basic obedience class at a company that does not conduct service dog training. Next, C.L. contacted Little Angels Service Dogs about self-training Aspen to be a service dog.
Katie Gonzales at Little Angels told C.L. that certification costs $930. It is granted to the handler/dog teams who attend three seminars over a six-month or longer period. The handler/dog team must successfully pass both a written test and a field test demonstrating their ability to work together safely in public with the dog helping to lessen the disabilities of the handler/recipient. Additionally, Ms. Gonzales must see the dog in question perform service dog tasks before she would approve the dog for certification. C.L. registered for, and attended, the first seminar twice, in May 2014 and May 2015. However, she did not attend seminars 2 or 3. Therefore, Aspen and C.L. did not receive certification from Little Angels.
In each of the seven times C.L. was admitted to the Del Amo Hospital, and requested Aspen stay with her, the request was denied by the hospital.
Issues of the Case
- Did Del Amo discriminate against C.L. when they did not permit Aspen to stay in the hospital?
Arguments & Analysis
1. Did Del Amo discriminate against C.L. when they did not permit Aspen to stay in the hospital?
Title III of the ADA requires a plaintiff to show “(1) she is disabled within the meaning of the ADA; (2) the defendant is a private entity that owns, leases, or operates a place of public accommodation; and (3) the plaintiff was denied public accommodation by the defendant because of her disability.”
First, C.L. is an individual with a disability within the meaning of the ADA, due to her diagnoses of PTSD and DID. Second, a hospital is a place of public accommodation. In regard to the third prong, “a hospital improperly discriminates if it fails to make reasonable accommodations for a person with a service animal.”
The Central District Court found that Del Amo did not discriminate against C.L. because Aspen was not a service dog. Aspen and C.L. failed to complete the training necessary for certification and, therefore, staff at Little Angels could not certify that Aspen was properly trained.
Policy & Practice
The Court of Appeals also ruled in favor of Del Amo. The court ruled that the certification of Aspen as a service dog had to be made by an independent source, not just on the word of C.L.
- C.L. v. Del Amo Hosp. U.S. Dist. LEXIS 150838 (2019)
- Court Decisions Brief – C.L. v. Del Amo Hosp. (2019)
Source: Southeast ADA Center
- C.L. v. Del Amo Hosp. U.S. App. LEXIS 9235 (2021)
Source: Justia US Law
- PDF [27 pages]: C.L. v. Del Amo Hosp. U.S. App. LEXIS 9235 (2021)
- Court Decisions Brief – C.L. v. Del Amo Hosp. (2021)
Source: Southeast ADA Center
These materials do not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon in any individual case. Please consult an attorney licensed in your state for legal advice and/or representation. These materials were prepared by the legal research staff of the Burton Blatt Institute (BBI) at Syracuse University in partnership with the Southeast ADA Center to highlight legal and policy developments relevant to civil rights protections and the impact of court decisions in the Southeast Region under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). These materials are based on federal disability rights laws and court decisions in effect at the time of publication. Federal and state disability rights law can change at any time. In addition, state and local laws and regulations may provide different or additional protections. Materials are intended solely as informal guidance, and are neither a determination of your legal rights nor responsibilities under the ADA or other federal, state, and local laws, nor binding on any agency with enforcement responsibility under the ADA. The accuracy of any information contained herein is not warranted. Any links to external websites are provided as a courtesy and are not intended to nor do they constitute an endorsement of the linked materials.