Florida Northern District Court, Gainesville Division
No. 1:21-cv-142-MW-GRJ, 2022 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 155697
July 29, 2022
Keywords: service animal, Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Florida Civil Rights Act (FCRA), off leash, Federal courthouse, contractor, failure to state a claim
Summary and Facts of the Case
John Wilds uses a service dog because of a disability. In July 2021, Wilds entered the United States Courthouse in Gainesville, Florida with his service dog off leash. When he entered, AHTNA Professional Services’ court security officers told Wilds he was not allowed in because his dog had to be on a leash. Wilds tried to explain to the security officer that his service dog had to be off leash in the event he has a blackout (for the safety of the dog).
Wilds sued AHTNA Professional Services in federal court. Wilds claimed that AHTNA violated the ADA and Florida Statute § 413.08(3) by not allowing him into the courthouse with his service dog. Wilds asked the court to rule that he be allowed to enter the courthouse in the future with his service dog off leash.
AHTNA Professional Services asked the court to dismiss Wilds’ suit.
Issue of the Case
Does Wilds have a federal claim against AHTNA Professional Services?
Arguments and Analysis
1. Does Wilds have a federal claim against AHTNA Professional Services?
Under Title III of the ADA, individuals cannot be discriminated against on the basis of disability “in the full and equal enjoyment of goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation by any person who owns, leases (or leases to), or operates a place of public accommodation.” 42 U.S.C. § 12182(a). Federal courthouses are not places of public accommodation under Title III of the ADA.
Wilds does not have an ADA claim against AHTNA because the courthouse is not a place of public accommodation.
Section 1983 of Title 42 of the United States Code (42 U.S. Code § 1983)
only applies to the right to sue state government officials acting within their legal authority for civil rights violations. This is called “acting under the color of law”. In this case, Wilds had a constitutional right to enter the courts, but he cannot sue under section 1983 because AHTNA Professional Services are not state government employees.
In law, someone can file a “Bivens Claim”, suing for money, if they believe federal officials violated their civil rights while acting “under color of law”. “Bivens Claims” do not apply to private businesses like AHTNA who contract with the federal government.
In this case, AHTNA was under contract with the federal government to provide security services for the U.S. District Court. Due to this, Wilds could not sue under a “Bivens Claim”.
Under Florida law, Chapter 413.08(3)(a) says that individuals have the right to be accompanied by a service dog in all areas of a public accommodation where the public can go and if a leash would interfere with the dog’s ability to perform work or tasks, the animal can be controlled by voice control, signals, or other effective ways. This section does not provide a private right of action and instead provides only for criminal penalties, but the Florida Civil Rights Act provides a way to obtain private relief under section 413.08.
Wilds could not use section 413.08 in federal court because it does not provide a right of private action. Wilds can bring a claim in state court utilizing the Federal Civil Rights Act to obtain private relief and damages under section 413.08.
The District Court ruled that Wilds had no claim against AHTNA Professional Services under the ADA, Florida law Section 1983, or a “Bivens Claim”. The Court further believed that section 413.08(3) provides no right of action, but Wilds can pursue damages for the alleged violations of that statute under the Florida Civil Rights Act in state court.
Because Wilds had no federal standing against AHTNA Professional Services and the court dismissed the case “without prejudice”, meaning Wilds can take his case to state court.
- Full Case: Wilds v. Akhi LLC, No. 1:21-cv-142-MW-GRJ, 2022 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 155697
(N.D. Fla. July 29, 2022)
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.