The court of appeal decides that the “certification” of a service dog is not required by law

In a big win for people with mental or physical disabilities, a federal appeals court ruled on March 30, 2021 that people with disabilities can train their own service dogs and not require formal certification to confirm their service dog’s status. The ruling affirmed the goals of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Allowing people to self-certify their pets after dogs have been trained (subject to reasonable restrictions) promotes the court-agreed goals of the Federal Act of 1990 Ban Discrimination against Disabled Persons. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco ruled that the intent of the Disabled Americans Act was “to promote independent living and economic self-sufficiency,” said Judge Ronald Gould in the unanimous three-judge ruling, that was overturned a judgment of the US District Court from September 2019, according to which service dogs must be officially “certified”.

This decision is the first decision by the appellate court in the country to address the training and certification requirements for service dogs.

The court went on to say that there is no uniform standard in the service dog registers for certification of service animals and that the requirement for such certification makes it more expensive and less accessible for people with disabilities to have a service dog. “A dog can be trained to help a person with a disability without formal schooling,” Gould said in the decision.

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The CL precedent lawsuit against Del Amo Hospital, Inc. was filed in the US District Court in the Central District of California in March 2018. In it, the plaintiff alleged that Del Amo Hospital in Torrance, California, wrongly prevented her from keeping her service dog – Aspen, a 16-pound dog. Bichon / Poodle – with her during inpatient treatment. CL alleged the defendant, Del Amo Hospital, violated federal and state laws that allow service dogs to escort their handlers to any public place, including hospitals.

The plaintiff, a trained speech pathologist, has complex PTSD and severe anxiety, and a therapist recommended a service dog. After learning in 2013 that a dog trained to provide this assistance can cost as much as $ 15,000, CL received a puppy himself, took training courses, and taught the dog to protect him. She told the court that Aspen licks her face to wake her up from nightmares, alerts her when others approach her, and stands in front of walls to keep her from banging her head against her. However, when she applied for admission to Del Amo’s National Treatment Center Program and brought Aspen with her, the center said the dog did not qualify as a service dog because the dog was not “officially certified”. In 2018, a federal judge agreed.

Christopher Knauf, litigation director for the Disability Rights Legal Center who represented the plaintiff on the case, said the ruling will help people with disabilities. “People have the right to train their own service dogs. You have to train them properly, but you can do it yourself, ”he said, adding that“ that this decision can help tens of thousands of people living in fear and isolation benefit from having a trained service dog is immensely gratifying. “(Companies can still refuse to allow a dog that is not house trained or not controlled by the owner.)

“Today’s decision is an important and welcome development for people who use service animals to help with a psychiatric disability. Too often, misunderstandings about the legitimate use of animals in the mental health service have unnecessarily curtailed people’s lives and prevented them from using what is often the most effective intervention in mental health disability, ”said Jennifer Mathis, associate legal director, Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law , in Washington DC, a co-counsel on the case.

The appeals court returned the case to the district judge to consider whether Aspen can now escort CL to the hospital. We’ll see what happens next, and how that could affect other decisions that the ADA and service dogs are involved in.

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