Fed 6th Circuit reviews use of miniature horse as service animal under ADA and FHAA (Part II – FHAA claims)

by Gary Taylor

Anderson v. City of Blue Ash
Federal 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, August 14 2015

[Note: This is Part II of a lengthy case.  Yesterday’s post gives the facts of the case and reviews the decision on the Americans with Disabilities Act claims.  Today’s post is on the Fair Housing Act Amendments claims.]

The FHAA makes it unlawful to “discriminate against any person in the terms, conditions, or privileges of sale or rental of a dwelling, or in the provision of services or facilities in connection with such a dwelling because of a handicap,” which includes “refusal to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices, or services when such accommodations may be necessary to afford such person equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling.”  The courts have interpreted this to allow three different types of claims: (1) reasonable accommodation, (2) disparate treatment, and (3) disparate impact.  The Anderson made arguments on all three.

Reasonable accommodation. Unlike the ADA, the FHAA does not have minimum regulatory requirements for animals to qualify as a reasonable accommodation.  Under this FHAA claim, a municipality has an affirmative duty…”to afford its disabled citizens reasonable accommodations in its municipal zoning practices if necessary to afford such persons equal opportunity in the use and enjoyment of property.” The city argued that C.A. did not need therapy with a horse at her house but rather could travel to a local farm or stable.  It also argued that accommodation at the house was unnecessary because C.A. can ambulated and otherwise function without the horse.  The Andersons contended that the accommodation was necessary for C.A. to play independently in her backyard as a non-disabled child could, and that therapy at a farm or stable is no substitute for therapy at home.

The 6th Circuit found that summary judgment for the city (as was granted by the district court) was inappropriate because there were sufficient facts to indicate that the Andersons might win at trial.  In so ruling, the 6th Circuit observed that the FHAA requires accommodations “that are necessary to achieve housing equality, not just those accommodations that are absolutely necessary for the disabled individual’s treatment or basic ability to function.”

As to the “reasonableness” of the accommodation, the 6th Circuit found that factual issues “pervade the question of the accommodation’s reasonableness.”  The record needs more development on whether C.A.’s therapy would be diminished by traveling to receive therapy at another location, and whether the city’s zoning scheme would be “fundamentally altered” by allowing the horse.  “Requiring public entities to make exceptions to their rules and zoning policies is exactly what the FHAA does…[it doesn’t mean that] any modification permitting a horse necessarily amounts to a fundamental alteration.”

Disparate treatment.  This claim failed for the same reason that the Anderson’s claim for intentional discrimination under the ADA failed: there was no evidence that the city harbored discriminatory animus against the disabled.

Disparate impact.  This claim also failed.  The Andersons failed to recognize that the ordinance in question specifically exempts any animals protected by federal law, including the FHAA; thus it has less of an impact on disabled individuals than on the general public.

The 6th Circuit reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment and remanded for further proceedings.

Fed 6th Circuit reviews use of miniature horse as service animal under ADA and FHAA (Part I – ADA claims)

by Gary Taylor

Anderson v. City of Blue Ash
Federal 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, August 14 2015

[Note: This is a lengthy case, but it is a good review of issues with “unusual” service animals that occasionally arise.  Today’s post is on ADA.  Next post will be on FHAA]

Ingrid Anderson’s minor daughter (initials C.A.) suffers from a number of disabilities that affect her ability to walk and balance independently.  She keeps a miniature horse at her house as a service animal.  The horse enables C.A. to play and get exercise in her backyard without assistance from an adult.

Since acquiring the horse in 2010 the Andersons and the city of Blue Ash, Ohio have had continual disagreements about allowing the horse on the property.  In 2013 the city passed an ordinance banning horses from residential property, then criminally prosecuted Anderson for violating it.  Anderson’s defense was that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Fair Housing Amendments Act (FHAA) both entitle her to keep the horse at her house as a service animal.  The Hamilton County Municipal Court found Anderson guilty of the criminal complaint.  Andersons brought their own action federal district court on ADA and FHAA claims, but the district court granted summary judgment for the city finding that the claims were barred by the determination of the issues (res judicata) in Anderson’s criminal conviction in municipal court.  Andersons appealed.  After reversing the district court’s conclusion on the res judicata claim (for various reasons beyond the interest of most readers of this blog) the 6th Circuit went on to consider the specifics of the Andersons’ ADA and FHAA claims.

ADA – Miniature horses as service animals. The ADA prohibits entities from discriminating against individuals with disabilities by, including other actions, “failing to make reasonable modifications in policies, practices, or procedures, when such modifications are necessary to afford such goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations to individuals with disabilities….” The regulations governing miniature horses allow them for use as service animals if the horse “has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of the individual with a disability,” provided that the horse and the requested modification also satisfy certain “assessment factors.”  The assessment factors to be considered are:

  1. the type, size, weight of the horse, and whether the facility can accommodate these features;
  2. whether the handler has sufficient control of the horse;
  3. whether the horse is housebroken; and
  4. whether the horse’s presence in a specific facility compromises legitimate safety requirements that are necessary for safe operation.”

The ADA thus requires a highly fact-specific inquiry, and decisions must be made on a case-by-case basis.  After lengthy discussion of each of these factors, the 6th Circuit concluded that the district court had not sufficiently developed the factual record concerning the Anderson’s situation, and thus summary judgment for the city was inappropriate.

ADA – Intentional discrimination. The Andersons also raised an intentional discrimination claim under the ADA.  For such a claim to succeed the Andersons need to have proven that:

  1. C.A. has a disability;
  2. she is otherwise qualified; and
  3. she was being … subjected to discrimination because of her disability.

Courts have interpreted this to mean that “animus against the protected group was a significant factor in the position taken by the municipal decision-makers themselves or by those to whom the decision-makers were knowingly responsive.”  Further, it must be shown that the discrimination was “intentionally directed toward him or her in particular.”

After examining the evidence the 6th Circuit concluded that the intentional discrimination claim failed because the Andersons could not prove factor #3.  The city’s actions were brought about by citizen’s complaints of the unsanitary conditions caused by animal waste in the Andersons’ backyard.  The city council decided not to take action on these complaints until the Andersons acquired a second horse and neighbors made additional health complaints. The sequence of events was consistent with the city responding to legitimate concerns of its citizens, and provided no basis for an inference that the city’s actions were “because of C.A.’s disability.”

 

 

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