Saturday, August 29, 2015

Another Fair Housing/ADA Suit Against Municipal Government Gets Green Light; Involves Ohio City That Passed Ordinance Banning Horses From Homes, Then Criminally Prosecuted & Convicted Disabled Kid's Mom Who Claimed Miniature Nag Was A Service Animal

The following summary comes from a recent ruling from the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals involving litigation over allegations of violations of the Fair Housing Amendments Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act against the City of Blue Ash, Ohio for an ordinance it passed banning horses from residential property:
  1. This appeal is the latest chapter in an ongoing dispute between Ingrid Anderson and the City of Blue Ash, Ohio,(1) over whether Anderson can keep a miniature horse at her house as a service animal for her disabled minor daughter, C.A.
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  2. C.A. suffers from a number of disabilities that affect her ability to walk and balance independently,(2) and the horse enables her to play and get exercise in her backyard without assistance from an adult.
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  3. Since Anderson first acquired a horse in 2010, she has struggled with the City for permission to keep it at her house.
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  4. In 2013, the City passed a municipal ordinance banning horses from residential property and then criminally prosecuted Anderson for violating it. Anderson's defense was that the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. 12101, et seq., and the Fair Housing Amendments Act ("FHAA"), 42 U.S.C. § 3601, et seq., both entitle her to keep the horse at her house as a service animal for C.A.
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  5. Rejecting those arguments, the Hamilton County Municipal Court found Anderson guilty.
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  6. Anderson brought this action against the City in federal district court, again arguing that the ADA and FHAA entitle her to keep her horse as a service animal for C.A. She also claims that the City intentionally discriminated against her because of C.A.'s disabilities, in violation of both the ADA and the FHAA, and that the City's ordinance has had a disparate impact on C.A. and other disabled individuals, in violation of the FHAA.
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  7. The district court granted summary judgment to the City, finding that Anderson's claims were barred by claim and issue preclusion stemming from her Municipal Court conviction.
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  8. Because the fact-finding procedures available in a criminal proceeding in municipal court differ substantially from those available in a civil proceeding, Anderson's conviction has no preclusive effect on this lawsuit.
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  9. Furthermore, while there is no evidence that the City's actions were motivated by discriminatory intent against C.A. or had a disparate impact on disabled individuals, there are significant factual disputes regarding whether the ADA or FHAA require the City to permit Anderson to keep her miniature horse at her house.
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  10. We therefore reverse the district court's grant of summary judgment to the City on those claims.
For the entire court ruling, see Anderson v. City of Blue Ash, No. 14-3754 (6th Cir. August 14, 2015).
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(1) Named as a co-plaintiff in the civil lawsuit against Blue Ash is Housing Opportunities Made Equal, Inc. ("HOME"), a non-profit, fair-housing-assistance organization in the Cincinnati area that began providing services to Anderson around the time that she began getting clipped with citations from the local cops for keeping a horse on her premises. HOME advises clients of their rights to fair housing and helps them file fair housing claims. HOME advised Anderson of her rights under the FHAA and the ADA and assisted her with filing a Fair Housing Act violation against the City of Blue Ash.

(2) According to the allegations:
  • C.A. [Anderson's disabled child] has a variety of disabilities, including autism, seizures, chronic lung disease, gastroesophageal reflux, feeding and vision problems, severe allergies, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, developmental delay, autonomic dysfunction, and tachycardia, among others. Her disabilities make it difficult for C.A. to maintain her balance independently, particularly when she must change directions or navigate uneven surfaces. Consequently, C.A. cannot effectively use her backyard for recreation and exercise without assistance.

    While the traditional service animal is a dog, miniature horses are often used to provide assistance to individuals with disabilities. See generally 28 C.F.R. § 35 app. A (2011) (specifically discussing miniature horses as service animals). Miniature horses can be trained to provide many of the services commonly associated with service dogs, such as guiding individuals with impaired vision. Like dogs, miniature horses can also be housebroken, and individuals with disabilities have taken them on trains and commercial flights.

    Miniature horses may be preferable to service dogs for "large stature individuals" and "individuals with allergies, or for those whose religious beliefs preclude the use of dogs." Id.

    Additionally, because they are stronger than most dogs, miniature horses may be preferable for "providing stability and balance for individuals with disabilities that impair the ability to walk, and supplying leverage that enables a person with a mobility disability to get up after a fall." Id.

    Miniature horses also have significantly longer lifespans than dogs, and are able to provide service for more than twenty-five years while dogs can only provide service for approximately seven. This allows a disabled minor to have a single miniature horse throughout his or her childhood, without having to periodically replace aging service dogs. Therapy with miniature horses is sometimes referred to as "equine" or "hippotherapy." municipal code violations

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