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Riley v. Board of Commissioners of Tippecanoe County

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division, Lafayette

September 21, 2017

CHARLES M. RILEY, Plaintiff,
v.
BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS OF TIPPECANOE COUNTY, and THE TIPPECANOE COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT, Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          JON E. DEGUILIO JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

         Charles Riley (“Plaintiff”) claims that two Tippecanoe Sherriff's Department deputies barred him from entering the Tippecanoe County Courthouse with his alleged service dog in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act (the “ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq., and the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794(a). Plaintiff initially asserted these claims (among others) in a September 3, 2014, complaint, but the Court dismissed them, finding that Plaintiff had not adequately alleged that his dog was a service animal, which foreclosed his claims. [DE 12] Plaintiff then filed an amended complaint on June 15, 2015. [DE 14] As with the first complaint, Defendants moved to dismiss, this time unsuccessfully. [DE 20]

         Now before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. [DE 35] The motion has been fully briefed by the parties and is ripe for review. Also before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Strike a portion of Plaintiff's affidavit submitted in support of his opposition to the Motion for Summary Judgment. [DE 44] Plaintiff never responded to the Motion to Strike, and the permissible time in which to do so has long passed.

         For the reasons stated herein, the Court will grant Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment and subsequently deny the Motion to Strike as moot.[1]

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         On summary judgment, the moving party bears the burden of demonstrating that there “is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A “material” fact is one identified by the substantive law as affecting the outcome of the suit. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A “genuine issue” exists with respect to any material fact when “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id. Where a factual record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, there is no genuine issue for trial, and summary judgment should be granted. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (citing Bank of Ariz. v. Cities Servs. Co., 391 U.S. 253, 289 (1968)). In determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, this Court must construe all facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable and justifiable inferences in that party's favor. Jackson v. Kotter, 541 F.3d 688, 697 (7th Cir. 2008); King v. Preferred Tech. Grp., 166 F.3d 887, 890 (7th Cir. 1999).

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         The record before the Court is thin. On or about July 14, 2014, Plaintiff went to the Tippecanoe County Courthouse to deliver a victim impact statement in connection with a criminal matter in which he was the victim. [DE 42-1 ¶ 12] Plaintiff brought with him his purported service dog, Bella, and sought to enter the courthouse with her. [DE 35-1 ¶ 4] Bella was wearing a vest that was labeled with “NSAR Service Animal Certified.”[2] Id. ¶ 4, Exh. 2. Plaintiff received this vest when he registered Bella as an Emotional Support Animal (“ESA”) with the NSAR. Id. ¶¶ 10-11. There is some disagreement as to who said what next, but suffice it to say that while he was attempting to enter the courthouse with Bella, Plaintiff produced a photo identification card for her that listed her service type as “ESA.” Id. ¶¶ 5-6, Exh. 1. In relevant part, the back of the card states:

ESAs are animals that are necessary for the normal, day-to-day functioning of their emotionally or psychologically disabled handler, facilitating a normalizing effect by their presence. They do not require specific training.
An ESA is not a working service dog under the Americans with disabilities [sic] Act of 1990 and is not granted unlimited access.

Id. at Exh. 1. Based on the card provided by Plaintiff, he was not permitted to enter the courthouse with his dog.[3] Id. ¶ 7.

         Plaintiff is an Army combat veteran who served in Operation Desert Storm. [DE 42-1 ¶ 1] According to Plaintiff, he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”) in 1991 by a Dr. Kolbecker at the VA Illiana Medical Center in Danville, Illinois. Id. Plaintiff's PTSD causes him to become agitated and experience anxiety in unfamiliar, tense, or stressful settings. Id. Despite additionally citing problems with his mobility and balance, id. ¶ 2, the only disability Plaintiff claims to suffer from is PTSD [DE 42-2 at 2], and there is no evidence in the record to support the allegation that his mobility and balance issues are in any way related to his PTSD. Plaintiff maintains that he was “classified as permanently and totally disabled due to his service-connected disabilities” in November 2014, several months after the incident at the courthouse. [DE 42-1 ¶ 1]

         Plaintiff's medical records indicate that he was treated on occasion for major depressive disorder, mood disorder, family circumstances, and relational problems between June 2013 and March 2015. [DE 35-4] None of the medical records provided state that Plaintiff was either diagnosed with or treated for PTSD during that time, although those records do not necessarily exclude such a diagnosis. Id. However, a letter signed by Plaintiff's psychiatrist, while postdating the courthouse incident by more than a year, states that Plaintiff “has been receiving treatment at the VA since 1998, ” has been seeing this particular psychiatrist since June 2012, and “continues to struggle with PTSD symptoms.” [DE 42-4] (emphasis added).

         Plaintiff acquired Bella in 2011 and had her enrolled in and complete “general private training” at PetSmart in August 2013, but there are no details in the record as to what that training entailed. [DE 42-1 ¶ 8; 35-4 at 3] Plaintiff then registered Bella as an ESA in early September 2013 [DE 35-1, Exh. 1], and personally began to train her to complete certain tasks. Id. ¶ 9. Specifically, Plaintiff trained Bella to: let him know when his clothes dryer had finished its cycle; open and close doors; pull groceries home from the store; alert him when someone was at the door; turn lights on and off; provide balance support and mobility assistance; help him regain his footing if he fell; get help if required; and calm him during his PTSD episodes. [DE 42-1 ¶ 9; 35-4 at 12] Plaintiff maintains that Bella was fully trained to perform these tasks by July 14, 2014.[4] Id.

         It is against the backdrop of these facts that the Court ...


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