Service Animals Must Be Trained, California Court Rules

By William Vogeler, Esq. on September 20, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Joey Miller and his dog Roxy got kicked out of court, but it started at a fish market.

Joey, a man who had the mental capacity of a 12-year-old, walked into two seafood stores with his dog. The market employees stopped them for health and safety reasons.

Joey's stepfather was not about to have it, however, and they sued for disability discrimination. The courts turned them down again, but that's the short story.

Service Animals

The case, Miller v. Fortune Commercial Corporation, turned on the definition of a "trained" service animal. In the complaint, the plaintiff said the dog was being trained at the time they were turned away.

The Americans with Disabilities Act says a service dog must be "trained." In other words, California's Second District Court of Appeal said, a dog cannot be a service animal until it has completed its training.

However, the appeals court acknowledged, the Disabled Persons Act extends to service animals that are still in training. The plaintiff argued that they were doing just that when they entered the fish markets.

"The act specifically provides that a service animal who is in the process of being trained may be taken into a place of public accommodation for the purpose of furthering their training," the appeals panel said.

"Authorized Training"

Joseph Scribner, who bought the one-year-old mixed breed for his stepson, said Roxy had received obedience training. The family also worked with the dog to help keep Joey from wandering away.

The plaintiff argued in court that an authorized trainer was "any person authorized by the disabled person to train his or her dog." The appeals court said that's not the way the law works.

"[U]nder Miller's interpretation, a disabled person could authorize someone to bring a service-animal-in-training into a restaurant or food market who not only lacks the training and experience to train a service dog, but who is also reckless with regard to the health and safety of others," the court said. "Such an interpretation would make a mockery of the statute, especially in light of the DPA's requirement that a guide dog must be trained by a licensed professional trainer."

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