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Suit over courthouse ban of service dog proceeds

January 8, 2016

A man’s lawsuit alleging Tippecanoe County officials violated the Americans With Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act by refusing to permit him to enter the courthouse with his service dog will proceed, a federal judge ruled.

Charles M. Riley claims in his complaint that he’s a veteran who suffers post-traumatic stress disorder and relies on his service dog, Bella, to provide balance support, mobility assistance and calming. Riley says Bella also has been individually trained to open and close doors, pull him in a wheelchair when necessary and help him pull a grocery cart home from the store.

The suit alleges Riley went to the courthouse in July 2014 accompanied by Bella to deliver a victim impact statement and evidence of damages he suffered in a criminal case in which he was a victim, but sheriff’s deputies providing security at the Lafayette courthouse refused to allow him inside with Bella. Riley claims the ban on Bella later prevented him from filing claims regarding unpaid rent and damages alleged against former tenants of two rental properties he owns.

Riley seeks an injunction, reimbursement of financial losses, compensatory damages and fees. His suit names Tippecanoe commissioners and the sheriff’s department.

The defendants argued Riley’s complaint should be dismissed because he did not sufficiently argue that Bella is a service animal and rather may fall into the category of untrained or emotional support animals, which are not covered under the ADA. Defendants also argued that Riley failed to show evidence Bella met the criteria as a service animal that had been individually trained.

But Judge Jon E. DeGuilio of the U.S. Court for the Northern District of Indiana in Lafayette this week denied the Tippecanoe County defendants’ motion to dismiss, holding in part Riley was not required to show how Bella had been individually trained at this stage.

“The Defendants do not provide any authority that stands for the opposite proposition: that a plaintiff must plead all facts within his knowledge,” DeGuilio wrote in his order denying dismissal in Charles M. Riley v. Board of Commissioners of Tippecanoe County, et al., 4:14-CV-063.

“This is not a complicated case and thus does not require an extensively detailed complaint. So, while Mr. Riley may not have provided an abundance of information about Bella, he has at least given ‘the opposing party notice of what the case is all about’ and shown ‘how, in the plaintiff’s mind at least, the dots should be connected.’ That is sufficient to survive a motion to dismiss.”

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