Veteran loses appeal after support dog denied entry to courthouse

A disabled veteran who was barred from entering the Tippecanoe County Courthouse with a support animal lost his lawsuit against the county claiming a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Army combat veteran Charles Riley was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder in 1991 after serving in Operation Desert Storm, and he also has mobility and balance issues unrelated to his PTSD diagnosis. He sued Tippecanoe County’s Board of Commissioners and the sheriff’s department after he was told he could not enter the Lafayette courthouse in 2014 with his dog Bella, who wore a vest labeled “NSAR Service Animal Certified,” referring to a training certification from the National Service Animal Registry.

When Riley came to the courthouse in 2014 to deliver a victim impact statement regarding a crime in which he had been a victim, he produced an NSAR card that on the back said Bella was an emotional support animal, which is not covered as a service animal under the ADA.

District Judge Jon E. DeGuilio granted summary judgment for the Tippecanoe County parties Thursday, holding that a finder of fact could determine that Riley was a qualified individual with a disability, but that Bella was not a service animal under the ADA when Riley was denied entry to the courthouse with the dog. Because of this, his ADA claims must fail.

“The Court is mindful of and grateful for Plaintiff’s military service, and acknowledges the sacrifices he and his fellow servicemen and servicewomen have given in defense of this country. All too often, American veterans return home burdened with a host of disabilities — both visible and invisible – that will accompany them for the rest of their lives. In Plaintiff’s case, and in the cases of many others, he exposed himself to combat so that others might not have to, and as a result bears the unseen wounds of post-traumatic stress disorder. However, in bringing the instant case, Plaintiff must demonstrate that his dog, Bella, was a service animal within the meaning of the ADA when he attempted to enter the courthouse,” DeGuilio wrote. “Based on the record before the Court, he cannot do so.”

The case is Charles M. Riley v. Board of Commissioners of Tippecanoe County, et al., 4:14-cv-063.

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