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Tuesday, May 28, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Condo May Be Liable for Mishandling Service Dog

(CN) - An Illinois couple can pursue claims against the luxury condominium that allegedly forced them out for keeping an emotional-support dog, a federal judge ruled.

Mary Jo Stevens says she has endured unpredictable, suffocating panic attacks over the last decade after sustaining a head injury in a 1999 car accident.

In 2008, she and her husband, Ralph Stevens, bought a condo in Hollywood Towers, a no-pet policy building in Chicago.

The following year, Dr. Shayna Mansfield prescribed an emotional-support animal to help Mary Jo regulate her breathing and alleviate her panic attacks.

When Mary Jo told building manager Joseph Armenio about her prescription, Armenio said the condo board would require her to keep the dog in a carrier when in the common areas of the building and that she must not enter or leave through the main entrance when accompanied by the dog.

But Mary Jo failed to comply with these restrictions over the next six months, telling Armenio that Mary Jo suffers "increased anxiety" in high-traffic areas and when using isolated doors. Mary Jo also told Armenio that she was unable to carry the dog for long periods of time and needed to keep him on a leash instead.

Hollywood Towers staff members and building tenants allegedly subjected the Stevenses to repeated questioning about the dog, causing the couple to move out in July 2011 and sell their home at a loss.

In a federal complaint, the Stevenses sought damages for various federal and state-law violations.

U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber tossed most of the complaint last week, but he upheld two claims alleging that the condo failed to provide reasonable accommodation in violation of the Fair Housing Act Amendments of 1988 and Illinois Human Rights Act.

"It is difficult to understand how Mary Jo would have had better access to the dog if it was on a leash, which could extend several feet away, as opposed to in a carrier, where it could be held close to her body," he wrote.

The court dismissed the Stevens couple's private-nuisance claim, which alleged that Hollywood Towers interfered with their access to their home. Leinenweber held that the "plaintiffs cite no cases in which a condo owner was allowed to bring a nuisance claim on the basis of rules imposed by the condo board. As such, the court declines to stretch the tort of nuisance to reach this type of claim."

Leinenweber also tossed aside the intentional infliction of emotional distress claim. "It is clear that defendants' alleged actions do not meet the high threshold for extreme and outrageous conduct," he wrote.

He also dismissed the claim of constructive eviction. "Plaintiffs' complaint shows a significant gap between their request for certain accommodations and the sale of their condo," he wrote. "Having waited so long to move, they waived any right they may have had to bring a claim for constructive eviction."

The failure-to-accommodate claims can go forward on the condition that they "provide evidence to show that Mary Jo was disabled, that she needed the dog to treat her disability, and that her disability made it necessary for her to travel through the complex by the path of her choosing," according to the 27-page decision.

Hollywood Towers has "overlooked the fact that other, non-disabled residents, kept dogs in the building," Leinenweber added. "This raises at least a minimal inference that defendants acted with a discriminatory motive."

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