Seventh Circuit Won’t Allow Service-Dog Case

     CHICAGO (CN) — Sorry, Shaggy — a lawsuit from a woman who was told she couldn’t bring her dog into a federal courtroom lacks standing because she filed it in the wrong court, the Seventh Circuit ruled.
     In the Sept. 14 opinion, Chief Judge Diane Wood wrote that the 2011 lawsuit filed by Gloria Jean Sykes, which alleged that an Illinois probate court judge violated her rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, lacks standing for procedural reasons.
     Sykes claimed that a Cook County probate court judge expelled her from a courtroom when she arrived with her service dog Shaggy, whom Sykes claims helps her with post-traumatic stress disorder.
     The judge, Aicha MacCarthy, allegedly “banned forever” Sykes and the dog from her courtroom after angrily interrogating her for several minutes, during which MacCarthy allegedly said Shaggy was “just a pet” and accused Sykes of faking a disability. The judge entered an order banning Sykes from returning to the dog without leave from the court.
     Sykes, who had been battling her sister over who would have guardianship of their mother, included in an amended probate lawsuit an ADA complaint, arguing that the court had effectively excluded her from participating in her probate lawsuit via a judicial order.
     A federal judge dismissed the ADA complaint, however, because it was included as a charge in her state probate lawsuit, which was dismissed when Sykes’ sister died.
     In its Wednesday ruling, the Seventh Circuit agreed with the lower court that the ADA complaint lacked standing because Sykes should have filed it in another state court besides the Cook County probate court.
     “A probate court is in no better position to determine a litigant’s entitlement to a reasonable accommodation than any other court,” Wood wrote. “In short, the injury complained of here bears no relationship to probate law, other than that it happened to take place in a probate courtroom.”
     Additionally, Wood noted that the Daley Center, home of the probate court, had no policy of banning service animals.
     “[W]hen as in this case the injury is executed through a court order, there is no conceivable way to redress the wrong without overturning the order of a state court,” she wrote.
     Service-dog lawsuits have been on the rise in recent years, though such cases often pertain to owners with physical disabilities.
     The ADA includes protections for service dogs, though with limitations. Only dogs that perform tasks directly related to the owner’s disability are covered. Dogs that are merely there to keep an owner calm are generally not considered covered.
     Public officials are allowed to ask what specific tasks a service dog performs. Sykes alleged MacCarthy asked “inappropriate questions” regarding Shaggy. There, too, the Seventh Circuit found Sykes lacked standing.
     “The proper way to challenge [MacCarthy’s] court order was through state court avenues,” Wood wrote.

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