COURT RULING: Service Dog Trainer Can Sue Drake

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The Iowa Court of Appeals has ruled a former Drake University law student’s civil lawsuit against the school, for allegedly denying her access to classes because she was training a service dog, can move forward.

Nicole Shumate began attending Drake’s Law School in 2006 and graduated in 2009. In 2006 she also founded Paws & Effect, a non-profit that trains service and therapy dogs.

Shumate says in September of 2009 she was notified by the law school dean that, “access to law school facilities with a service dog in training would not be tolerated per the university policy.” She also claims the law school created a “poisonous learning environment” by directing hostility towards her.

In 2011, Shumate filed a lawsuit arguing the University violated Iowa Code chapter 216C, which covers the rights of disabled persons as well as those who train assistance animals. Drake University defended its actions claiming that part of the Iowa Code did not give Shumate the “private right” to sue civilly, because the penalty for a conviction of violating the statute is a simple misdemeanor. The lawsuit was dismissed in district court.

An appeal was filed and Wednesday the Iowa Court of Appeals released its decision in the case. The court is reversing the district court’s dismissal and remanding the case for further action. In its ruling, the court cited legislative intent and says there is an “implication the legislature intended citizens afforded rights under chapter 216C to be able to seek civil redress when those rights are violated.”

Shumate says she is happy with the court’s decision.