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Public Accommodation Could Not Have Blanket Prohibition on Service Animal

A plasma bank with a blanket prohibition on allowing individuals with service animals for anxiety to donate was held unlawful under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

George Matheis, a retired SWAT team officer with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder following a deadly shooting, donated plasma to CSL Plasma around 100 times in a year. After taking on a service dog, Matheis began to bring him to the plasma facility. CSL told him that he was not permitted to bring the service animal or donate until Matheis obtained a doctor’s note that stated he did not need the dog. CSL asserted that using a service dog for anxiety meant that the donor’s condition was too severe and he/she should not be donating plasma.

Matheis sued for violation of Title III of the ADA, the public accommodation portion of the law. In moving for summary judgment, CSL argued that plasma donor centers are not covered by the ADA and that its policy precluding donors with psychiatric service animals was reasonable. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals held that plasma donor centers are covered by the ADA, aligning itself with the 10thCircuit but diverging from the Fifth Circuit. According to the Third Circuit, plasma donor centers are considered a service establishment as defined by the ADA. The fact that Matheis was paid for his donations did not remove the center from the ambit of the ADA because the center provided services to the public. Next, the appellate court rejected the policy against anxiety service animals as unreasonable. The ADA requires covered entities to allow the use of a service animal when a necessary accommodation. An exception does exist for safety issues. However, it must be based on “actual risk and not mere speculation, stereotypes, or generalizations about individuals with disabilities.” In this case, the policy was speculative about individuals with psychiatric disorders and CSL could not show that there was a connection based on actual risk. CSL was required to conduct an individualized assessment.