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Iowa Supreme Court: Student can’t sue Drake Law School for allegedly keeping out service dog trainee

by Amanda Atherton | May 10, 2014

By Amanda Atherton

On Friday, the Iowa Supreme Court reversed the Iowa Court of Appeals and affirmed the trial court’s decision in Shumate v. Drake University.

Nicole Shumate, a Drake University Law School student who trains service dogs but is not herself disabled, claims the school prohibited her from bringing her service dog trainee into a classroom and to an off-campus event. She sued Drake for civil damages, claiming she was denied access under Iowa Code chapter 216C, entitled “Rights of Persons with Physical Disabilities.”

Drake moved to dismiss on the ground that Chapter 216C does not provide for a private right of action. The trial court granted the motion and Shumate appealed. The Iowa Court of Appeals reversed, finding that the statute implicitly allowed for a private cause of action. Drake appealed.

The Iowa Supreme Court reversed. It first acknowledged that Shumate, as a trainer of service animals, belongs to the class of persons Chapter 216C was intended to protect. The Court also agreed that permitting Shumate to file a civil suit would further the overall purpose of the chapter to help those with physical disabilities live fulfilling and productive lives. But the Court concluded that the Legislature did not intend for a service animal trainer (or anyone else, including a disabled person) to have a private remedy under the statute. The Legislature provided for private causes of action for persons with disabilities in nearby Chapters 216 (the Iowa Civil Rights Act) and 216E (addressing assistive devices for those with disabilities). The Court, Justice Waterman writing, reasoned that if the Legislature wanted to provide a similar right under Chapter 216C, it would have done so. The Court also noted that upholding a private cause of action would interfere with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission’s exclusive jurisdiction over disability discrimination claims.

All justices concurred except Justice Mansfield, who took no part. Justice Appel also wrote a special concurrence noting he did not believe allowing Shumate a private cause of action under 216C would offend the statute, but agreeing the Legislature did not intend to imply a private cause of action.

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