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California Court of Appeal Rules that Unruh Act Can Apply to Service Animals

On July 17, 2015, a California Court of Appeal confirmed that denying service to a patron with a service animal can give rise to claims under either the Unruh Act (California Civil Code §§51, 52) or the Disabled Person Act (“DPA”) (California Civil Code §§54-55.3); and that such claims need not be brought exclusively under the DPA. 

In the case of Flowers v. Brinda Prasad (2015) 2015 DAR 8259, the plaintiff sued for Unruh Act violations based on the denial of service related to his service dog. The trial court granted summary judgment for some of the named defendants, under the theory that the plaintiff was required to bring the claim exclusively under the DPA, rather than the Unruh Act. In order speed up the appellate review—and in an interesting twist— the plaintiff then voluntarily dismissed the remaining defendants when they sought dismissal based on the court’s reasoning for granting the summary judgment. In reversing the trial court, the appellate court held that a plaintiff making a claim related to denial of service related to service animals was not required to rely exclusively on the DPA because the intent of the DPA was to provide for service animal-related claims to be made under both Acts. The appellate court also rejected the defendants’ arguments that the plaintiff could not appeal from the voluntary dismissal because that dismissal was not so much voluntary, as it was based on the court having improperly granted summary judgement regarding the Unruh claims.

In making its decision, the appellate court relied on legislative history, showing that both Unruh and the DPA were made law in order to provide safeguards for the people the laws were enacted to protect. 

This article is not offered as, and should not be relied on as, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice in specific situations.