- Associated Press - Monday, January 27, 2014

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - A trial has been scheduled for next year in a federal lawsuit that alleges the University of Nebraska at Kearney denied a student the chance to keep a therapy dog in her university-owned apartment.

The trial will be held in U.S. District Court in Lincoln, the Kearney Hub reported (https://bit.ly/LeO0HL ). Online court records say it is set to begin Feb. 9, 2015.

The U.S. Justice Department sued the university, the University of Nebraska Board of Regents and several officials in November 2011, saying the university unlawfully denied Brittany Hamilton the chance to keep a four-pound miniature pinscher named Butch in her university-owned apartment a mile off campus to cope with depression and anxiety. In barring the dog, the lawsuit alleges, the university violated the U.S. Fair Housing Act.

The university’s policy bars pets other than fish from its housing unless the student has a disability that requires a service animal or works as a hall director.

The Justice Department lawsuit says Hamilton could not afford other housing options in or around Kearney and needed the dog to focus on her schoolwork. An Omaha nurse prescribed the dog to help Hamilton handle anxiety attacks that made it difficult to sleep and breathe.

The university has argued it’s not subject to the federal housing law, because the apartment serves only as a temporary home for students and should not be considered a dwelling.

U.S. District Judge John Gerrard already has rejected that argument.

Students who live in university housing eat meals, wash laundry, do schoolwork, socialize and sleep there, Gerrard said in a ruling earlier this year, “just as people ordinarily do in the places they call home.”

“While housing may have more rules than the average off-campus apartment,” the judge said. “It is no more restrictive than many other places that people call home.”


Information from: Lincoln Journal Star, https://www.journalstar.com

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