- Associated Press - Friday, May 9, 2014

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - The Iowa Supreme Court on Friday dismissed a lawsuit filed against Drake University by a former student who claimed she was barred from attending classes with a service dog in training.

Nicole Shumate, a 2009 Drake Law School graduate, claimed in a lawsuit filed in August 2011 that the university did not allow her to take a dog to her classes. She also said she was denied access to a cultural event at a church with a dog in training, and the law school directed hostility toward her.

At the time, Shumate was training service dogs for a nonprofit organization.

A district court judge dismissed the case in 2012, saying a person training a service dog may not sue for damages in the same way as someone with a disability who uses a service dog.

The Iowa Court of Appeals in November reversed that decision. The high court’s decision Friday vacated that ruling.

State law permits dog trainers to take animals into public places, and someone who violates that could be fined and possibly sentenced to jail time. That is misdemeanor punishment that Shumate argued gave her a right to sue. The court disagreed, and said the Iowa Legislature did not intend to give dog trainers a right to sue.

Shumate’s attorney, Felicia Bertin Rocha, said the ruling would have a chilling effect on other trainers.

“Although every service dog trainer in the state of Iowa has a statutory right to take a service dog any place that a disabled person would go … we now have a law that bestows a right with no teeth,” she said.

Drake’s attorney, Andrew Bracken, said the university is pleased with the ruling.

“Drake University welcomes persons with disabilities and all others seeking to participate in an exceptional learning environment,” he said in a written statement. “Drake wishes Ms. Shumate well in her business endeavors.”

In 2009, Shumate founded Paws & Effect, a Des Moines-based nonprofit organization that raises, trains, and places service dogs with veterans and children.



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