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Local resident denied entry for her service animals files complaint

Americans with Disabilities Act logo
Suit claims violations of the Americans With Disability Act

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — A local resident, who is a US National and identified in a federal court document as “Jane Doe”, filed in April this year, a complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief for violations of the Americans With Disability Act (ADA) against American Samoa Government officials in connection with ASG’s ongoing repatriation program.

Court records show that US District Court Judge, John W. Holcomb, has granted plaintiff’s request to proceed anonymously under the pseudonym of Jane Doe. Plaintiff is also granted a request for a certain portion of documents to filed under seal — for example, her medical records.

Court record shows that the plaintiff is represented by attorney Edward William O’Connell Jr., based in Lake Elsinore, California.  The plaintiff’s legal team shared with Samoa News on Monday this week a brief statement on the lawsuit filed with the US District Court, Central District of California.

The statement says that the federal lawsuit claims that the “ASG COVID-19 Task Force rule which prohibits pets from entering the territory is discriminating against service animals and those [local] residents that genuinely require the assistance of Service Animals.”

According to the statement, the ADA expressly states that ASG is subject to the ADA’s laws and regulations.  Under the ADA, ASG must make reasonable accommodation for individuals with disabilities, and permit disabled residents to enter those public places with their service animals when the public places are otherwise open to all other ASG residents.

As of Monday, the statement says that “to the best of this author’s knowledge, the ASG COVID-19 Task Force has still not published or notified the residents of American Samoa of an exception to the current rule prohibiting pets from entering the territory, which would accommodate those with a need for service animals.”

Defendants in the lawsuit filed Apr. 23 this year, are Health director Motusa Tuileama Nua; local Homeland Security director Samana Semo Veavea; Lt. Gov. Talauega Eleasalo Ale, chairman of the task force; Agriculture director Solia Mutini; and Attorney General Fainu’ulelei Falefatu Ala’ilima-Utu.  (Samoa News notes that in addition to Talauega, the other defendants are also members of the task force.)

There is no specific timeline in public court records as to when the defendants are to respond to the complaint but the statement to Samoa News states that a response from the defendants is expected on or before June 29th. 

According to the complaint, plaintiff suffers from medical conditions that limit plaintiff’s major life activity of breathing and limits the functioning of her respiratory system.

“As a result of these limits, plaintiff has acquired two service animals to assist her,” the complaint said, adding that one service animal is trained to detect if plaintiff has stopped breathing and to alert plaintiff so as to start breathing again.

The other service animal is trained to protect plaintiff in the event of a public respiratory emergency.

As of Mar. 10th last year, the plaintiff was and continues to be in the City of Lake Elsinore, in California, when the COVID-19 pandemic caused international turmoil and  United States and global travel restrictions.  Around Mar. 27 last year, ASG stopped entry into American Samoa by anyone other than those deemed essential.

“Since then, the defendants have instituted a rule that prohibits dogs from entering American Samoa. The defendant’s rule does not distinguish between ordinary dogs and service animals,” the complaint alleges.

And the defendants’ rule does not recognize plaintiff’s statutorily protected right to be accompanied by her service animals in  public places. Additionally, the defendant’s rule “interferes with plaintiff’s liberty to return home and excludes plaintiff from participating in repatriation programs and services offered by American Samoa.”

Plaintiff contends “she has a statutorily protected right under the ADA as a disabled person to be accompanied by a service animal in all areas of a public entity's facilities where members of the  public, participants in services, programs or activities, or invitees, as relevant, are allowed to go.”

Through the lawsuit, plaintiff is seeking a judicial determination of her rights under the ADA and a declaration that she is entitled to be accompanied to American Samoa by her service animals.

Plaintiff also seeks a judicial determination that defendants’ practice of excluding plaintiff’s service animals from entering American Samoa is in violation of the ADA.

The complaint alleges that about March 17, 2021 and continuing to the present time, defendants wrongfully and unlawfully enacted a rule which prohibits dogs from entering American Samoa.

“The rule unlawfully discriminates against Plaintiff, a disabled person, because it prohibits the Plaintiff from participating in programs, services, and activities offered by American Samoa,” it further alleges.

The complaint alleges that about Mar. 19th this year, and a number of times since then, counsel for plaintiff has “demanded that defendants stop their wrongful conduct described above.”

“Defendants, and each of them, have refused and still refuse to refrain from their wrongful conduct,” it says.

The complain claims that “defendants' wrongful conduct, unless and until enjoined and restrained by order of this Court, will cause great and irreparable injury to plaintiff in the form of discrimination based on her need for service animals which is born from her disability.”

“This will prevent Plaintiff from returning home to her daughter and to manage her business affairs in American Samoa.”

According to the complaint, plaintiff has no adequate remedy at law for the injuries currently being suffered because it will be impossible for plaintiff to determine the precise amount of damage, which she will suffer if defendants' conduct is not restrained.

And plaintiff’s “liberty to return home with her service animals, to her daughter is priceless and cannot be valued, therefore Plaintiff has no adequate remedy at law.”

Complaint asked the court for a declaration that:

•           Plaintiff is a disabled person for purposes of the ADA;

•           Defendant’s rule of excluding Plaintiff’s service animals from future repatriation flights to America Samoa is in violation of Plaintiff’s rights as a disabled  person under the ADA; and

•           Defendant’s rule of excluding service animals from entering 
America Samoa is in violation of Plaintiff’s rights as a disabled person under the ADA.

The complaint is also asking for an injunction to permanently enjoin all Defendants from excluding Plaintiff’s service animals from entering American Samoa.

Plaintiff is also seeking attorney fees and costs pursuant to the Statute.

The issue at the center of this complaint, first surfaced in early April through a Letter to the Editor, published in the Apr. 7th edition of Samoa News titled “Stranded Lives Matter” and addressed to the governor and the COVID-19 task force. It was authored by Crystal Veavea, but there’s no confirmation that the author is also the plaintiff in the lawsuit, since plaintiff is identified as “Jane Doe.”

In a recent press release, dated June 9, 2021, summarizing the latest COVID-19 Task Force meeting, the issue of service animals was raised with accommodations for service dogs discussed. It noted that “the Hawaii team has been working diligently with the Hawaii Department of Agriculture to be able to accommodate travelers with such animals by the first repatriation flight next month –– tentatively scheduled for July 10th.” (Read full media release elsewhere in today’s issue.)