Plaintiff in lawsuit against COVID task force files amended complaint
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — American Samoa’s new rules — effective for only 120-days — allowing service animals to enter the territory is “a sham to make the case appear moot,” according to the latest filing by a local resident, who has a lawsuit pending in the US District Court, Central District of California against certain members of the ASG COVID-19 Task Force.
The plaintiff, identified in court documents as “Jane Doe” filed in April a complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief for violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) against the defendants in connection with ASG’s repatriation program.
Jane Doe claims that 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.
Through a rule making regulatory process, ASG’s Repatriation Program now allows the import of Service Animals (SA) and Emotional Support Animals (ESA) into American Samoa via Hawaii. The new emergency rules — Quarantine of Pets and Agriculture Products — became effective on July 2nd. (See Samoa News online July 7th for details.)
In her first-amended complaint filed Tuesday this week, plaintiff — through her legal counsel — claims that the “controversy still exists because it is capable of repetition.” She argued that the defendants newly enacted rules — with a copy submitted as evidence — on service animals to enter the Territory are only in effect for 120 days from July 2nd.
“Therefore, the controversy is capable of repetition and it’s alleged the newly enacted rule permitting entry of service animals into the Territory is a sham to make the case appear moot,” the plaintiff declared.
The amended complaint points out that plaintiff’s disability require her to undergo medical treatment that is not available in the Territory. And this requires her travel, back and forth to California on average every two months, and that the new rules expire Oct. 30th.
“This means after October ... plaintiff’s service animals will again be excluded from entering into the Territory. Therefore, when Plaintiff returns to California for medical treatment, she will again be denied entry into the Territory like other members of the public are permitted to do,” the complaint alleges.
Plaintiff contends that, among other things, between March 17 — when Jane Doe sought to return to the territory with communication to the ASG officials) — and July 2nd, defendants’ rules and practice violated her rights under the ADA and prevented plaintiff, a disabled person, from returning home to her family and business affairs in American Samoa like other “non-disabled” members of the public were permitted to do.
Plaintiff is seeking judicial determination of her rights under the ADA and a declaration that she is entitled to be accompanied by her service animals in American Samoa.
Furthermore, a judicial determination that, between March 17 and July 2, the defendants’ rule and practice of excluding plaintiff’s service animals from entering the territory is in violation of the ADA.
Plaintiff contends that a judicial declaration is necessary and appropriate at this time under the circumstances in order that plaintiff may ascertain her rights and privileges under the ADA.
Also included in court filings is a copy of a Mar. 17th email response from Health director Motusa Tuileama Nua to the plaintiff saying that the task force “is not allowing any dogs to enter the Territory at this time.”
“However, as the situation continued to improve in American Samoa, ie, more COVID free repatriation flights to the Territory, higher percentage of Mass Vaccination, our community expanding its knowledge of the pandemic and self protection, heightening the people's confidence with the system in place to protect over sixty thousand residents, the Task Force may consider lifting some restrictions,” Motusa wrote.
“This means yourself, your family and your two service dogs will have the opportunity to return home within the next three months providing most or all COVID-19 related concerns continue to improve,” he said.
“So, be happy for the fact that you do have a COVID free home to come back to. And soon, your family with your two trusted service dogs will join your child and love ones,” he wrote.
Defendants identified in the lawsuit 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.
The federal court is expected to issue an order soon as to the deadline for defendants to response to the amended complaint.