“There is nothing left for the court to decide” say defendants in ADA suit
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Five government officials who are members of the COVID-19 Task Force and defendants in a federal lawsuit, have requested the US District Court, Central District of California to “dismiss the case with prejudice” against them, as the court “has no personal jurisdiction over the American Samoan defendants.”
“Further, the Court is faced with a case that has already been resolved. There is a new rule allowing dogs into American Samoa,” the defendants argued through their legal team. “American Samoa has no intention of excluding service animals in the future.”
Defendants point out that the plaintiff — identified in court documents “Jane Doe”, who is a local resident — and her dogs are back in American Samoa. Additionally, plaintiff cannot obtain any damages or fees against defendants.
“There is nothing left for this Court to decide,” according to the defendants response filed late last week.
The plaintiff, who was residing in California at the time waiting to return to the territory, 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 — which ended last month.
Jane Doe claims that the 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.
Early last month, the plaintiff filed a First Amendment Complaint (FAC) arguing that American Samoa’s new rules — effective July 1st - allowing service animals to enter the territory is “a sham to make the case appear moot.” Through her California-based legal counsel, plaintiff claims that the “controversy still exists because it is capable of repetition.” (See Samoa News edition Aug. 5th for details.)
In their response, the defendants recalled that the plaintiff, “claims without any basis that the American Samoan government instituted a rule in the wake of COVID-19 that excluded dogs from traveling from California to American Samoa in violation of the ADA.”
“This supposed rule had the effect, according to her [plaintiff], of stranding her along with two service animals in California,” defendants said.
Attorney General Fainu’ulelei Falefatu Alailima-Utu, a COVID-Task Force member and one of the defendants, said in his separate sworn declaration filed with the court, that the repatriation program was only for flights from Hawaii and not California and there was never any rule pertaining to barring service animals. (See Samoa News online edition Sept. 22nd for Alailima-Utu’s declaration.)
In the complaint, plaintiff pleads two claims: declaratory relief and injunctive relief. However, the defendants argued that the “lawsuit suffers from numerous fatal defects that necessitate dismissal with prejudice.” And the defense cited five “fatal defects”.
Firstly, the first-amended complaint (FAC), “is moot” and plaintiff “concedes in her FAC that the supposed rule excluding animals from traveling to American Samoa — which defendants contend never existed — is no longer in effect,” defendants argued.
“American Samoa does not intend to exclude service animals in the future. This is fatal to Plaintiff’s position. Plaintiff is actually already back in American Samoa with her two service animals,” they further argued. “There is simply no live case or controversy for this Court to adjudicate.”
Secondly, the court lacks personal jurisdiction over any of the American Samoan defendants, as none of them have any contacts with California. “There was no dog exclusion rule intended to target plaintiff or the State of California,” defendants point out.
Third defect in the FAC, according to defendants, is that plaintiff fails to state a claim for declaratory or injunctive relief. “Even if one accepts the veracity of the pleadings and that there was in fact a rule excluding animals from American Samoa — which there was not — declaratory relief cannot be used to adjudicate the propriety of an alleged outdated and replaced rule,” according to the defense.
“It can only be used to adjudicate present controversies. Injunctive relief is a remedy, not an independent claim, and the Court should dismiss it,” they point out.
Fourth fatal-defect is that the “doctrine of qualified immunity bars suits for damages against individual government officials,” the defense argued.
They point out that damages, according to case law, include nominal damages and attorneys fees. And plaintiff cannot pursue her claims for either, and the Court should strike those portions of the FAC.
And the fifth defect is that plaintiff has sued as “Jane Doe” but she offers no basis for proceeding anonymously.
“The presumption is that a party must use her actual name unless there are special circumstances to proceed otherwise. Here, Plaintiff offers no reason, and the Court should order Plaintiff to amend her pleading to state her name,” the defendants argued.
According to the defense, the Court should observe that an amendment here would be futile. “There is no way that Plaintiff can amend around the fatal defects presented throughout this Motion,” they argued.
Court records show that US District Court Judge, John W. Holcomb — who is presiding over the case — had 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 be filed under seal — for example, her medical records.
In conclusion, defendants said the court “should dismiss this case with prejudice” and that plaintiff should not be allowed to continue a lawsuit in California against American Samoan government officials who have no relationship to California, for a non-existent rule relating to importing dogs into the territory.
“American Samoa flew plaintiff back into the territory, and she is there with her two dogs now. There is no reason to believe there will be any rule excluding Plaintiff or her animals from flying back into American Samoa in the future,” according to the defendants who is represented by the Los Angeles-based law-firm of Lurie & Kramer.
The court has set an Oct. 22nd hearing on the case.