Teacher with Multiple Sclerosis denied Service Dog in her own home.
Deborah Fisher lives with her husband Larry at Sabal Palm Condominiums in Broward County, Florida. Deb has lived at Sabal Palms for the past twelve years. She lives with Secondary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis. Deb’s multiple sclerosis affects her ability to walk and her fine motor skills. It progressed from walking with a limp, then a walker, then a scooter, then a wheelchair and accessible van. She is now non-ambulatory and has been for about six years.
For Deb Fischer, the transformation from able-bodied to a person with a disability was difficult. Prior to the advancement of her MS, Deb was an art teacher in high school who was used to being self-reliant and in charge of her household. Now Deb is unable to work at a job she loved, and unable to hold a paintbrush. She depends on Larry to cook and clean and care for the home. In 2011, Deb and Larry found that they were chosen by Canine Companions for Independence to receive a highly trained service animal to assist Deb with her daily life activities.
On November 12, Deb and Larry brought Sorenson, the service animal to their home. Sorenson has been a blessing to the Fischers. According to Deb, “Sorenson has changed my life for the better, picking up everything I drop and cannot reach, opening heavy drawers and doors and pushing them closed, turning on switches and pushing buttons. He has taken some of the work and stress off my main caretaker, my husband. Sorenson is a perfect service animal, “invisible” in public situations. He only barks only on command, and stops when commanded “quiet”. We clean up after him on walks and he does not jump on anyone. He is never off leash outside our condo.”
Notwithstanding the obvious nature of Deb’s disability and the stated function of the service dog, her condo association would not approve her use of a service dog. For five months Deb tried her best to provide what asked for, but the condo association was not satisfied with the information she provided regarding the extent of her disability and need for the dog, and wanted copies of all of her medical records that detail her disability. Deb tried to educate her condominium and provide them information regarding the fair housing act, her rights as a person with a disability, and the level of training this animal received to serve her needs, but they maintained that she did not need the dog, since it was not necessary to “survive.”
Finally, on April 16, 2012, Sabal Palm Condominium Association filed a lawsuit under the Fair Housing Act against Deb and Larry Fischer, demanding that they get rid of Sorenson, and pay their attorney’s fees and costs. In fear of losing her service animal, Deb and Larry Fisher retained the lawyers of Disability Independence Group and Herb Milgrim to protect her rights and allow her to stay in her home with her chosen accommodation. The additional stress from this lawsuit and the fight to keep her dog has caused Deb’s condition to further deteriorate, but she could not even imagine life without Sorenson’s assistance.
We believe that the affirmative lawsuit by Sabal Palms Condominium Association was in retaliation for Ms. Fischer asserting her rights under the Fair Housing Act, and no better than using the law that is meant to protect persons with disabilities as a bludgeon against them. Deb and Larry filed a counterclaim against the condominium, its lawyer and president for violations of the Fair Housing Act and retaliation.
All persons who are substantially involved in a violation of the Fair Housing Act may be liable for compensatory and punitive damages, and such persons include members of the board of directors, property managers, or agents of the association. Deb and Larry would like to live in peace and to ensure that such acts do not re-occur in Sabal Palms, and that others are not put through the harassment that they have been forced to undergo.
“All cases are dependent on many factors that may or may not be present in all cases. As such, results may not be typical. You may not have as beneficial a result.”