Service Snakes

This has to be one of the funniest opinions I have ever read. God bless him, the trial judge played it perfectly straight.

The hapless plaintiffs had two problems:
(1) they wanted to use medical marijuana in federally-subsidized housing. True, Washington has a law created by initiative that provides an affirmative defense to prosecution under state law, but use of marijuana is still illegal under federal law;
(2) more entertainingly, they wanted to claim that their snakes were "service animals [sic]" under the ADA.

OK, what's wrong with this picture? Leaving aside the fact that a reptile is not, by definition, an "animal," the animal has to be individually trained to do work or perform similar tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability. The guy's physician actually only stated that he suffered from depression and the snakes were his "therapy pets." (Right before he wrote him a recommendation for medical marijuana.)

Now, I imagine you could train a bird to ask, "How do you feel about that," but a snake? After all, they speak with forked tongues. The case law is pretty clear that an owner's deriving comfort from an animal is not enough to qualify that animal as a service animal for ADA purposes. The animal/reptile has to have special training. Here the plaintiff lost because he was unable to show that he trained the snakes to perform specific tasks or that they had any other unique qualities.

You get more of a sense of what this guy must have been like as a tenant from the dry notation in the facts that he "claimed an unlimited right to carry the snakes around with him, including when he paid his rent."


cwitgo said...

Is this a case of you and your pet becoming more alike?

Chicken McFuggits said...

Had one like that a year or two ago. Left his Jack Russel in the car while he went into Barnes and Noble. Against the Law in SC. When I approached him (I'm a cop) he claimed it was a service dog that B&N wouldn't let him bring into the store. I asked him what service it provided, at which he gave me a sheet off a stack of xeroxed copies detailing that by law I wasn't allowed to ask that question. I said fair enough. I won't ask, but leaving the dog in the car is still illegal, here's your ticket. He said but B&N...I said B&N wasn't the one who left the dog in the car. As it would turn out, I ended up asking his neighbor. The dog is there for comfort only and is a pet. Could have been left at home then returned to. Instead he baked it a bit in the car thinking a small bit of knowledge he picked up off the internet would excuse him.

Luke said...

A reptile isn't an animal?! Not sure I follow you. A reptile is in the animal kingdom, as are people, by the way. Do you mean that the statute's definition of "animal" excludes the (taxonomic) class reptilia?