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Naegle v. Canyons School District

United States District Court, D. Utah

May 23, 2018

SHARON NAEGLE on behalf of S.H.N., a minor child, Plaintiff,
CANYONS SCHOOL DISTRICT, a political subdivision, and DR. JAMES BRISCOE, an individual, Defendants.


          Dee Benson Judge

         Before the court is Defendants' Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, (Dkt. No. 16, ) and Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment. (Dkt. No. 17.) The court held a hearing on the motions on May 1, 2018. Defendants were represented by Rachel Terry and Dan Harper. Plaintiff was represented by Jeremy Miller. At the conclusion of the hearing, the court took the motions under advisement. Now being fully informed, the court issues this Memorandum Decision and Order.

         Factual Background

         The parties do not dispute the facts relevant to the motions. Plaintiff operates a dog breeding business, Cradle of Love Cavaliers, LLC. (Complaint at ¶ 15.) In May of 2016, Plaintiff purchased Hazel Grace, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, with the intention of training her as a service animal to donate to a child with a psychiatric or neurological disability. (Id. at ¶ 17.) During the summer of 2016, Plaintiff employed her daughter, Shyler, to be Hazel Grace's full-time handler and trainer. (Id. at ¶ 19.) Shyler is not disabled.

         On August 24, 2016, Plaintiff sent an email to the principal of Jordan High School, where Shyler was a student, informing him that Shyler intended to bring Hazel Grace to school with her. (Id. at ¶¶ 26-28.) Shyler attended school with Hazel Grace for a few days until she was called into the office on August 29, 2016. (Id. at ¶ 30.) She was informed that Hazel Grace was not allowed at Jordan High School, per District policy. (Id. at ¶¶ 30-31.) The District then provided a letter to Plaintiff, explaining the policy and its decision that Hazel Grace would not be allowed in the classroom as a service animal in training. (Id. at ¶¶ 35-36.)

         On September 7, 2016, Shyler again attempted to attend classes at Jordan High School with Hazel Grace. (Id. at ¶ 38.) The school principal again informed Shyler that Hazel Grace was not permitted in the classroom, and called Plaintiff to come pick up her dog. (Id. at ¶¶ 38-39, 43.) That same day, counsel for Plaintiff sent an email to the District, explaining Plaintiff's position that Hazel Grace was a service dog in training and should be permitted to attend classes with Shyler. (Id. at ¶ 47.) The following day, on September 8, 2016, the District responded by letter, reaffirming its position that Hazel Grace would not be permitted to attend class with Shyler. (Id. at ¶ 48.)

         Plaintiff requested additional review, and on September 13, 2016, a 3-person panel of Canyon School District employees and a local businessman held a hearing to review the District's determination. (Id. at ¶ 51.) On September 23, 2016, the panel issued a written decision affirming the District's decision not to allow Hazel Grace to attend school with Shyler. (Id. at ¶ 54, Exh. I.) The panel reasoned that classrooms are not public facilities within the meaning of Utah Code Section 62A-5b-103, and that Hazel Grace did not meet the definition of a service dog under Utah Code Section 62A-5b-102. (Id.)

         On November 4, 2016, a dog trainer submitted a letter to the District on behalf of Plaintiff, again requesting that Hazel Grace be permitted to attend class with Shyler. (Id. at ¶¶ 60-62.) The District reaffirmed its previous determination that Hazel Grace would not be allowed to attend Jordan High School by letter on November 14, 2016. (Id. at ¶ 63.)

         Plaintiff filed this action in state court on November 22, 2016. (See id.) Defendants filed their notice of removal to this court on January 9, 2017. (Dkt. No. 2.) In her Complaint, Plaintiff seeks a declaration that Hazel Grace is a service animal under the ADA as defined by Utah Law (First Cause of Action); an injunction allowing Hazel Grace to accompany Shyler in all areas of Jordan High School (Second Cause of Action); and injunctive relief and attorney's fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Third Cause of Action). (Id.)

         Sometime after filing the Complaint, Plaintiff moved outside the boundaries of Jordan High School. (Dkt. No. 17-1, Exh. 8 at ¶ 53.) Shyler now attends Corner Canyon High School in the Canyons School District. (Dkt. No. 17-1, Exh. 4 at ¶ 4.) Hazel Grace has been retired as a service dog in training. (Dkt. No. 17-1, Exh. 8 at ¶ 54.)


         Sufficiency of the Pleadings

         First, the court must determine whether Plaintiff's complaint states facially plausible federal claims. See Kerber v. Qwest Grp. Life Ins. Plan, 647 F.3d 950, 959 (10th Cir. 2011). “A motion for judgment on the pleadings under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c) is treated as a motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6).” Mock v. T.G. & Y. Stores Co., 971 F.2d 522, 528 (10th Cir. 1992). Dismissal under this standard is appropriate “only when it appears that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of the claims that would entitle the plaintiff to relief.” Id. (quoting Jacobs, Visconsi & Jacobs Co. v. City of Lawrence, 927 F.2d 1111, 1115 (10th Cir.1991)). The court must accept all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true and “construe them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Williams v. Meese, 926 F.2d 994, 997 (10th Cir.1991).

         Plaintiff's third cause of action alleges a violation of civil rights pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 1983. In support of that theory, Plaintiff alleges generally that “Defendants, by excluding the training of Plaintiff's service animal in Jordan High School deprives the Plaintiff her civil rights.” (Compl. at ¶ 74.) Plaintiff does not provide any information about what those civil rights might be. The only factual allegation that could reasonably be construed as an allegation in support of Plaintiff's §1983 claim states: “Mr. Sherwood admitted that if Hazel Grace were being trained as a sight dog, she would be permitted without a problem, and that it has been done on many occasions.” ...

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