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Shannon Knudsen (Individually and As Next Friend For Claire Knudsen v. Tiger Tots Community Child Care Center

January 9, 2013

SHANNON KNUDSEN (INDIVIDUALLY AND AS NEXT FRIEND FOR CLAIRE KNUDSEN), JOSEPH KNUDSEN (INDIVIDUALLY AND AS NEXT FRIEND FOR CLAIRE KNUDSEN), AND CLAIRE KNUDSEN, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
TIGER TOTS COMMUNITY CHILD CARE CENTER, CORPORATION, MADRID HOME FOR THE AGING, DEBORAH WIBE AND KEITH KUDEJ, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Kurt J. Stoebe, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Vaitheswaran, J.

Plaintiffs contend that the district court erred in granting defendants' motion for summary judgment, asserting that the court incorrectly determined that a child's tree nut allergy is not protected under the Iowa Civil Rights Act. REVERSED AND REMANDED.

Heard by Eisenhauer, C.J., and Vogel and Vaitheswaran, JJ.

We must decide whether summary judgment was appropriate in an action for disability discrimination under the Iowa Civil Rights Act.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings

The material facts are essentially undisputed. Shannon Knudsen, mother of a young child, approached the management of Tiger Tots Community Care Center about enrolling her child at the center. Knudsen disclosed that the child had a tree nut allergy. She discussed an emergency care plan with director Deborah Wibe and volunteer executive director Keith Kudej. Wibe informed her that her demands could not be met because of staffing and liability issues. In response to Knudsen's request to have the decision reduced to writing, Wibe wrote:

We carefully reviewed the special care needs outlined by you for your daughter . . . who has a sensitive allergy. We have determined that we are unable to meet those special needs with our current staffing levels. We are sad to inform you that we are unable to provide preschool and daycare services for [your daughter] at this time.

Knudsen*fn1 sued Tiger Tots, Wibe, and Kudej,*fn2 alleging the defendants' refusal to admit the child to the center amounted to disability discrimination under the Iowa Civil Rights Act (ICRA). The defendants moved for summary judgment, which Knudsen resisted.

On the question of whether the child had a "disability," the district court found "no Iowa case on point" but stated "Iowa law mimics federal legislation found at 42 U.S.C. Section 12205A, 42 U.S.C. Section 12101 through 12101."*fn3

The court then considered a federal opinion cited by the defendants, which the court characterized as having facts "remarkably similar to those in the present case." See Land v. Baptist Med. Ctr., 164 F.3d 423 (8th Cir. 1999).

In Land, a mother sued a daycare center for disability discrimination under the ADA and the Arkansas Civil Rights Act after her child had an allergic reaction to peanuts while at the center. The appellate court applied federal case law to both claims and affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the center. 164 F.3d at 425--26.

The district court in this case acknowledged but rejected Knudsen's argument that an amendment to the ADA called Land into question. Noting there was "no similar amendment to the Iowa statutes," the court determined the ICRA "should be interpreted as static and not an evolving law." Without further analysis of the facts, the court concluded as a matter of law that "the physical condition advanced by the plaintiffs does not constitute a disability contemplated by Iowa Code section 216.7." The court granted the defendants' summary judgment motion and this appeal followed.

Summary judgment is appropriate if the record establishes "'no genuine issue as to any material fact'" and "'the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.'" Virden v. Betts & Beer Constr. Co., 656 ...


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