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Shumate v. Drake University

Court of Appeal of Iowa

November 6, 2013

NICOLE LARA SHUMATE, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
DRAKE UNIVERSITY a/k/a DRAKE UNIVERSITY LAW SCHOOL, Defendant-Appellee.

Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Eliza J. Ovrum, Judge.

A trainer of service dogs appeals the dismissal of her lawsuit alleging a violation of Iowa Code chapter 216C.

Felicia M. Bertin Rocha of Bertin Rocha Law Firm, Urbandale, for appellant.

Andrew Bracken, Amanda G. Wachuta and Nicholas J. Pellegrin of Ahlers & Cooney, P.C., Des Moines, for appellee.

Heard by Tabor, P.J., Bower, J., and Mahan, S.J. [*]

TABOR, P.J.

Today we are asked to decide if a person training a service dog has the right to file a lawsuit under Iowa Code chapter 216C (2011). Plaintiff Nicole Shumate seeks to litigate her allegations Drake University law school officials denied her access to classrooms and other locations open to the public. The district court dismissed her suit, concluding a violation of the statute could only be enforced by the State charging a simple misdemeanor. Shumate appeals, contending the legislature intended to create a private right of action. Our review of the chapter convinces us the legislature signaled its implicit intent to allow a person in Shumate's position to file a civil action to enforce the important rights protected by the enactment. Accordingly, we reverse and remand for further proceedings.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings

Shumate enrolled in Drake University Law School in 2006 and graduated in 2009. Shumate also trains therapy and service dogs, and in 2006 she founded a non-profit organization dedicated to that purpose called Paws & Effect. The intersection of her two pursuits led Shumate to file suit in August 2011.

In her petition at law, Shumate alleged Drake University denied her "access to law school classes because she was assisted by a service dog in training." She asserted the law school dean notified her in September 2009 that "access to law school facilities with a service dog in training would not be tolerated per the university policy." Her suit also alleged a Drake law professor denied her admittance to a cultural event being held at a local church because Shumate was accompanied by a service dog in training. Finally, Shumate contended the law school directed hostility toward her and created a "poisonous learning environment." She premised her right to recovery on Iowa Code chapter 216C. Her petition requested compensatory damages.

Drake University moved to dismiss Shumate's suit under Iowa Rule of Civil Procedure 1.421(f), alleging "as a matter of law, there is no private right of action under Iowa Code chapter 216C."[1] The district court held a hearing on the motion to dismiss on April 5, 2012. On April 16, 2012, the court granted the motion to dismiss. Shumate filed a timely notice of appeal.

II. Scope and Standard of Review

We look for errors at law when reviewing the district court's ruling on a motion to dismiss. Mueller v. Wellmark, Inc., 818 N.W.2d 244, 253 (Iowa 2012). The district court may grant a motion to dismiss when the petition's allegations, taken as true, fail to state a claim ...


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