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Shumate v. Drake University

Supreme Court of Iowa

May 9, 2014


Page 504

On review from the Iowa Court of Appeals. Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Eliza J. Ovrom, Judge. Appellee seeks further review of court of appeals decision reinstating private lawsuit by service dog trainer alleging denial of access rights under Iowa Code chapter 216C .


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

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

WATERMAN, Justice. All justices concur except Appel, J., who concurs specially, and Mansfield, J., who takes no part.


Page 505

WATERMAN, Justice.

In this appeal, we must decide whether Iowa Code chapter 216C, entitled " Rights of Persons with Physical Disabilities," implicitly provides a service dog trainer a private right to sue. Plaintiff, who works as a service dog trainer but is not disabled, alleges that while she was a student at Drake University Law School (Drake) she was barred from bringing a dog she was training into the classroom and to another event with her. She sued Drake to vindicate the access rights created in Iowa Code section 216C.11(2) (2009), which provides that a violation of the statute is a simple misdemeanor but does not expressly provide any civil remedy.

The district court granted Drake's motion to dismiss, ruling section 216C.11(2) creates no private enforcement action. The court of appeals reversed and reinstated the lawsuit, holding that under our four-part test adopted from Cort v. Ash, 422 U.S. 66, 95 S.Ct. 2080, 45 L.Ed.2d 26 (1975), a service dog trainer has an implied cause of action to sue for money damages and other relief. We granted Drake's application for further review.

For the reasons explained below, we decline Drake's invitation to abandon our four-part test for determining whether an Iowa statute provides an implied private right of action. We reiterate that the dispositive factor is the intent of the legislature and that the other factors help to ascertain legislative intent. Applying the Cort factors, we hold section 216C.11(2) does not provide a service dog trainer with a private right to sue because closely related statutes expressly create private enforcement actions to aid the disabled while chapter 216C does not, and an implied right of action under chapter 216C would circumvent the procedures of the Iowa Civil Rights Act (ICRA). We conclude the legislature purposely omitted a private right to sue from chapter 216C. Accordingly, we vacate the decision of the court of appeals and affirm the judgment of the district court dismissing plaintiff's lawsuit against Drake.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

Nicole Lara Shumate enrolled at Drake in June 2006 and graduated in December 2009. Shumate had trained service dogs for many years, and in her first semester of law school, she founded Iowa's first service dog training nonprofit organization: Paws and Effect.

On August 29, 2011, Shumate filed a lawsuit alleging Drake discriminated against her in violation of Iowa Code chapter 216C. Shumate claimed she was denied access to law school classes on September 1, 2009, because she was accompanied by a dog she was training. Shumate alleged the law school dean told her that day that " access to law school facilities with a service dog in training would not be tolerated per the university policy." Then, on September 6, a law professor denied Shumate and her dog entry to a cultural event at a

Page 506

local church. Shumate also alleged Drake humiliated and harassed her because of her attempts to bring the dog she was training on campus, and Drake thereby created a " poisonous learning environment."

On November 18, 2011, Drake filed a motion to dismiss Shumate's action under Iowa Rule of Civil Procedure 1.421, arguing " as a matter of law, there is no private right of action under Iowa Code chapter 216C." Drake " emphatically denie[d] that it ever excluded Shumate from class or any Drake-sponsored event because she had a service-dog-in-training with her," but acknowledged the factual allegations of the petition are taken as true for purposes of its motion to dismiss. On April 5, 2012, the district court held a nonevidentiary hearing on the motion. On April 16, the district court issued its ruling dismissing Schumate's petition. To determine if chapter 216C gives service dog trainers the right to sue, the district court applied the four-factor Cort test our court adopted in Seeman v. Liberty Mutual Insurance Co., 322 N.W.2d 35, 38 (Iowa 1982):

1. Is the plaintiff a member of the class for whose benefit the statute was enacted?
2. Is there any indication of legislative intent, explicit or implicit, to either create or deny such a remedy?
3. Would allowing such a cause of action be consistent with the underlying purpose of the legislation?
4. Would the private cause of action intrude into an area over which the federal government or a state administrative agency holds exclusive jurisdiction?

Marcus v. Young, 538 N.W.2d 285, 288 (Iowa 1995) (citing Seeman, 322 N.W.2d at 38).

The district court concluded that, although Shumate satisfied the first factor, she failed to establish the second, third, and fourth factors. The district court first acknowledged Iowa Code section 216C.11(2) gives a service dog trainer the right to be accompanied by the dog in certain locations and determined Shumate, therefore, is a member of the class that statute was enacted to benefit. But, the district court further noted that, under Iowa Code section 216C.11(3), a person who interferes with this right can be charged with a simple misdemeanor. Citing " the maxim expressio unius est exclusio alterius --the expression of one thing is the exclusion of another," the district court found the fact the legislature provided for a criminal penalty in section 216C.11(3) indicated it did not intend to allow a civil action under that statute. Additionally, the district court found chapter 216E instructive. That chapter governs assistive devices and expressly provides a private right of action for disabled persons in Iowa Code section 216E.6(3). The district court ruled " [t]his is an indication that the legislature did not create such a right in Chapter 216C; had it intended to do so it would have used language similar to that in Chapter 216E." Finally, the district court concluded that allowing a private right to sue under section 216C.11(2) would permit disabled persons to circumvent the jurisdiction of the Iowa Civil Rights Commission (ICRC). The district court therefore granted Drake's motion to dismiss.

Shumate appealed, and we transferred her case to the court of appeals. The court of appeals held chapter 216C grants Shumate the right to sue. Applying the same four-factor Cort test, the court of appeals concluded each factor favors Shumate. The court of appeals cited Iowa Code section 611.21, which prevents the merger of a civil remedy into a criminal offense. Based on this statute, the court of appeals disagreed with the district court's finding that the misdemeanor punishment

Page 507

in section 216C.11(3) was the sole remedy for a violation of section 216C.11(2). The court of appeals, however, failed to address the district court's conclusion that the express grant of a right to sue under Iowa Code section 216E.6(3) indicates the legislature purposefully omitted such a right from Iowa Code chapter 216C. Regarding the third factor, the court of appeals stated:

The fact persons with disabilities have a different route for enforcing the provisions of chapter 216 does not undermine the effectiveness of a private lawsuit for persons expressly included within, and whose rights are violated under, chapter 216C. We perceive no inconsistency between these separate remedies.

Finally, the court of appeals concluded a private right to sue under section 216C.11(2) would not interfere with the ICRC's ability to adjudicate claims under ...

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