Michigan hospital can refuse student's service dog, court rules

A court has ruled in favor of a Michigan hospital that denied a nursing student's request to bring her service dog on rotations, according to a Dec. 5 JD Supra report written by Seyfarth Shaw law firm. 

The plaintiff — a nursing student who worked at Flint, Mich.-based Hurley Medical Center as part of her educational program — was slated to spend four hours a week in the hospital for six weeks. She has a panic disorder, and a service dog alerts her to take medication ahead of panic attacks.  

The hospital initially approved the student's request that the dog accompany her on her rotation, but on the student's first day, one staff member and one patient experienced allergic reactions to the dog. The hospital revoked approval of the dog and offered to crate it on a separate floor and allow the plaintiff to take breaks and visit the dog. The hospital determined that relocating the allergic patients and staff would compromise care; the student could not switch floors, as the supervisor for her educational program was on that floor. 

The case was brought to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, which found that the hospital's decision to revoke approval of the dog was not intentional discrimination, as it was driven by complaints about the animal, not by the student's disability. 

The court also held that the hospital had not violated Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, since the service dog did constitute a direct threat by causing allergic reactions. Since it was not possible to separate the dog from allergic patients and staff, and there was no other workable alternative to mitigate the threat, the hospital was not in the wrong, per the court. 

This decision can provide helpful guidance to healthcare facilities regarding service dog access, according to the report. 

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