Every Dog Will Have Its Day

This was originally published on the SGR Blog.

Virginia Hough filed a complaint with the State Division  of Human Rights against  1 Toms Point Lane Corporation , a residential cooperative,  alleging a violation of the New York State Human Rights Law.  Hough charged the co-op with discriminating against her on the basis of disability because she was not allowed to keep an emotional support dog in her apartment to help ameliorate her generalized anxiety disorder.

After a hearing, an administrative law judge made a recommendation and findings in favor of Hough. Toms Point was directed to cease and desist from enforcing against Hough any rules or policies prohibiting dogs and awarded Hough compensatory damages of $1,000 for mental anguish. The Commissioner of the Division adopted the  judges recommendation and findings. And the co-op filed a proceeding to review the Commissioner’s determination.  The Division cross-petitioned to enforce the order.

Judicial review of an administrative determination made after a hearing required by law at which evidence was taken was limited to whether the determination was supported by substantial evidenceSubstantial evidence consisted of such relevant proof as a reasonable mind might accept.

To establish a violation of the Human Rights Law occurred and that a reasonable accommodation should have been made, Hough was required to demonstrate that she was disabled, was otherwise qualified for the tenancy, because of her disability it was necessary for her to keep a dog in order for her to use and enjoy the apartment and  a reasonable accommodations could be made.

The term disability, as defined by Executive Law, meant, “(a) a physical, mental or medical impairment resulting from anatomical, physiological, genetic or neurological conditions which prevents the exercise of a normal bodily function or is demonstrable by medically accepted clinical or laboratory diagnostic techniques or (b) a record of such an impairment or (c) a condition regarded by others as such an impairment.”

Here, the Court found that there was substantial evidence in the record to conclude that Hough suffered from generalized anxiety disorder, an impairment demonstrated by medically accepted clinical or laboratory diagnostic techniques, and that she required the use of a companion dog to use and enjoy her apartment. There was sufficient evidence that having a dog would affirmatively enhance Hough’s quality of life by ameliorating the effects of her disability, thus demonstrating necessity within the meaning of the Human Rights Law.

Where, as here, there was conflicting medical evidence, a hearing officer was vested with the exclusive authority to weigh the evidence and credit the opinion of one medical expert over another. So long as the inferences drawn and the ultimate determination made were supported by substantial evidence, it was not for the Court to substitute its judgment for that of the hearing officer.

Although there was testimony from the co-op’s expert that could support a contrary conclusion, Hough’s treating psychologist articulated a rational and fact-based opinion based upon his examination and treatment of Hough and his review of her medical records. The Court concluded that he Commissioner’s determination was supported by substantial evidence and would not be disturbed.

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