CLOSE X
RSS Feed LinkedIn Instagram Twitter Facebook
Search:
FMG Law Blog Line

Posts Tagged ‘Department of Justice’

Lions, Tigers, and… Peacocks? Oh My! How to Handle Requests for Emotional Support Animals

Posted on: April 16th, 2018

By: Christopher M. Curci

Many HOA’s with a “no pets” policy struggle to properly handle requests from unit owners to have emotional support animals at the property.  Governing Boards have to balance the needs of the unit owner making the request with the competing desire of other unit owners to enforce the Association’s “no pets” policy.  We are often asked questions such as, “Do we have to allow this?” “What information can we request from the unit owner?” and, “Can we impose limitations on where the animal can go?”  Complicating matters is that the law regarding emotional support animals is broadly written and largely unsettled by the courts.

To start, emotional support animals (or “ESA’s”) are different than service animals.  A service animal is a dog that has been specifically trained to perform tasks for an individual with a disability, such as a seeing eye dog.  By contrast, ESA’s provide emotional support and are not required to have any specific training.  Any animal can be considered an ESA.  In one extreme example, an airline passenger attempted to bring her emotional support peacock on an airplane.  This ruffled United Airlines feathers, who refused to allow the peacock on the plane.

The nuances of the law can be difficult to follow.  A unit owner is not required to produce a doctor’s note to verify his or her medical needs – even a letter from a social worker could suffice.  But, if a disability is “readily apparent,” then the Association cannot ask the unit owner to provide any documentation at all.  Further, while an HOA can adopt formal procedures for requesting an ESA, it cannot deny a unit owner’s request merely because he or she failed to follow those formal procedures.  The Association cannot charge a fee to the unit owner for having an ESA, but the unit owner is responsible for any financial damage caused by the animal.  Maybe the ESA can go in common areas, but maybe not.  Confused?  You should be.

There is no “one size fits all” answer to these questions.  We have successfully defended HOA’s that have denied requests for an ESA or have imposed various restrictions on where an ESA can go.  But, each situation is unique and depends on the specific facts and circumstances of the situation.  HOA’s should be mindful that ESA requests can be legal landmines if not handled properly.  The Department of Justice has fined HOA’s $25,000 – $45,000 for Fair Housing Act violations.  Lawsuits and fines can and should be avoided with proper legal advice.

Christopher M. Curci, Esq. is member of Freeman, Mathis, & Gary’s HOA Practice Group and regularly advises and defends HOA’s in housing related disputes.  He can be reached at [email protected] or by phone at 267-758-6013.

Leaked DOJ Memo Unearths New Strategy in Qui Tam Cases

Posted on: February 13th, 2018

By: Samantha L. Skolnick

On January 10, 2018, an internal Department of Justice memorandum (the “Granston Memo”) was leaked to the public, turning heads. The Granston Memo included an in-depth analysis of the DOJ’s position on evaluating dismissals pursuant to the False Claims Act (FCA). The Granston memo outlined the DOJ’s position on FCA claims brought by whistleblowers. Under the FCA, a whistleblower may bring what is known as a “qui tam” action on behalf of the government, which potentially allows said whistleblower to receive a share of any government recovery.  The Granston memo is particularly significant, as it provides those faced with claims of False Claims Act violations with insight into the DOJ’s stance on a range of factors for dismissing these qui tam actions.

Under the FCA, the Attorney General can dismiss a whistleblower’s qui tam action, so long as the whistleblower is given the opportunity to be heard. 31 U.S.C. § 3730(c)(2)(A). Despite this provision, the DOJ noted that this dismissal option has not been actively utilized by the DOJ.  The Granston Memo specifically addresses seven enumerated circumstances where the DOJ should be considering moving to dismiss these qui tam actions:

(1) curbing meritless qui tams;

(2) preventing parasitic or opportunistic qui tam actions;

(3) preventing interference with agency policies and programs;

(4) controlling litigation brought on behalf of the United States;

(5) safeguarding classified information and national security interests;

(6) preserving governmental resources; and

(7) addressing egregious procedural errors.

Of course, the factors above are not mutually exclusive or exhaustive. The DOJ could move to dismiss these actions for multiple or other reasons.

The Granston Memo also sheds light on the increased number of whistleblower filings per year, which appears to have triggered this concern by the DOJ of the underutilized dismissal provision of the FCA. Indeed, the Granston memo mentions the possible negative consequences of the Government’s failure to use the dismissal provision, including generating adverse decisions which affect the government’s ability to enforce the FCA.

Companies or persons facing FCA claims should be particularly aware of the Granston memo, and should argue to the DOJ and/or to the whistleblower themselves that any such claim is subject to dismissal based on the seven factors above. In some circumstances where the government has decided not to intervene, the whistleblower can obtain permission and voluntarily dismiss a qui tam action.

For more information, contact Samantha Skolnick at [email protected]