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Philadelphia Attorneys Succeed in Appeal to Pennsylvania Supreme Court

Litchfield Cavo LLP’s Philadelphia attorneys William H. Catto and Sean R. Riley were successful on an appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on behalf of a residential cooperative building located in Center City, Philadelphia. The Plaintiff claimed that the cooperative had discriminated against her by denying her request for a waiver of its no-dog policy, which prevented her from purchasing a unit in the building. She claimed her dog qualified as an assistance animal under the Fair Housing Act (FHA) 42 U.S.C. Section 3604(f) with applicable guidance from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

The Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations conducted a full hearing and took testimony, and issued a ruling in favor of the Plaintiff. On appeal, the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas affirmed the Commission. However, Litchfield Cavo attorneys appealed the matter to the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court arguing that the Plaintiff’s dog did not qualify as an assistance animal under the FHA as the Plaintiff’s disabilities were physical in nature, whereas the dog provided exclusively emotional support. Accordingly, there was no nexus between the disability and the services provided by the dog. The Commonwealth Court published a 25 page decision finding in the cooperative’s favor. See Kennedy House, Inc. v. Philadelphia Comm’n on Human Relations, 143 A.3d 476 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2016). Plaintiff sought to appeal the decision to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, but that Court declined to disturb the Commonwealth Court’s ruling.

This case marks the first time that a Pennsylvania Court published a decision on the extent to which an assistance animal may qualify as a reasonable accommodation under the FHA.