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C. L. v. Del Amo Hospital Inc.

United States District Court, C.D. California

September 3, 2019

C.L., Plaintiff,
v.
DEL AMO HOSPITAL, Defendant.

          FINDINGS OF FACT AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

          DAVID O. CARTER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         A bench trial on this matter was held on July 23-26, 2019.

         This action arises out of a dispute regarding admission of Plaintiff C.L.[1] to National Treatment Center (“NTC”) program at Defendant Del Amo Hospital (“Hospital” or “Del Amo” or “the facility”). Plaintiff has been voluntarily admitted to the NTC program at Del Amo Hospital on numerous occasions, due to persistent mental health conditions including post traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”) and dissociative identity disorder (“DID”). On at least seven occasions, Plaintiff sought to bring her dog, Aspen, with her during her inpatient stay at the Hospital. Plaintiff argues that Del Amo refused to allow Plaintiff to bring Aspen into the facility with her, in violation of state and federal law. Plaintiff argues that Aspen was a service animal on all occasions, and continues to be a service animal. Defendant Del Amo Hospital maintains that Aspen is not a service animal, and even if Aspen is a service animal, that the facility was not required to allow the dog into the Hospital because doing so would cause a fundamental alteration.

         The Court issues the following findings of fact and conclusions of law pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52. To the extent that any findings of fact are included in the Conclusions of Law section, they shall be deemed findings of fact, and to the extent that any conclusions of law are included in the Findings of Fact section, they shall be deemed conclusions of law.

         II. FINDINGS OF FACT

         A. Background

         1. Plaintiff C.L. has a Master's degree in speech-language pathology and holds a PhD in Education with an emphasis in disability studies. Until 2011, when her mental health issues began preventing her from working, C.L. was a full-time public school speech-language pathologist. Trial Transcript, July 23, 2019 (“Transcript Day 1”), Vol. I (Dkt. 174) at 56:1-59:15.

         2. Plaintiff C.L. has been diagnosed with Complex Post-Trauma Stress Disorder (“PTSD”) and Dissociative Identity Disorder (“DID”) due to a childhood history of severe trauma, including physical, sexual, and emotional abuse. C.L. also has major depressive disorder and anxiety, though these disorders may be symptoms of PTSD. Transcript Day 1, Vol. I at 48:18-21, 54:10-55:23.

         3. As a result of her mental health conditions, C.L. experiences hypervigilance, anxiety, flashbacks, intense nightmares, self-harming behaviors, dissociation, and suicidal ideation. Transcript Day 1, Vol. I at 50:10-51:18; Trial Transcript, July 24, 2019 (“Transcript Day 2”), Vol. II at 10: 4-10; Transcript Day 2, Vol. I at 20:23-21:13.

         4. C.L. described hypervigilance as a heightened awareness of what is going on around her, which she can experience when she is away from her home. Transcript Day I, Vol. I at 51-52.

         5. C.L.'s disabling conditions negatively affect her functioning; for instance, C.L. finds it anxiety-producing to undress or shower, and finds it difficult to go into public places such as grocery stores to shop. Transcript Day 2, Vol. I at 10:14-12:11.

         6. Defendant Del Amo Hospital (“Defendant” or “Del Amo”) is a psychiatric hospital located at 23700 Camino Del Sol in Torrance, California. Answer (Dkt. 33) ¶ 6.

         7. The National Treatment Center Program (“NTC Program”) at Del Amo is a specialized inpatient program for the purpose of trauma stabilization and resolution. Trial Transcript July 25, 2109 (“Transcript Day 3”), Vol. III at 32:4-12; Exhibit 118, National Treatment Center for Trauma Recovery Program Patient Handbook.

         8. Dr. Michael Foust is C.L.'s treating, outpatient psychologist. Exhibit 60, Deposition of Michael Foust, at 10:8-16. Dr. Foust recommended that C.L. go to Del Amo due to its treatment program. Exhibit 60 at 33-34.

         9. The NTC Program involves programming all day, whereas C.L.'s sessions with Dr. Foust occur for one hour, twice per week. Transcript Day 2, Vol. I at 73:20-74:2.

         10. Plaintiff voluntarily checked into the NTC program on seven occasions from September 2015 through August 2017. Order Denying Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, Granting in Part and Denying in Part Plaintiff's Partial Motion for Summary Judgment (“MSJ Order”) (Dkt. 80) at 2.

         B. C.L.'s Dog, Aspen

         11. C.L. began to consider getting a service dog in January 2012. Transcript Day 2, Vol. I at 18:9-21.

         12. C.L. considered purchasing a training service dog through an agency, but the lowest price she could find was $15, 000, which she could not afford. Transcript Day 2, Vol. I at 23:22-24:12.

         13. In an email to C.L. in early August 2013, Dr. Foust indicated that he believed a companion dog would be sufficient for her needs. Transcript Day 2, Vol. II at 11:14- 24.

         14. C.L. took ownership of her dog, Aspen, in August 2013, when Aspen was eight weeks old. Transcript Day 2, Vol. I at 31:10-19.

         C. Training of Aspen

         15. When Aspen was three months old, Plaintiff attended a puppy class at Wags and Wiggles. Transcript Day 2, Vol. I at 32:12-18. Wags and Wiggles does not conduct training specific to service dogs, and is not certified in service dog training. Transcript Day 2, Vol. II at 18:21-19:10.

         16. Plaintiff then took a basic obedience class at Wags and Wiggles. ...


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