The Department of Transportation offered final guidance on its enforcement priorities with respect to emotional support animals.
They haven’t issued regulations – they’ve just told airlines the conditions under which they aren’t going to do anything in the event of a complaint by a passenger, essentially giving airlines license to deny carriage to emotional support animals of certain kinds, to place limits on the number of animals an individual may bring on, and to require paperwork from passengers claiming to need a support animal.
Such a cute 'service animal'. pic.twitter.com/We6U8LPp5E
— gary leff (@garyleff) September 5, 2017
A year and a half ago airlines began to impose restrictions on a practice that had clearly gotten out of control, anyone bringing on anything – without behavioral or size standards – and seemingly were doing so in consultation with the Department of Transportation (who then offered preliminary guidance along these lines).
While the new rules do prohibit blanket bans on dog breeds (Delta can’t have a pit bull ban), for the most part airlines got what they were looking for. The Department of Transportation listened to stakeholders, reviewed the law, and laid out guidelines that allow airlines to balance operational needs, the comfort needs of all passengers, while ensuring restrictions don’t preclude having mental health needs met.
Some states though are going further and criminalizing misrepresenting a pet as a service animal. This is largely in further of state benefits.
Pet owners in Alabama are getting a new law to heed.
Beginning in September, anyone who attempts to pass off their pet as a service animal in the state could be facing misdemeanor charges.
“Making false claims will be a Class C misdemeanor resulting in a $100 fine and 100 hours of community service to be performed with an organization that serves people with disabilities or one approved by the court,” AL.com reported on Wednesday.
…According to the law, signs posted in public will read: “Service animals are welcome. It is illegal for a person to misrepresent an animal in that person’s possession as a service animal.”
Alabama will be joining 24 other states in the US that make misrepresenting a pet as a service animal a crime, with all violations classified as “misdemeanor offenses or civil infractions,” according to Michigan State University’s Animal Legal and Historical Center.
Here’s my question since it’s outside of my area of expertise. To the extent passengers have to represent their pets as emotional support animals in order to take them on an aircraft without charge, and in contravention of the airline’s usual rules for traveling with pets (such as size and weight restrictions, and the requirement to keep them in a carrier) would making a false statement to an airline to obtain benefits under the Air Carrier Access Act incur state liability under these statutes? I would love for lawyers among my readership to weigh in.
My guess is that there wouldn’t be any such liability (and for certain state laws declaring emotional support animals not to be service animals would certainly have no bearing on claims under the federal Air Carrier Access Act), but it may ultimately be a moot question because DOT guidance allows airlines to require certification from a mental health professional that a passenger has a need for an emotional support animal.