March 11, 2013

Grand Valley State University pays $40,000 to settle lawsuit over a student's emotional-support guinea pig.

Even though the university had allowed the student — because of her depression — to keep the rodent in the otherwise pet-free dorm, the restriction on bringing it to classes and into the food-service places was, she argued, a failure to make reasonable accommodations.

If you're trying to decide what to complain about here, the salient fact is that the university settled. 

As for the psychological benefits of carrying a rodent to school, I think about the young Keith Richards:
For companionship I kept pets. I had a cat and a mouse, Gladys. I would bring her to school and have a chat in the French lesson when it got boring. I'd feed her my dinner and lunch, and I'd come home with a pocketful of mouse shit. Mouse shit doesn't matter. It comes out in hardened pellets, there's no pong involved, it's not squidgy or anything like that. You just empty you pockets and out come these pellets. Gladys was true and trusted. She very rarely poked her head out of the pocket and exposed herself to instant death.

59 comments:

EMD said...

BWHAhAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

That is all.

Crunchy Frog said...

If you're trying to decide what to complain about here, the salient fact is that the university settled.

The salient fact is that the ADA and its misuse are what allow junk lawsuits like this one to be foisted upon businesses and taxpayers.

It was clearly in GVSU's best interest to settle, as it would have cost more to fight it, even in a wimming cause.

We need Loser Pays tort reform, and we need it NOW.

edutcher said...

Sooner or later, you have to grow up.

And you have to make peace with your problems.

Jerub-Baal said...

"As for the psychological benefits of carrying a rodent to school, I think about the young Keith Richards"...

...somehow I'm feeling a jarring disconnect between the term 'psychological benefits' and the name 'Keith Richards.'

Ignorance is Bliss said...

As for the psychological detriments of carrying a rodent to school, I think about the old Keith Richards.

bpm4532 said...

So, if you can get a psychologist to say your gun shaped pop tart is for emotional support, you're OK?

john said...

Blanca (the guinea pig) has since died.

GVSU was wise to settle and hopefully escape a wrongful death charge.

Mitchell the Bat said...

I'd recommend she try a tribble.

Henry said...

Just ONE guinea pig?

Can the guinea pig sue her for lack of companionship?

Bob Boyd said...

We're all guinea pigs now.

gadfly said...

What is a little shit among friends? No hay problema.

Uncle Pavian said...

These are the things that make me think that the higher education enterprise is no longer worth pursuing.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

What they need is another student with a phobic fear of little fuzzy rodents who will counter sue because their emotional stability is threatened by the student with the guinea pig who insists on inflicting emotional harm to the phobic student.

Dueling rodent lawsuits.

elkh1 said...

Those students who don't like eating or going to class with a rodent could sue Grand Valley too.

Noz pkr said...

It all depends on your concept of emotional 'needs' and your definition of 'support'.

I can think of many possibilities.

All most likely not permissible in a dorm room.

But then again..maybe not.. given the litigation/award potential.

Maguro said...

That is a guinea pig in my pocket and no, I'm not happy to see you.

jacksonjay said...


Rodent are meant to be trapped! Snap!

Real American said...

too bad no other student thought to bring in an emotion support python.

n.n said...

What is to prevent some man or woman dressed in a white lab coat from issuing waivers, say on the street, during a protest?

What is to prevent any Barack, Harry, or Nancy from claiming psychological distress?

What is to prevent a countersuit, claiming presence of a guinea pig causes psychological distress?

It's a dysfunctional convergence.

John said...

"If you give a mouse a cookie..." most lessons are taught early, in children's books. Kendra took a little longer, but I think her "education" from GVSU is complete. Did they give her a diploma with the settlement check?

John said...

"If you give a mouse a cookie..." most lessons are taught early, in children's books. Kendra took a little longer, but I think her "education" from GVSU is complete. Did they give her a diploma with the settlement check?

James Pawlak said...

Having just viewed a film showing a wolverine as a pet, could such a critter be claimed for the same purpose. Such might convince some faculty to stick to what they should (By catalog listings) and not attempt to brainwash students.

MadisonMan said...

So sure this will enhance her employment prospects!

Skyler said...

Handicapped parking is used by all kinds for any reason and anyone can get an animal to help them with their anxiety.

It's time that wusses were identified as such and they allow us to live in peace, without being molested by their sissy desires to have their pet and their parking.

I have no problem allowing people in wheel chairs or with serious health problems have close up parking. But I don't feel any moral obligation to accommodate people who just don't want to cope with their own pathetic lives as adults.

MayBee said...

This emotional support animal business is out of control. My husband once had to make accommodation for a woman pushing a ferret in a stroller. It's cheaper to register your dog as a support dog and fly him in the cabin than it is to fly him as pet cargo.

It's due to the ADA and lawsuits, and I also to the "specialness" people feel about themselves these days when they have emotional problems )or dietary issues, for that matter). There's been a terrible convergence.

Crazy town, USA

john said...

Richard Gere's name has been brought up in reference to this suit.

Phil said...

"Dueling rodent lawsuits."

squeak squeaksqueak squeak squeak squeak squeak squeak squeak . . .

squeak squeaksqueak squeak squeak squeak squeak squeak squeak . . .

squeak squeak squeak squeaksqueak squeak squeak squeak . . .

squeak squeak squeak squeaksqueak squeak squeak squeak . . .

Yeehaw!!

Phil said...

Sorry. The person responsible for the preceding post under my name has been sacked.

rhhardin said...

I had a baby bird, picked up bare and blue on a driveway one morning, in my pocket at work for a few weeks.

There were no psychological benefits but it was a visitor attraction.

Nomennovum said...

1. I am not trying to decide what to complain about. I know.

2. That the university settled may be a salient fact, but another is that we live in such mentally fragile and psychologically coddling society that we regularly treat adults like infants. No wonder we're fucked.

rhhardin said...

The handicapped spaces ought to be as far from the stores as possible.

They could use some exercise.

EMD said...

You're making it too easy.

wyo sis said...

edutcher
"Sooner or later, you have to grow up.

And you have to make peace with your problems."

Not in this time and place.
In this time and place you get to be a baby and make other people pay for your pathology, real or imagined.

MadisonMan
"So sure this will enhance her employment prospects!"

She hos no plans to be employed. She's found her life's work.

But I'm sure some election worker will get her to the polls to vote Democrat.

virgil xenophon said...

Some great comments here, but for my money Jerub-Baal wins the thread, lol.

(Long-time lurker, JB, or a FNG? First time I've noticed you)

john said...

Here is a more-complete version of what went on. It doesn't say that she could have moved into other campus dorms that did accomodate pets.

A student and advocacy organization will proceed with disability bias claims they filed after a school denied the student’s request to keep a guinea in on-campus housing for emotional support.
Kendra Velzen has a history of depression, and she also has a heart condition. Before she became an on-campus student at Grand Valley State University in the fall of 2011, her therapist formally prescribed an emotional support animal for her.

When Velzen moved into on-campus housing, she brought along her guinea pig and a letter from her therapist that explained her condition. The letter said Velzen needed the guinea pig to manage her symptoms.

The school told Velzen she could not keep the guinea pig with her at school because it was not a trained service animal. Velzen then sought help from the Fair Housing Center of West Michigan, which began to advocate on her behalf.

Lawsuit Claims Bias
After Velzen filed a complaint with a state civil rights department, the school allowed her to have the animal in her residence. However, there was some dispute about whether the accommodation was permanent. The school later said it was a matter of an accommodation request that was approved, but Velzen characterized the move as an “interim exception.”

Velzen moved out of her on-campus housing and cancelled her application for housing for the following school year. She and the advocacy organization then sued the university and several university officials, claiming violations of the Fair Housing Act (FHA), the Rehabilitation Act and state law. They sought compensatory and injunctive relief. At the district court, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss.

Some Claims Stay, and Some Go
The defendants argued that the case was moot. They also said the advocacy organization lacked standing, and they alleged that immunity barred all the FHA and state-law claims against the institutional defendants as well as the FHA and state-law claims for compensatory damages against the individual defendants.

The court said that as to Velzen’s decision to move out after filing her suit, her claims for injunctive relief were not moot because she had not ruled out the possibility of seeking on-campus housing again at some point in the future.

In addition, the organization had standing under the FHA because it alleged that the case caused a drain on its resources that caused it injury. However, it lacked standing to pursue a Rehabilitation Act claim because it did not show it was discriminated against or denied a benefit based on its relationship with Velzen.

Immunity blocked the FHA and state-law claims against the university, although claims against individual defendants for injunctive relief could proceed. Also, immunity did not block any Rehabilitation Act claims.

Accommodation Claim Goes Forward
Next, the court found Velzen could proceed with her Rehabilitation Act claim of failure to accommodate. As to that claim, she adequately alleged that the defendants acted in bad faith when they allegedly denied her request for accommodation.

Finally, the court found that neither Velzen nor the organization could proceed with the Rehabilitation Act claims of disparate treatment. The allegations did not adequately support the claim that Velzen was treated differently than other students when it came to university housing. In fact, it appeared that Velzen was treated the same as every other student who sought to live on the school’s campus.

The dismissal motion was granted in part, and it was denied in part.

Velzen v. Grand Valley State Univ., No. 1:12-CV-321, 2012 WL 4809930 (W.D. Mich. 10/10/12).

Amartel said...

Emotional support guinea pig. Great. We are a nation of children who can't leave their pets at home without crying. Even to go to school at Grand Valley State. How threatening can it be at Grand Valley State?

I feel less sorry about the girl with the lion fetish who got et or chewed or whatever it was. Fewer people wanting to partner up with another human equals more burden and emotional attachment on other animals. Hear me now, believe me later, this is not going to end well from the animals' perspective.

Also, Keef would never have sued if his stealth mouse was banned.

MayBee said...

The era of participant ribbons and everyone being special is resulting in people being willing to humiliate themselves so they may stand out some way, any way, as a special snowflake. No accomplishment required

Amartel said...

Also, a guinea pig??? Those things are not exactly responsive. They're furballs that eat and poop and sleep all day. Just get a stuffed animal or a rabbit's foot and carry that around.

Nomennovum said...

American colleges and universities should draw the line at teddy bears, pacifiers, and thumb-sucking in class.

Nomennovum said...

Oh, good grief. The woman is 28 years old! Probably a firend or relative of Sandra Fluke.

I guess this matter might a women's rights issue, then.

Jerub-Baal said...

virgil xenophon,

not so much a lurker, as instead usually late to a thread (like 150+ comments) and figure by that time somebody smarter than I has already said anything I could think of.

as for your comment, I'd like to thank the Academy, ...and Mr. Richards....

President-Mom-Jeans said...

I have two complaints.

One, that even one penny of public taxdollars in any way goes to this idiotic third tier trash of a school. At least 25% of colleges should be closed down immediately.

Two, that this poor woman is still burdened with life to the extent that she needs to walk around with a fucking guinea pig. She seems like an excellent candidate for an 87th trimester abortion. For the health and safety of her mother of course.

Also, is the pig of Italian ancestry? I feel that everyone using the term "Guinea Pig" is racist.

Another ugly story. Ugly I say.

Lem said...

Grand Valley State University pays $40,000 to settle lawsuit over a student's emotional-support guinea pig.

When I first read that I thought the settlement was over a student being used as a guinea pig... that it turns out to be the University as guinea pig, sounds like one of those things I would say... how innovative!

SGT Ted said...

Can't wait for the lawsuits from those allergic to pet dander. Or any health hazard from rodents.

I've known a few people that always carried their rodents around with them. All uniformly immature and emtionally off. Now these immature, emotionally stunted individuals get to call the shots ay University.

The "support animal" line is complete bullshit, when it comes to anything other than a highly trained one, like a seeing eye dog. It's a bullshit excuse designed to evade and avoid having to obey the health rules about animal ownership we all follow.

It is mostly women that do this, with their little purse dog. They shouldn't HAVE to obey the rules, because PRECIOUS is SO CUTE! and lovie! and shut up I don't have to obey the rules.

That the college settled in favor of the student shows they are part of the problem. They don't know yet what they've unleashed on the other students that don't want a goddamed rodent in the classroom.

glenn said...

I think this young lady needs to get a job. Picking peaches or pruning grape vines springs to mind,

Amartel said...

The $40,000 is probably all going for attorneys' fees, by the way.

chrisnavin.com said...

Call me if/when an adult baby gets involved.

pj (lowercase) said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bob_R said...

You guys seem to be under the impression that a bunch of guinea pigs would smell worse, behave worse, be dirtier than the students.

Broomhandle said...

A remarkable number of adults are truly like small chidren. I've worked with a few who were far less mature than my 13 year old.

Susan Stewart Rich said...

Everyone knows pets work better than meds to help alleviate the symptoms of many (not all) psychological disorders. The thing is, the Pharm companies have a lot of money to throw at anyone ane everyone to make sure pets don't become a normal/reasonable method of treating disorders.

Chuck said...

Dear Prof. Althouse,

I am interested and curious as to why you think that "the salient fact is that the university settled."

It is a fact that the university settled.

It is also a fact that the plaintiff's damages were presumably minimal.

I see that at least one other earlier commenter has made the obvious observation, which is that $40,000 is high-nuisance value. Cost of defense, or thereabouts. Perhaps less than cost of defense, I don't know. The cost of a full workup to the point of filing a Motion for Summary Judgment, (interrogatories, witness interviews, depositions, affidavits, briefing, etc.) and then successfully defending a successful motion at the Sixth Circuit would be right around $40k.

I don't know what the down-side might have been with a jury. A jury could not have been expected to award a large sum; at least not based on anything I'm aware of. I presume that there'd have been some psychological component, but we are talking about a jury pool from the Western District of Michigan. A jury composed of the people who are electing Republicans to congress, without fail.

But when you suggest that the "salient" fact is that the university settled, I don't understand. Settlements are one of the absolute worst ways to gauge fault or guilt. "Cost of defense" drives settlements like this one. And "cost of defense" can't possibly be a fair maesure of something like civil liability, as you must agree.

That the university settled, and for how much is one of the least "salient" of all the facts in the case.

And as to the person who suggested that all $40k probably went to the lawyers; probably not. The contingency fee arrangement between this plaintiff and the lawyers would almost certainly be limited to 33% under the Michigan Court Rules and the Michigan Rules of Professional Responsibility. The 33% would be paid after costs, but fees are not costs, and I don't think that costs in a case like this would be all that much.

Now my presumption in this is that $40k is all that the univcersity agreed to pay. It is possible, and it may be ethical under the MRP's, for the university to have paid the attorneys separately. In that instance, the attorneys would probably submit some sort of hourly statement for payment under a quantum meruit basis.

But all of this jawboning over attorney fees and costs brings me back to Prof. Althouse's "salient" fact. Every day of the week, every week of the year, insurers, businesses, property owners and other defendants in civil lawsuits are faced with such decisions.

And cases like this are object lessons for tort reform legislation. The reason that the university settled this case is that it was faced with a body of law, and a litigation construct, that made it possible for a plaintiff to claim that having a hamster was so necessary that denying the hamster gave rise to a cause of action for damages. And quite possibly treble damages, or damages plus an award of attorney fees. Even when the cases are ludicrous, if there is a chance that a jury could award significant money in the form of a verdict, and the costs to obtain a favorable result are significant, a settlement with a release of all liability becomes the best of two or three unattractive options.

I'll say here again as I have before: in my mind, there is no issue that more clearly separates Republicans and Democrats, than tort reform.

I can show you pro-life Democrats. And big-spending Republicans. And politicians from all quarters who hate to levy new taxes, but all of them will levy new taxes.

But tort reform is a nearly-perfect divider of Republicans from Democrats. I wish it were a better voting issue.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

A remarkable number of adults are truly like small children. I've worked with a few who were far less mature than my 13 year old.

When the shit hits the fan, the attrition is going to be significant. This will.... in the long run, be a good thing.

John Lynch said...

Guinea pigs aren't rodents.

Dragging one around everywhere would terrify the poor thing. It might be animal cruelty.

Nini said...

Depression is a fact of life for some people.

My daughter suffers depression and at first, I also had the same attitude as other people have. I was thinking that she just was not trying hard enough to cope with the demands of everyday life. But she can’t pretend for long, can she?

She leads a normal life as any girl her age does. She has the condition for a few years now and takes medication to help her. Her psychologist (we are in Australia) suggested for her to have a pet as part of her therapy which was the reason we acquired a dog and a rabbit. Anyone who has lived with a pet knows that some domesticated animals can truly help us feel not alone when we feel we are so alone.

John Lynch said...

So, this woman can afford to go to school for another year. If she ever finishes, she will then be unemployable because of her bizarre attachment to a small animal that can't reciprocate.

How is this doing the student any favors? No one wins, not even the animal.

Gene said...

Chuck: I am interested and curious as to why you think that "the salient fact is that the university settled."

What Ann is saying to her readers is not to post comments attacking the student with the rat in her pocket. She's not the problem. The real problem is the university which settled the claim (and a legal system which makes such absurd settlements possible).

DavidKramer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
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