Tennessee law previously required that a disabled person operating a guide dog first present for inspection credentials issued by an accredited school for training dog guides before admittance to a place of public accommodation and that a guide dog wear a harness and be held on a leash. The Tennessee General Assembly has eliminated these requirements, effective July 1, 2013, to make the law more consistent with the Americans with Disabilities Act’s directive on how a place of public accommodation must address the use of service animals by an individual with a disability. Tennessee Attorney General Robert E. Cooper, Jr., on July 26, 2013, confirmed that Tenn. Code Ann. § 62-7-112 does not conflict with the ADA. Opinion No. 13-59, “Admission of Service Dogs in Places of Public Accommodation.”
The Americans with Disabilities Act requires a public accommodation “to make reasonable modifications in policies, practices, or procedures, when such modifications are necessary to afford such goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations to individuals with disabilities….” Regulations to the ADA provide, “Generally, a public accommodation shall modify policies, practices, or procedures to permit the use of a service animal by an individual with a disability.” The term “service animal” is defined as “any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. Other species of animals, whether wild or domestic, trained or untrained, are not service animals for the purposes of this definition….The crime deterrent effects of an animal’s presence and the provision of emotional support, well-being, comfort, or companionship do not constitute work or tasks for the purposes of this definition.”
The regulations also limit inquiries:
A public accommodation shall not ask about the nature or extent of a person’s disability, but may make two inquiries to determine whether an animal qualifies as a service animal. A public accommodation may ask if the animal is required because of a disability and what work or task the animal has been trained to perform. A public accommodation shall not require documentation, such as proof that the animal has been certified, trained, or licensed as a service animal. Generally, a public accommodation may not make these inquiries about a service animal when it is readily apparent that an animal is trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability (e.g., the dog is observed guiding an individual who is blind or has low vision, pulling a person’s wheelchair, or providing assistance with stability or balance to an individual with an observable mobility disability)
AG Cooper stated that, similar to the ADA, the revised Tennessee statute expressly prohibits a place of public accommodation “to require documentation, such as proof that the animal has been certified, trained or licensed as a dog guide,” before admitting a disabled person with a guide dog. The Tennessee law states:
No proprietor, employee or other person in charge of any place of public accommodation, amusement or recreation, including, but not limited to, any inn, hotel, restaurant, eating house, barber shop, billiard parlor, store, public conveyance on land or water, theater, motion picture house, public educational institution or elevator, shall refuse to permit a blind, physically disabled or deaf or hard of hearing person to enter the place or to make use of the accommodations provided when the accommodations are available, for the reason that the blind, physically disabled or deaf or hard of hearing person is being led or accompanied by a dog guide. A dog guide shall be under the control of its handler. A place of public accommodation shall not require documentation, such as proof that the animal has been certified, trained or licensed as a dog guide.
The Tennessee law also addresses a “dog guide in training,” which “includes dogs being raised for an accredited school for training dog guides.” Such dogs must be “held on a leash and under the control of its raiser or trainer, who shall have available for inspection credentials from the accredited school for which the dog is being raised; and wearing a collar, leash or other appropriate apparel or device that identifies the dog with the accredited school for which it is being raised.”
AG Cooper determined that, because the ADA does not cover a dog that is not yet trained, the Tennessee law does not conflict with the ADA on this issue.
Places of public accommodations in Tennessee should review the new requirements, particularly the limitations on the types of inquiries allowed of an animal’s handler.