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U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

City of Belleville Michigan Transit, Belleville, MI, 12-20-05

December 20, 2005

Re: FTA Complaint Number 05-0128

Dear [name withheld]:

This letter responds to your complaint against City of Belleville Michigan Transit, alleging violations of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and/or the Department of Transportation's (DOT) implementing regulations at 49 CFR Parts 27, 37, and 38.  The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) Office of Civil Rights is responsible for civil rights compliance and monitoring, which includes ensuring that providers of public transportation properly implement the ADA, the DOT ADA regulations, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. 

In the FTA complaint investigation process, we analyze the complainant's allegations for possible ADA deficiencies by the transit provider.  If FTA identifies what may be a violation, we first attempt to provide technical assistance to address it by assisting the transit provider in complying with the ADA.  If FTA cannot resolve apparent violations of the ADA or the DOT ADA regulations by voluntary means, formal enforcement proceedings may be initiated against the public transportation provider that may result in the termination of Federal funds.  FTA also may refer the matter to the U.S. Department of Justice for enforcement.   

Each response is developed based on the specific facts and circumstances at issue.  A determination resulting from a review of these facts is not intended to express an opinion as to the overall ADA compliance of that transit property.

Specifically, your complaint alleged that:

  1. Your service animal is not being permitted access to transit vehicle
  2. You “suffer” from a disability
  3. The City of Belleville Michigan Transit claims your dog does not fit the legal definition of a service animal.

We investigated your allegations, and sent a data request to City of Belleville Michigan Transit.  We received a response from them that addressed and provided relevant information on each of your allegations noted above.

1. Your service animal is not being permitted access to transit vehicles.

The DOT ADA regulations at 49 CFR 37.167(d) state:
The entity shall permit service animals to accompany individuals with disabilities in vehicles and facilities.

Furthermore, the DOT ADA regulations in Appendix D further clarify and expand the definitions of a service animal:
Service animals shall always be permitted to accompany their users in any private or public transportation vehicle or facility. One of the most common misunderstandings about service animals is that they are limited to being guide dogs for persons with visual impairments. Dogs are trained to assist people with a wide variety of disabilities, including individuals with hearing and mobility impairments. Other animals (e.g. monkeys) are sometimes used as service animals as well. In any of these situations, the entity must permit the service animal to accompany its user.

2. You  “suffer” from a disability.

The DOT ADA regulations at 49 CFR 37.3 defines disability as the following:
 Disability means, with respect to an individual, a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual; a record of such an impairment; or being regarded as having such an impairment.
 The phrase physical or mental impairment means –
(i) Any physiological disorder or condition, cosmetic disfigurement, or anatomical loss affecting one or more of the following body systems: neurological, musculoskeletal, special sense organs, respiratory including speech organs, cardiovascular, reproductive, digestive, genitor-urinary, hemic and lymphatic, skin, and endocrine;
(ii) Any mental or psychological disorder, such as mental retardation, organic brain syndrome, emotional or mental illness, and specific learning disabilities;
(iii) The term physical or mental impairment includes, but is not limited to, such contagious or noncontagious diseases and conditions as orthopedic, visual, speech, and hearing impairments; cerebral palsy, epilepsy, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, mental retardation, emotional illness, specific learning disabilities, HIV disease, tuberculosis, drug addiction, and alcoholism.   

In your communication with our office, you asserted that you “suffer” from bi-polar disorder, fibromylgia, and reflexive sympathetic dystrophy (RSD) which has caused you to be confined to a wheelchair, and that this information can be verified by your doctor.

3. The City of Belleville Michigan Transit claims your dog does not fit the legal definition of a service animal.

The DOT ADA regulations at 49 CFR 37.3 defines service animal as the following:
Service animal means any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability, including but not limited to, guiding individuals with impaired vision, alerting individuals with impaired vision, alerting individuals with impaired hearing to intruders or sounds, providing minimal protection or rescue work, pulling a wheelchair, or fetching dropped items.

In determining whether complainant’s animal is a service animal, the applicable law is the ADA and the US DOT regulations captioned above. In addition, the FTA Office of Civil Rights follows The Department of Justice’s (DOJ) guidance in this area.

A copy of the DOJ’s Commonly Asked Questions About Service Animals in Places of Business is included in this correspondence. The DOJ has stated that service animals are not restricted to those animals that assist the visually impaired and, are in fact, “any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability.”

Further, the DOJ Business Brief (also attached) provides that you may ask what task the service animal is trained to perform.  This is intended to be a limited inquiry on behalf of the transit provider, and one which relies on the information as represented by the transit rider, absent glaring credibility issues. 

You advise that you “suffer” from debilitating panic attacks and have trained your service animal to alert you when you are starting to have an anxiety attack. The service animal is trained to sense that an attack is coming on and then signals you by licking your arm in a specific manner. Once this occurs, you are able to remedy your physical and emotional ailment by removing yourself from the situation which is causing problems and either thwart the attack or minimize it.

ADA guidance consistently provides that you may not require that a service animal go through any particular certification process or formal training courses, and in fact prohibits such a requirement. In this instance, as background, we note that you have provided documentation that your service animal is registered by Therapy Dogs International, and tested and certified by the American Kennel Club for the Good Citizen Program.
The above supports that you are a person with a disability, that your dog is a service animal individually trained to perform a task, and that your service animal should be permitted on public transit. We are writing to The City of Belleville Michigan Transit under cover of separate letter and will ask that they respond to this finding, and take the necessary steps to ensure that you are afforded your rights under the ADA, and the DOT ADA regulations.

At this time, we are closing your complaint. You have the right to file for a reconsideration to Michael Winter, Director, Office of Civil Rights, Federal Transit Administration, within thirty (30) days from the date of this letter.  If you have any questions regarding this decision, please contact me at our toll free FTA ADA Assistance Line, (888) 446-4511 or my direct line, (202) 366-0808 or by e-mail,


David W. Knight
ADA Team Leader
Office of Civil Rights

Steve Walters
City Manager
City of Belleville Michigan Transit
6 Main Street
Belleville, MI 48111