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Housing Authority Sued Over Disabled Teen's Dog

Thu, 06/06/2024 - 13:04
At its Accabonac Apartments in East Hampton, the East Hampton Housing Authority allows animals “only for persons with disabilities who require use of a ‘service animal to assist them with certain tasks.”
Christine Sampson

The East Hampton Housing Authority is the target of a federal lawsuit involving a teenage boy whose mother says he has suffered physically and mentally because of the authority’s refusal to allow his emotional support animal to live with him at the Accabonac Apartments. 

In U.S. Eastern District Court, Kerry Morouney, the teen’s mother, charges that her son’s civil rights have been violated under a 1988 amendment to the Fair Housing Act of 1968 mandating that people with disabilities must be granted reasonable accommodations for service animals. 

According to a complaint dated May 9, the boy, who was 14 and 15 years old at the time the alleged violation took place, suffers from “major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, insomnia with night terrors, irritable bowel syndrome, and eosinophilic esophagitis.” Several of his doctors recommended that a service animal would be beneficial, and in 2018 his family, then living in Utah, adopted Lucky, a small dog. 

“Lucky allowed [the teen] to manage his disabilities more successfully than he had before,” the complaint reads. 

Three years later, as Ms. Morouney and her son were preparing to move to East Hampton with the transfer of their housing voucher, they were informed that the East Hampton Housing Authority “does not permit dogs unless they are bona fide service animals” and that “emotional support or comfort dogs do not qualify for reasonable accommodation under the law [because] they are considered pets.” The statements reportedly came from Katy Casey, the housing authority’s executive director. 

The agency’s official policy on pets states that it makes exceptions “only for persons with disabilities who require use of a ‘service animal to assist them with certain tasks,’ “ according to the federal complaint. 

The Housing Authority prohibited Lucky from living with his family, and Ms. Morouney placed him with a friend until a resolution could be reached. According to the complaint, “Without Lucky, [the boy] experienced an increase in the symptoms of his disabilities. Within a week of moving into the property, Ms. Morouney called the police to inquire about the availability of a 24-hour crisis hotline because [her son] had had a ‘few mental meltdowns.’ “ 

The defendants, for their part, told the court that Ms. Morouney’s application to transfer her government housing voucher stated that “no one in the household had a disability or owned any pets.” 

The complaint charges that during the 19 months the boy was separated from Lucky, his “mental health and gastrointestinal symptoms got worse. He suffered, among other things, increased night terrors, panic attacks, insomnia, nauseousness, vomiting, and decreased appetite. As a result, [he] missed significant time from school.” 

Finally, in October 2022, after receiving many letters from her son’s physicians, the Housing Authority allowed Lucky to move in with the family. On April 9 of this year, the federal Housing and Urban Development agency formally charged the East Hampton Housing Authority, Ms. Casey, and Seymour Schutz L.L.C., which owns the Accabonac Apartments complex, with discrimination, “by refusing to make reasonable accommodations to their rules, policies, practices, or services, when such accommodations were necessary to afford Ms. Morouney and [her son] an equal opportunity to use and enjoy their dwelling.” 

The complaint states the Morouneys “have suffered injuries, including, but not limited to, out-of-pocket expenses and emotional distress.” 

Reached by phone on Tuesday, Ms. Casey declined to comment on the pending litigation. Joshua S. Shteierman of the Volz and Vigliotta law firm, who has been representing the defendants since Friday after the termination of a prior attorney’s services, did not reply to a request for comment by press time this week. 

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