Samantha Ring v. Boca Ciega Yacht Club Inc.

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USCA11 Case: 20-11571 Date Filed: 07/12/2021 Page: 1 of 32 [PUBLISH] IN THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE ELEVENTH CIRCUIT ________________________ No. 20-11571 ________________________ D.C. Docket No. 8:19-cv-00772-VMC-JSS SAMANTHA RING, Plaintiff-Appellant, versus BOCA CIEGA YACHT CLUB INC., Defendant-Appellee. ________________________ Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida _______________________ (July 12, 2021) Before WILLIAM PRYOR, Chief Judge, LUCK, Circuit Judge, and MARKS, * District Judge. WILLIAM PRYOR, Chief Judge: * Honorable Emily Coody Marks, Chief United States District Judge for the Middle District of Alabama, sitting by designation. USCA11 Case: 20-11571 Date Filed: 07/12/2021 Page: 2 of 32 This appeal involves the private-club exception to the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. A member of a yacht club asked to bring her service dog into the clubhouse and argued that she was entitled to do so under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The club responded that it was covered by an exception for “private clubs or establishments exempted from coverage under title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,” 42 U.S.C. § 12187, and it refused the member’s request for an exception to its pet policy. The relationship between the member and the club deteriorated from there. The member filed an administrative complaint with a local civil rights authority, and the club suspended her and then expelled her from its membership. The member sued for discrimination and retaliation under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Florida Civil Rights Act. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the club. Because the record does not establish that the club is a “private club” under the Americans with Disabilities Act, we vacate the summary judgment on the discrimination claims. But we affirm the summary judgment on the retaliation claim because the member failed to rebut the club’s nondiscriminatory justifications for expelling her. I. BACKGROUND Samantha Ring is a middle-school teacher in St. Petersburg, Florida. She has severe allergies to bees and sunflower seeds and a history of anaphylactic reactions 2 USCA11 Case: 20-11571 Date Filed: 07/12/2021 Page: 3 of 32 to both. Ring carries an EpiPen, and she used it twice within a year of initiating this lawsuit after being exposed to sunflower seeds. Piper is a dog. Ring acquired Piper in 2015 with the intention of giving her basic obedience training and rehoming her. But she quickly discovered that Piper had a talent for killing bees. Piper saved Ring’s life by killing a bee while Ring was out on her boat without her EpiPen, so Ring decided to keep Piper and train her to be a service dog. She has since trained Piper to retrieve her EpiPen and to seek help upon command, and she is in the process of training Piper to detect sunflower seeds. Ring testified that Piper has protected her from being stung by bees on seven separate occasions. The Boca Ciega Yacht Club is located in Gulfport, Florida. It is a tax- exempt …

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