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Matheis v. CSL Plasma, Inc.

United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit

August 30, 2019

GEORGE F. MATHEIS, JR., Appellant/Cross-Appellee
CSL PLASMA, INC., Appellee/ Cross-Appellant

          Argued June 18, 2019

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania (D.C. Civil Action No. 1-17-cv-00785) District Judge: Honorable Sylvia H. Rambo

          Rees Griffiths Zachary E. Nahass (Argued) CGA Counsel for Appellant

          Bruce J. Douglas (Argued) Ogletree Deakins Nash Smoak & Stewart Donald D. Gamburg Rachel C. Stone Ogletree Deakins Nash Smoak & Stewart Counsel for Appellee

          Lauri A. Mazzuchetti Kelley Drye & Warren John T. Delacourt (Argued) Joshua Penrod Plasma Protein Therapeutics Association Counsel for Amicus Appellee/Cross Amicus Appellant The Plasma Protein Therapeutics Association

          Before: AMBRO, RESTREPO, and FISHER, Circuit Judges



         Congress, when it passed the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), found that "physical or mental disabilities in no way diminish a person's right to fully participate in all aspects of society, yet many people with physical or mental disabilities have been precluded from doing so because of discrimination." 42 U.S.C. § 12101(a)(1). The remedy for this finding was "to provide a clear and comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities." 42 U.S.C. § 12101(b)(1). But is it discrimination for an establishment, in the name of safety, to bar everyone who uses a psychiatric service animal, including someone who safely participated more than four score times without assistance?

         George Matheis, a retired police officer who has successfully managed a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD"), routinely and safely donated plasma roughly 90 times in an 11-month period at CSL Plasma, Inc.'s plasma donation facility. CSL barred him from making further donations when he brought his new service dog, Odin, to the facility the next time. It reasoned that it has a policy to bar any individual who is prescribed daily more than two separate anxiety medications or who uses a service animal to manage anxiety.[1] In its view, these people are categorically unsafe to donate plasma. The company required Matheis to provide a letter from his doctor stating he had no need for a service animal before it would screen him for further plasma donation. He sued, lost, and appeals to us.

         We have two issues. We determine first whether plasma donation centers-facilities where members of the public have their plasma extracted in exchange for money-are subject to the ADA's prohibition on unreasonable discrimination. This turns on whether these facilities are "service establishments" under 42 U.S.C. § 12181(7)(F), which has produced a circuit split between the Tenth and Fifth Circuits. We conclude, like the District Court here, that the Tenth Circuit got it right: the ADA applies to plasma donation centers.

         So we next consider the question posed initially, whether CSL violated the ADA by imposing a blanket ban on prospective donors who use a psychiatric service animal. Here we part with the District Court. Public accommodations like CSL must permit disabled individuals to use service animals unless they can show a regulatory exception applies. CSL has failed to provide evidence to satisfy the relevant exception here-that any safety rule "be based on actual risks and not on mere speculation, stereotypes, or generalizations about individuals with disabilities." 28 C.F.R. § 36.301(B). Thus we reverse the grant of summary judgment and remand.

         I. Factual Background

         CSL owns and operates a plasma donation facility in York, Pennsylvania. Its business is collecting human blood plasma from the public and selling it to third parties. It screens prospective donors for known health risks, extracts plasma from qualifying individuals, freezes it, and then ships it to manufacturing plants to be made into medicines. The donation process is intense; each session lasts as long as two hours, and donors, who give blood as often as twice a week, must each time pass an individualized screening process. This process includes a check of the donor's blood pressure and protein levels, along with questions to see how the donor is feeling and to check that he or she has not engaged in risky activities. CSL pays its donors as much as several hundred dollars a month for their plasma.

         Matheis was involved in a deadly shooting incident while on duty as a SWAT officer with his police department in 2000. After that incident, he had problems socializing and was soon diagnosed with PTSD. His condition sometimes causes him to suffer panic attacks when exposed to crowded or confined spaces, altercations, or helicopter noise. He retired from the police force in 2007 to become a small business owner.

         In 2016, Matheis decided to donate plasma to raise extra money. As noted, he did so approximately 90 times during that year at the CSL facility in York. These went off without a hitch, and CSL paid Matheis between $250-300 a month for his donations.

         In October 2016, Matheis's eldest daughter enlisted in the Navy. Seeing the stress that her leaving caused her father, she bought him a dog, Odin, to help him cope with her absence. Odin was trained as a service dog for Matheis soon thereafter.

         During Odin's initial training, Matheis brought him to CSL to introduce him to the facility. Immediately on entering the building, his phlebotomist (someone trained to draw blood from patients or donors) told him he could not have a dog on the premises. Matheis did not undergo CSL's individualized assessment to determine if he could safely donate that day; instead his phlebotomist referred him to the CSL nurses' station. There he explained that Odin was a service animal that helped him manage his PTSD. The nurse referred him to a CSL manger, who explained that, under its policies, CSL permitted service animals for the blind but not for anxiety. Matheis again explained that Odin helped him manage his PTSD, a disability under the ADA. After a phone call, the manager told him he could not donate. Matheis offered to leave Odin in his car and donate without him. The manager rejected this, stating he could not donate until he brought back a letter from his healthcare provider saying he could safely donate without Odin. Matheis left CSL and has not returned to donate plasma since.

         CSL's concern is not related to any health concerns that dogs like Odin pose; rather it has concluded that using a service animal for anxiety means that the donor's condition is too severe to undergo safely the donation process.

         Matheis filed suit alleging discrimination for a failure to accommodate his condition. To establish his claim, he must show that (1) he is disabled, (2) CSL is a "public accommodation" under Title III of the ADA, and (3) it unlawfully discriminated against him on the basis of his disability by (a) failing to make a reasonable modification that was (b) necessary to accommodate his disability. See PGA Tour, Inc. v. Martin, 532 U.S. 661, 683 n.38 (2001); Berardelli v. Allied Servs. Inst. of Rehab. Med., 900 F.3d 104, 123 (3d Cir. 2018).

         CSL does not dispute that Matheis is disabled or that Odin is a trained service animal. Thus this appeal hinges on the two issues noted above: whether the ADA applies to CSL; and, if so, whether its conduct was unlawful discrimination under the ADA. It moved for summary judgment contending that it was not subject to the ADA or, alternatively, that its policy-barring all individuals who use service animals for anxiety-was reasonable. See Defendant's Mot. for Summ. J. at 12-19, Matheis v. CSL Plasma, Inc., No. 1:17-cv-00785-SHR, 346 F.Supp.3d 723, 734 (M.D. Pa. 2018) (ECF No. 27).

         The District Court ruled that the ADA covered CSL, but that the company did not unlawfully discriminate because it had a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for refusing to allow Matheis to donate plasma, a concern that he had severe anxiety. Matheis v. CSL Plasma, Inc., 346 F.Supp.3d 723, 734 (M.D. Pa. 2018). The Court buttressed what it recognized as a "necessary, yet counterintuitive," conclusion, id. at 735, by stressing CSL would let Matheis donate with Odin once he cleared it with a doctor. Id. at 737 ("CSL stated that it would admit Plaintiff if he provided it with a note from a psychologist stating that he could donate safely with Odin accompanying him.") (emphasis added). But CSL's stance is that Matheis may not donate until he can safely donate without Odin.

         Matheis appeals the ruling, while CSL cross-appeals contending it is not subject to the ADA at all. The Plasma Protein Therapeutics Association also filed an amicus brief and participated in oral argument, arguing that Title III of the ADA does not apply to plasma donation centers like CSL.

         II. Jurisdiction and Standard of Review

         The District Court had jurisdiction per 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1343(a)(4). Its grant of summary judgment was a final order, and so we ...

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