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Supreme Court amends rule to allow for service and emotional support animals inside the courtroom

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Emotional support animalThe Florida Supreme Court has adopted amendments to Florida Rule of General Practice and Judicial Administration Rule 2.540 to address the use of service and emotional support animals in courts.

The unanimous court acted on March 23 in Case No. SC22-1277.

In November 2022, The Florida Bar’s Rules of General Practice and Judicial Administration Committee filed a report that proposed amending Rule 2.540 (requests for accommodations by persons with disabilities) to provide guidelines for the use of “service animals,” and “emotional support animals.” The Board of Governors unanimously recommended acceptance of the report, which was developed with input from the Animal Law Section.

The court has now defined service animals as “any dog or miniature horse 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.”

Emotional support animals are defined as “companion animal that provides needed emotional support, well-being, or comfort to an individual in the forms of affection and companionship.”

The court further amended the rule to provide that notification should be given in advance when an individual intends on seeking an accommodation of using either a service or emotional support animal, but contended that “failure to provide such advance notification in the case of a service animal will not preclude the use of the service animal where otherwise permissible under the rule, whereas lack of advance notification of an emotional support animal may result in the animal not being allowed.”

The revisions were requested by now retired Second Circuit Judge James Hankinson after encountering a prospective juror who arrived at the courthouse with a service animal. At a subsequent training session, Judge Hankinson learned that some pet owners easily obtain counterfeit service animal certificates and noted a lack of definition for service animals “in the legal and veterinary field.”

The amendments to Rule 2.540 are effective July 1.

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