Second suit filed over service dog at Aspen complex |

Second suit filed over service dog at Aspen complex

Rick Carroll
The Aspen Times

An Aspen woman has filed a federal complaint accusing a condo association of harassing, intimidating and asking her invasive questions about her disability requiring a service dog.

Natasha MacArthur’s lawsuit, filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court of Denver, marks the second discrimination complaint filed against Aspen View Condominium Association and First Choice Properties & Management Inc. over the golden retriever named Stevie Nicks. In May, Aspen View condo owner Alvaro Arnal, who leased his unit to MacArthur, sued the association and property manager.

Cliff Mohwinkel, president of the board for Aspen View Condominiums, declined comment Thursday. Previously, he told The Aspen Times the association board did “more than its fair share” to accommodate MacArthur and Stevie Nicks. Mohwinkel also is named as a defendant in MacArthur’s suit, along with two other board members.

MacArthur’s suit says she was diagnosed with epilepsy in 2010, 10 years after her first seizure in 2000. Taking her doctor’s advice, she applied for a service dog through a nonprofit and waited a year before she obtained the animal, which went through a two-week “intensive training course,” the suit says.

While the retriever can’t prevent seizures, it can detect them before they happen, the suit says. MacArthur’s seizures happen during the daytime only and she is able to work at night without the dog’s company, the suit says.

MacArthur moved from Florida to Aspen with her dog in November 2013, getting Arnal’s permission to live in his unit in a complex that prohibits canines. The association also was made aware of the service animal and initially had no problems, the suit says. Under the Fair Housing Act, both service and therapy animals are permitted to live in properties that ban pets, provided their owners provide documentation about their disability and their need for an assistance animal.

But after she had lived at Aspen View for a month, the association “began a campaign of harassment designed to force Ms. MacArthur to leave her new home,” the suit says.

The association had her fill out a questionnaire “with intrusive questions about her medical history, interrogated her about her medical condition in her home and attempted to impose unlawful restrictions on Stevie Nicks,” the suit says. Among those: The association required “Steve Nicks to wear a service animal harness so that (MacArthur) would effectively have to publicly announce that she was disabled,” the suit says.

The suit accuses the defendants of rejecting MacArthur’s proof that she was disabled and that the service dog was valid. By February 2014, the association began fining Arnal $50 a day because of the dog.

“Faced with the imminent removal of Stevie Nicks, and aware that fines were rapidly accumulating against Mr. Arnal, Ms. MacArthur had no choice but to leave her home,” the suit says.

The suit makes claims for discrimination under the Fair Housing Act, retaliation and interference, among other civil counts.

The complaint doesn’t specify an amount in damages sought by MacArthur.