AG tells court there is no law denying service animals entry into territory
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — “Before and after the plaintiff’s lawsuit was filed in 2021, there was no American Samoa statute, no American Samoa administrative rule or regulation or any policy that had the effect of law, which prohibited services dogs from being imported to American Samoa,” argued Attorney General Fainu’ulelei Falefatu Alailima-Utu, in a sworn declaration filed with the US District Court, Central District of California
Alailima-Utu‘s declaration was among the documents submitted last week to the federal court, where a lawsuit is pending against certain members of the ASG COVID-19 Task Force. Alailima-Utu is among the defendants named in the complaint, along with task force chairman Lt. Gov. Talauega Eleasalo Ale, Health director Motusa Tuileama Nua, local Homeland Security director Samana Semo Veavea, and Agriculture director Solia Mutini.
The plaintiff, identified in court documents as “Jane Doe” and a local resident, filed in April a complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief for violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) against the defendants in connection with ASG’s repatriation program — which ended last month.
Jane Doe claims that the task force rule, which prohibits pets from entering the territory, is discriminating against service animals and those local residents that genuinely require the assistance of Service Animals.
Through a rule making regulatory process, ASG’s Repatriation Program now allows the import of Service Animals (SA) and Emotional Support Animals (ESA) into American Samoa via Hawaii. The new emergency rules — Quarantine of Pets and Agriculture Products — became effective on July 2nd.
In her first-amended complaint filed early last month, plaintiff — through her legal counsel in California — claims that the “controversy still exists because it is capable of repetition.” She argued that the defendants newly enacted rules — with a copy submitted as evidence — on service animals to enter the Territory are only in effect for 120 days from July 2nd.
“Therefore, the controversy is capable of repetition and it’s alleged the newly enacted rule permitting entry of service animals into the Territory is a sham to make the case appear moot,” according to the plaintiff, who was in California when the lawsuit was filed, claiming she was unable to return to the territory due to task force rule barring the entry of service animals.
In his sworn-declaration, Alailima-Utu said the Emergency Rule on importation of service animals or emotional support animals “will continue as an emergency rule or will be adopted as a regular administrative rule.”
“Service animals will be allowed into American Samoa in the future,” he said, noting that he was at the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) in July when the repatriation flight in which the plaintiff was on with her two service dogs arrived at the Pago Pago International Airport. (Samoa News notes that several task force members, led by Talauega, monitored incoming repatriation flights from the EOC).
Plaintiff was going directly from the aircraft to mandatory quarantine for all passengers on that flight “but those of us in the EOC at the time heard that the plaintiff’s husband came to the airport to try to take the two service dogs from the airport to their home but was denied,” Alailima-Utu claimed in the declaration.
“Since there appears to be an attempt by the plaintiff’s husband to take the two dogs home while plaintiff was going to mandatory quarantine... at a local hotel,” Alailima-Utu said, “it made me seriously question whether these two dogs that came with the plaintiff on the airplane were real service dogs.”
In her first-amended complaint, plaintiff contends that, among other things, between March 17 — when Jane Doe sought to return to the territory with communication to the ASG officials — and July 2nd, defendants’ rules and practice violated her rights under the ADA and prevented plaintiff, a disabled person, from returning home to her family and business affairs in American Samoa like other “non-disabled” members of the public were permitted to do.
However, Alailima-Utu said in his declaration that, before and after plaintiff’s lawsuit was filed this year, there was no local law, administrative rule or regulation, which prohibited service dogs from being imported to the territory.
(But Samoa News notes that plaintiff’s first-amended complaint included included a copy of a Mar. 17th email response from Motusa to plaintiff saying — in part — that the task force “is not allowing any dogs to enter the Territory at this time.”)
Alailima-Utu said the plaintiff left the territory for Honolulu on or about Mar. 9, 2020 and American Samoa borders were closed later the same month because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
When the American Samoa Government program to repatriate its residents from the U.S was implemented this year with the first flight on Feb. 01st, he said a list of travelers who left the territory for the U.S. from Mar. 01, 2019 to March 2020 — when borders were closed — was prioritized based on those who left American Samoa for the U.S the earliest — Jan. 01, 2019 or soon thereafter — to have priority to return back to the territory.
“It was appropriate for plaintiff to return from Hawaii to American Samoa in a July repatriation flight given that she left American Samoa for Hawaii [in] March 2020,” he said.
Alailima-Utu points out that American Samoa’s repatriation program is from Hawaii and not from California.
Samoa News will report later in the week on the task force’s new response to the plaintiff’s first-amended complaint.