CANTON — A St. Lawrence County seizure-dog trainer is suing the state attorney general and governor for $75 million, claiming violations to his constitutional rights and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
South Colton resident Jon C. Sabin, chief executive of Seizure Alert Dogs for Life, named Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Assistant Attorney General Deanna R. Nelson in the lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court.
Mr. Sabin has been barred from doing business since January because of an open lawsuit filed against him. He argues that the Americans with Disabilities Act — which he said requires seizure dogs need only be “individually trained to perform a task beyond a reasonable doubt” — supersedes state laws governing seizure dog training and the controversy surrounding his canines.
“The New York attorney general should leave everything up to the federal government when it comes to medical equipment and service animals,” Mr. Sabin said.
He faces accusations of false advertising, leading to the lawsuit brought against him by the attorney general. In January, Supreme Court Judge David R. Demarest ruled that Mr. Sabin must cease operating his business until the case is resolved.
In the lawsuit, the attorney general claims that Mr. Sabin advertised that his dogs could detect seizures before they occurred, and that in some cases the dogs had received inadequate training or were aggressive.
Mr. Sabin denies claiming the canines could warn of impending seizures and said owners who complained about their dogs' behavior did not follow proper care and obedience training, instead treating them “like pets.”
“If the client makes a statement that the dog does alert to the seizure, that's the client making the statement, not me,” Mr. Sabin said. “There was no false or misleading advertising.”
Michelle Duffy, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Schneiderman, declined to comment about the lawsuits because the cases remain open.
Within his lawsuit, Mr. Schneiderman alleges that “none of the families who purchased dogs from Sabin were satisfied with the dogs' training or ability” and that, in April 2011, the mother of a recipient reported that the dog had attacked and bitten her and her son. This is one of several alleged aggressive instances documented in the 25-page lawsuit.
Settlement negotiations between Ms. Nelson and Charu Narang, Mr. Sabin's attorney hired to handle the lawsuit against him, broke down in late August.
“We're no longer negotiating a settlement in the matter,” Ms. Narang said. “There was a violation of his rights and he wants to move forward in getting that discussed in the public.”
Frustrated with the negotiations and claiming the attorney general's office sought to censor him, Mr. Sabin filed his counter lawsuit, which he said he originally wrote in March.
“The state has been trying to curb my speech. That's why it's a First Amendment claim,” Mr. Sabin said. “I don't have the right to speak out against the New York state attorney general.”
According to Mr. Sabin, at the onset of a seizure, the dogs are trained to bite a phone case, which then alerts medical authorities to the trouble.
“Prior to me being a seizure dog trainer, five years ago, all a dog did was bark when a person had a seizure,” Mr. Sabin said. “Now dogs are making emergency assistance phone calls, swiping a magnet across a vagus nerve stimulator and in some cases breaking a fall.”
Mr. Sabin also filed a separate lawsuit against Pierrepont Town Justice Robert G. Camp. He claims that on Aug. 20, the judge told attorney Mary E. Rain, also hired by Mr. Sabin, that he didn't want Mr. Sabin's service dog inside the courtroom.
He seeks an order for the court to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and any relief deemed proper.
If the lawsuits are shot down in district court, Mr. Sabin vowed to take his case to the appeals court and, if necessary, to petition the U.S. Supreme Court.
“(Ms. Nelson) thinks she has global jurisdiction, or assumes she does, but she does not,” Mr. Sabin said. “Now it's time to let the federal courts determine what is really a service dog, not the New York attorney general based on fraudulent claims.”