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Wednesday, May 30,2012

OU student settles fair-housing lawsuit over her therapy animal

By Jim Phillips

An Ohio University student who sued a big Athens apartment complex for banishing her therapeutic companion dog has settled the lawsuit.

An attorney for plaintiff Katharina M. Simo would provide no details on the settlement Tuesday. Attorney Melissa Greenlee of the OU Center for Student Legal Services would say only that "the Simo matter has been satisfactorily resolved by the parties."

Greenlee would not confide whether the settlement involved any money payment to Simo, or whether she is still living at Riverpark Towers, the apartment complex that was the target of her federal lawsuit.

Her suit had sought both an injunction to require Riverpark to address the companion-animal issue, as well as unspecified money damages, to be determined by a judge or jury, that would "fully compensate (Simo) for her injuries sustained" because of alleged discrimination against her.

Simo is still listed in OU's online directory as a student.

In February, Simo, 20, filed suit in U.S. District Court against AAC Athens, LLC, and Klingbeil Capital Management, LLC, the companies that own and operate Riverpark Towers.

Officials at the apartment complex had told Simo that due to their no-pet policy, she could not keep her bull terrier, "Jack," in her apartment.

Simo, however, claimed that she had been diagnosed with anxiety, depression and other problems, and that the dog – for which she had prescription from her psychiatrist – helped her cope.

Despite Simo's giving Riverpark officials this information, however, the apartment threatened to evict her, prompting her to give the dog to its previous owners. The loss of the animal's company then caused her emotional problems to get worse, and her schoolwork to suffer, she claimed.

Simo also alleged that the eviction notice was retaliation for her having filed complaints with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Ohio Civil Rights Commission.

The NEWS attempted to get comment from the apartment complex at the time, but was unable to reach the designated spokesperson. The defendants never filed a response to the lawsuit before it was settled, and the company representative did not return a call seeking comment Wednesday.

Assisting on Simo's case was attorney Stephen M. Dane, of the Perrysburg, Ohio, law firm of Relman, Dane & Colfax, which specializes in fair-housing discrimination cases.

Dane said at the time that Simo clearly qualified under the U.S. Fair Housing Act, as a person with a disability, for which housing providers must make reasonable accommodations.

Greenlee called Simo's suit "a pretty big case," noting that the Center for Legal Services doesn't often take civil-rights cases.

She noted that on Simo's behalf, she asked Riverpark to waive its no-pet policy for the student, but never got a response.


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