49ers sued after refusing man’s service dog

A San Francisco 49ers fan who has a seizure disorder has sued the football team in federal court in San Jose for allegedly refusing to allow him to bring his service dog into Levi’s Stadium in November.

James Robert Hilburn of Placerville alleges the action by 49ers security guards and police at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara violated the U.S. Americans with Disabilities Act and a California civil rights law.

The lawsuit was filed Thursday against the Forty Niners Football Co., LLC. It also includes claims of severe emotional distress and false imprisonment.

Bob Lange, the 49ers’ vice president of communications, said the company does not comment on pending litigation.

Hilburn says in the lawsuit that he suffers from myoclonic dystonia, a neurological illness that can cause episodes of involuntary muscle spasms.

He uses his service dog, an Alaskan malamute named Bear, to prevent seizures, alert people around him when he is having a seizure and to support him when he is experiencing a seizure.

The incident occurred when Hilburn attended a 49ers game against the Arizona Cardinals on Nov. 29 with Bear and a friend.

Hilburn says in the lawsuit that a ticket-taker initially allowed him to enter the stadium with the dog after seeing his documentation certifying that the animal was a service dog.

But once inside the stadium, the lawsuit alleges, “Hilburn was surrounded by the defendant’s security guards and police who stated Hilburn was not allowed to be inside the stadium with his service dog and demanded that he leave.” Hilburn says in the lawsuit that he wanted to leave, but the guards declined to return his identification.

“The event was extremely stressful” and Hilburn started to have symptoms of a seizure and the dog began barking to warn of the seizure, the lawsuit says. His friend allegedly asked the security guards and police to back away but they refused.

“As a result, Hilburn suffered a seizure and was taken to the hospital,” the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit asks for compensatory and punitive financial awards in an amount to be determined by a jury, as well as for triple damages as permitted by California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act for discrimination.

Hilburn’s lawyer, Mark Thomas, said Hilburn had gone for more than six months without a seizure before the incident, but has had more than one recurrence since then.

The Levi’s Stadium policy manual states, “Animals are not permitted in Levi’s Stadium with the exception of service animals and service animals in training.” The lawsuit was assigned to U.S. Magistrate Judge Howard Lloyd, who scheduled a case management conference in his San Jose courtroom on April 12.