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Hunt v. South Carolina State Housing Finance and Development Authority

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Columbia Division

September 13, 2019

Ethel R. Hunt, Plaintiff,
v.
South Carolina State Housing Finance and Development Authority, Fred Anthony President, Jeremy Pava, Aspen Square Management, Inc., Deancurt Columbia, LLC, Defendants.

          ORDER AND OPINION

         This action arises from Plaintiff Ethel R. Hunt's allegation of housing discrimination by the South Carolina State Housing Finance and Development Authority (“Defendant State Housing Authority”) and Fred Anthony President, Jeremy Pava, Aspen Square Management, Inc., and Deancurt Columbia, LLC (collectively “Landlord Defendants”). (ECF No. 1.)

         The matters before the court are Defendant State Housing Authority's Motion to Dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) (ECF No. 6) and Landlord Defendants' Motion to Dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) (ECF No. 23).

         For the reasons below, the court GRANTS Defendant State Housing Authority's Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 6). The court further GRANTS IN PART Landlord Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 23) as to Plaintiff's first cause of action for violation of the 14th Amendment's Due Process Clause and 42 U.S.C. § 1437f and third cause of action for negligence and DENIES IN PART Landlord Defendants' Motion to Dismiss as to Plaintiff's second cause of action for breach of contract accompanied by fraudulent acts.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff is a former participant in the federal Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher (“HCV”) program. (ECF No. 1 at 2 ¶¶ 2-3.) On September 28, 2018, Plaintiff filed a Complaint against Landlord Defendants and Defendant State Housing Authority, alleging that, after making written promises to transfer Plaintiff to a new apartment free of dangerous inhalants, Landlord Defendants refused to deliver keys to the new apartment. (ECF No. 1 at 1.) Moreover, Plaintiff alleges that Landlord Defendants “stated that its objective was to force [Plaintiff] to move or threaten [her] federal assistance payment.” (Id.)

         On September 1, 2015, Plaintiff sought medical assistance for shortness of breath which she believed to have been caused by mold in her apartment, unit 1308. (Id. at 5-6 ¶¶ 13-14.) Plaintiff was advised by a doctor not to return to apartment 1308 until an independent inspection had been performed to determine the presence of mold. (Id. at ¶¶ 13-15.)

         Defendant State Housing Authority allegedly advised Plaintiff to seek another apartment. (Id. at 6 ¶ 16.) Plaintiff contacted Landlord Defendants and requested to move to a different apartment. (Id. at ¶ 17.) Plaintiff alleges that Landlord Defendants agreed to allow Plaintiff to be transferred to apartment 204, so long as Plaintiff provided notice by September 1, 2015, stating that she would vacate apartment 1308 within thirty (30) days. (Id. at ¶ 19.) Plaintiff claims that her daughter provided the required notice on Plaintiff's behalf via email on September 1, 2015. (Id. at ¶ 21.)

         Plaintiff claims that Landlord Defendants notified her that apartment 204 was not available and offered her apartment 203 instead. (Id. at 15 ¶ 60.) However, on September 29, 2015, Landlord Defendants allegedly informed her that she would not be able to move into apartment 203 on October 1, 2015, as expected, because the rent for apartment 203 was too high and Plaintiff did not qualify to receive financial housing assistance for that apartment. (Id. at 14-15 ¶¶ 58, 61.) Plaintiff claims that this is tantamount to an eviction from her original apartment (Id. at ¶ 59) and that Defendant State Housing Authority terminated her access to the HCV program, which has not been reinstated. (Id. at ¶ 62.)

         Plaintiff asserts three claims: “Violation of the 14th Amendment's Due Process Clause and 42 U.S.C. § 1437f, ” alleging that Defendant State Housing Authority “acquiesced” to Landlord Defendants purported eviction of Plaintiff and terminated her voucher without notice or an opportunity to be heard (Id. at ¶ 71); breach of contract accompanied by fraudulent acts, alleging that Landlord Defendants induced her into signing away her lease for apartment 1308 before the end of her lease (Id. at 18 ¶ 75); and negligence, alleging that Defendant State Housing Authority and Landlord Defendants failed to eliminate mold in the house causing her to suffer injuries. (Id. at 19 ¶ 82).

         On December 17, 2018, Defendant State Housing Authority filed a Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1), (6). (ECF No. 6.) On January 22, 2019, Landlord Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1), (6). (ECF No. 23.)

         On May 29, 2019, the court issued an order granting a limited stay of discovery to allow Plaintiff to amend the Complaint: “If Plaintiff files a meritorious motion to amend the complaint, that action may obviate the need for the court to address some or all of Defendants' arguments in their pending Motions to Dismiss.” (ECF No. 58.)

         On June 17, 2019, Plaintiff filed a Motion to Amend the Complaint (ECF No. 59) and on July 9, 2019, Plaintiff untimely filed an Amended Complaint. (ECF No. 65). However, the court denied Plaintiff's motion under Fed.R.Civ.P. 16(b) because she did not provide any good cause for the late amendment to the pleadings. (ECF No. 69.)

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         A. Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Jurisdiction

         Article III of the Constitution limits the jurisdiction of the federal courts to the consideration of “cases” and “controversies.” U.S. Const. art. III, § 2. “Federal courts are courts of limited subject matter jurisdiction, and as such there is no presumption that the court has jurisdiction.” Pinkley, Inc. v. City of Fredrick, Md., 191 F.3d 394, 399 (4th Cir. 1999). A Rule 12(b)(1) motion for lack of subject matter jurisdiction raises the fundamental question of whether a court has jurisdiction to adjudicate the matter before it. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1).

         In determining whether jurisdiction exists, the court is to “regard the pleadings' allegations as mere evidence on the issue, and may consider evidence outside the pleadings without converting the proceeding to one for summary judgment.” Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac R.R. Co. v. United States, 945 F.2d 765, 768 (4th Cir. 1991) (citing Adams v. Bain, 697 F.2d 1213, 1219 (4th Cir. 1982)). “The moving party should prevail only if the material jurisdictional facts are not in dispute and the moving party is entitled to prevail as a matter of law.” Id. (citation omitted). The plaintiff bears the burden of proof on questions of subject matter jurisdiction. See Evans v. B.F. Perkins Co., 166 F.3d 642, 647 (4th Cir. 1999).

         B. Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim

         A motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted “challenges the legal sufficiency of a complaint.” Francis v. Giacomelli, 588 F.3d 186, 192 (4th Cir. 2009) (citations omitted); see also Republican Party of N.C. v. Martin, 980 F.2d 943, 952 (4th Cir. 1992) (“A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) . . . does not resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses.”). “In considering a 12(b)(6) challenge to the sufficiency of a complaint, this Rule must be applied in conjunction with the liberal pleading standard set forth in Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a).” Rule 8(a) provides that to be legally sufficient, a pleading must contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2).

         A motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim should not be granted unless it appears certain that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts that would support her claim and would entitle her to relief. Mylan Labs., Inc. v. Matkari, 7 F.3d 1130, 1134 (4th Cir. 1993). When considering a motion to dismiss, the court should accept as true all well-pleaded allegations and should view the complaint in a light most favorable to the plaintiff. Ostrzenski v. Seigel, 177 F.3d 245, 251 (4th Cir. 1999); Mylan Labs., Inc., 7 F.3d at 1134. “In so doing, a court may consider documents attached to the complaint or the motion to dismiss ‘so long as they are integral to the complaint and authentic.'” Kensington Volunteer Fire Dep't, Inc. v. Montgomery Cty., Md., 684 F.3d 462, 467 (4th Cir. 2012) (quoting Philips v. Pitt Cty. Mem'l Hosp., 572 F.3d 176, 180 (4th Cir. 2009)).

         “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id.

         C. Judicial Notice

         “[A] court may properly take judicial notice of ‘matters of public record' and other information that, under Federal Rule of Evidence 201, constitute ‘adjudicative facts.'” Goldfarb v. Mayor & City Council of Balt., 791 F.3d 500, 508 (4th Cir. 2015); see also Tellabs, Inc. v. Makor Issues & Rights, Ltd., 551 U.S. 308, 322 (2007). A court may take judicial notice of adjudicative facts if they are “not subject to reasonable dispute” and “(1) generally known within the territorial jurisdiction of the trial court or (2) capable of accurate and ready determination by resort to sources whose accuracy cannot reasonably be questioned.” Fed.R.Evid. 201(a), (b). “Courts are permitted to consider facts and documents subject to judicial notice without converting [it] into one for summary judgment.” Zak v. Chelsea Therapeutics Int'l, Ltd., 780 F.3d 597, 607 (4th Cir. 2015).

         III. ...


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