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Childress v. Roberts

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

December 11, 2019

Little Tom Childress, Jr., Plaintiff,
Rebecca Roberts, Babbie M. Jaco, and Boyd Management LTD, Defendants.

          OPINION & ORDER

          Henry M. Herlong, Jr., Senior United States District Judge.

         This matter is before the court with the Report and Recommendation of United States Magistrate Judge Jacquelyn D. Austin, made in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Civil Rule 73.02 of the District of South Carolina.[1] Little Tom Childress, Jr. (“Childress”), proceeding pro se, alleges a hostile housing environment claim in violation of § 804 et seq. of the Fair Housing Act (“FHA”), 42 U.S.C. § 3604(a) et seq. (Compl., generally, ECF No. 1.) The remaining defendants in the instant action, Rebecca Roberts and Boyd Management LTD (“Defendants”), [2] filed a motion for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Mot. Summ. J., ECF No. 208.) Magistrate Judge Austin recommends denying the Defendants' motion for summary judgement because a reasonable jury could find that Childress was subjected to harassment that was sufficiently severe and pervasive to alter his housing conditions and create an abusive environment. (R&R, generally, ECF No. 242.) For the reasons stated below, the court adopts the magistrate judge's Report and Recommendation and denies the Defendants' motion for summary judgment.

         I. Factual and Procedural History

         Childress, an African American male, claims that the Defendants racially discriminated against him, in violation of the FHA, while he was a tenant at West End Manor (“West End”). (Compl. 2-6, ECF No. 1.) West End is an apartment complex located in Union, South Carolina, which is managed by Boyd Management. (Id. at 2, ECF No. 1.) Roberts was West End's on-site manager during the alleged incidents. (Id., ECF No. 1.)

         Viewing the facts in the light most favorable to Childress, Roberts allegedly directed racially discriminatory statements and slurs to Childress and his Caucasian co-tenant, Karen Ferguson (“Ferguson”), on multiple occasions in 2015. (Id., generally, ECF No. 1.) Childress alleges that in January 2015, Roberts told him that “colored people need to stick with their own kind” and he “[could not] be outside taking pictures with [his] cellphone[.]” (Resp. Attach. 1 (Supp. Docs. 4), ECF No. 211-1.) Moreover, in February 2015, Roberts allegedly told Childress that he was “scaring the white folk” and that he “[could not] be outside with a cellphone in [his] hand taking pictures.” (Id., ECF No. 211-1.) In addition, on August 4, 2015, Childress contends that he and Ferguson met with Roberts to sign a recertification contract, which is required by the federal rent subsidy process. (Id. at 21, ECF No. 211-1; Compl. 3, ECF No. 1; Mem. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. 8, ECF No. 208-1.) At this meeting, Roberts allegedly belittled Childress, told him that “they were going to take back their country from those taking over their country, ” mentioned the Confederate Flag and how it was her and her son's heritage, and referenced Childress' skin color. (Resp. Attach. 1 (Supp. Docs. 21), ECF No. 211-1; Compl. 3, ECF No. 1.)

         Further, Childress submits that on October 13, 2015, Roberts retaliated against him, for filing a complaint about Roberts' conduct, by giving him two false violations and threatening to call the police on him. (Compl. 3, ECF No.1) Also on October 13, 2015, Roberts allegedly called Childress a n*****. (Id., ECF No. 1.) Additionally, Childress submits that he was treated differently than Caucasian tenants at West Manor because he was given the two false violations, while two Caucasian tenants were not given violations. (Id. at 3-4, ECF No. 1.) One Caucasian tenant purportedly walked around the apartment complex in his underwear without violation. (Id. at 3, ECF No. 1.) Further, Childress complained about a Caucasian neighbor for disturbing the peace, and the neighbor did not receive any violations. (Id. at 4, ECF No. 1.)

         Childress also alleges that Roberts would not provide him with his paperwork and that his recertification contract was fraudulent. (Id., ECF No. 1.) Moreover, Childress claims that Roberts accused him of “authorizing a TV Satellite” for another tenant. (Resp. Attach. 1 (Supp. Docs. 15), ECF No. 211-1.) Childress also submits that Roberts and her mother came to his apartment and were “banging on [his] door[, ]” which violated West Manor's policy of providing 24-hour notice. (Id., ECF No. 211-1.) Additionally, Roberts allegedly screamed at Childress to not look at Danny, West Manor's maintenance worker, during a meeting because it was challenging her authority. (Childress Objs. 4, ECF No. 246.) Further, Roberts accused Childress of knocking on his neighbors' doors and passing out papers that directed the neighbors to report Roberts to corporate management. (Am. Compl. 4, ECF No. 109.)[3] Childress and Ferguson voluntarily terminated their tenancy at West End in November 2015. (Compl. Attach. 3 (HUD Determination 5), ECF No. 1-3.)

         Childress filed the instant action on September 20, 2017. (Id., ECF No. 1.) Roberts and Boyd Management filed a motion for summary judgment on May 9, 2019. (Mot. Summ. J., ECF No. 208). On, June 4, 2019, Childress filed a response. (Resp., ECF No. 211.) After receiving one extension of time, the Defendants filed a reply on June 21, 2019. (Reply, ECF No. 217.) On July 19, 2019, after receiving two extensions of time, Childress filed a sur reply. (Sur Reply, ECF No. 233.) The magistrate judge issued a Report and Recommendation on October 23, 2019, recommending that the Defendants' motion for summary judgment be denied. (R&R, ECF No. 242.) Childress filed objections on November 5, 2019, and the Defendants filed objections on November 6, 2019. (Childress Objs., ECF No. 246; Defs. Objs., ECF No. 247.) This matter is now ripe for review.

         II. Discussion of the Law

         A. Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate only “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). In deciding whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, the evidence of the non-moving party is to be believed and all justifiable inferences must be drawn in his favor. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). However, “[o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment. Factual disputes that are irrelevant or unnecessary will not be counted.” Id. at 248.

         A litigant “cannot create a genuine issue of material fact through mere speculation or the building of one inference upon another.” Beale v. Hardy, 769 F.2d 213, 214 (4th Cir. 1985). “[W]here the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, disposition by summary judgment is appropriate.” Monahan v. Cty. of Chesterfield, Va., 95 F.3d 1263, 1265 (4th Cir. 1996) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). “[T]he mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact.” Ballenger v. N.C. Agric. Extension Serv., 815 F.2d 1001, 1005 (4th Cir. 1987) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

         B. Hostile Housing Environment Claim

         The Fourth Circuit has not yet addressed whether a plaintiff may recover under a hostile housing environment claim under the FHA. However, the Fourth Circuit has decided numerous hostile work environment claims under Title VII. See, e.g., Boyer-Liberto v. Fontainebleau Corp.,786 F.3d 264 (4th Cir. 2015); White v. BFI Waste Servs., LLC, 375 F.3d 288 (4th Cir. 2004). Moreover, the Fourth Circuit has held that Title VII and Title VIII have parallel “antidiscrimination objectives[.]” See Smith v. Town of Clarkton, N.C.,682 F.2d 1055, 1065 (4th Cir. 1982). Additionally, district courts within the Fourth Circuit have recognized hostile housing environment claims under the FHA, or Title VIII. See, e.g., Williams v. Poretsky Mgmt., Inc.,955 F.Supp. 490, 495 (D. Md. 1996) (noting, in part, that “[b]ecause Title VII and Title VIII share the same purpose-to end bias and prejudice-sexual harassment should be actionable under Title VIII.”) (citations omitted). This claim is also ...

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