Miami Valley Fair Housing Cent, et al v. Steiner and Associates, Inc., et al
OPINION filed : the district court's judgment is VACATED and the case is REMANDED for further proceddings. Alan E. Norris, Circuit Judge; Eric L. Clay, Authoring Judge and Richard Allen Griffin, Circuit Judge.
NOT RECOMMENDED FOR PUBLICATION
File Name: 12a0517n.06
UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS
FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT
MIAMI VALLEY FAIR HOUSING CENTER,
INC., et al.
May 18, 2012
LEONARD GREEN, Clerk
BAYSHORE TOWN CENTER, LLC, et al.,
STEINER AND ASSOCIATES, INC., et al.
ON APPEAL FROM THE UNITED
STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF OHIO
ALPINE INSULATION CO., INC., et al.,
NORRIS, CLAY, and GRIFFIN, Circuit Judges.
CLAY, Circuit Judge. Third-Party Plaintiffs Bayshore Town Center, LLC; Greene Town
Center, LLC; Zona Rosa Development, LLC; Steiner and Associates, Inc.; and Messer Construction,
Co. (“Third-Party Plaintiffs”) appeal a judgment of the district court dismissing their third-party
claims for breach of contract, negligence, indemnity, and contribution. The district court concluded
that the statute at issue in this suit, the Fair Housing Act (“FHA”), see 42 U.S.C. §§ 3601–19, did
not authorize Third-Party Plaintiffs to assert their third-party claims. Because the district court failed
to reach the issue of personal jurisdiction, which was raised below, we VACATE the district court’s
judgment and REMAND for further proceedings in accordance with this opinion.
Plaintiffs filed a complaint against Third-Party Plaintiffs alleging violations of the FHA and
the Fair Housing Amendments Act (FHAA), see 42 U.S.C. § 3604(f), in the construction of
multi-family apartment buildings in Beavercreek, Ohio; Kansas City, Missouri; and Glendale,
Wisconsin.1 Plaintiffs allege that the apartment buildings contained numerous design features
making them inaccessible to wheelchair users, such as narrow hallways and difficult-to-reach
environmental controls. Plaintiff Steiner and Associates is a developer allegedly responsible for the
design and construction of the disputed apartment buildings. Messer Construction allegedly
provided contracting and architectural services toward the construction of the apartment buildings.
Plaintiffs joined the Green Town Center, Zona Rosa, and Bayshore Town Center—owners of the
respective apartment buildings—as parties necessary to afford relief.
Third-Party Plaintiffs filed a third-party complaint against numerous entities (“Third-Party
Defendants”) that contributed to the construction of the apartment buildings.2 Third-Party Plaintiffs
Plaintiffs are Miami Valley Fair Housing Center, Inc.; Metropolitan Milwaukee Fair
Housing Council, Inc.; and National Fair Housing Alliance, Inc.
The Third-Party Defendants involved in this appeal are Alpine Insulation Co., Inc.; Alpine
Plumbing, Inc.; Barsto Construction, Inc; Blake-Stevens Wood Flooring, Inc.; Donovan &
Jorgensen, Inc.; Gould Evans Associates, LLC; Hunzinger Construction Company; La Force, Inc.;
Lakeside Stoneworks, LLC; Lutjen, Inc.; Mandel Development, Inc.; Mandel Group, Inc.; Mega
Industries Corporation; Meleca Architecture, Inc.; Miller’s Carpet Company, Inc.; R.D. Jones &
Associates, Inc.; Robben Construction, LLC; Roman Electric Co., Inc.; TransSystems Corporation;
Walton Construction Company LLC; Baker Concrete Construction, Inc.; John R. Jurgensen Co.;
Woolpert Inc.; Builders First Source, Inc.; Dyke Industries, Inc.; Sullivan Builders, Inc.; and Carey
sought indemnity and contribution for any damages awarded to Plaintiffs and alleged breach of
contract and negligence claims against all Third-Party Defendants. Third-Party Defendants filed
motions to dismiss or for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure
12(b)(6) and 12(c), respectively. The magistrate judge recommended dismissal of Third-Party
Plaintiffs’ claims on the grounds that the FHA did not imply a right to indemnity or contribution and
Third-Party Plaintiffs’ breach of contract and negligence claims substantively repeated their
indemnity and contribution claims.
The district court adopted the magistrate judge’s
recommendation and dismissed the motions. The district court did not state its view on whether the
FHA preempted Third-Party Plaintiffs’ contribution and indemnity claims; rather, it stated its
agreement that the FHA “does not contain or authorize” contribution and indemnity claims and that
the breach of contract and negligence claims were repetitive.3 (Order Adopting Report and
Recommendations 2, R. 371.)
Several Third-Party Defendants also moved to dismiss the third-party complaint on the
ground that the district court lacked personal jurisdiction over them, on the grounds that neither
federal law nor the Ohio long-arm statute permitted service of process over those Third-Party
While we remand this case on another ground, it bears noting that the district court’s opinion
adopting the magistrate judge’s recommendation fails to state whether the court determined that the
FHA preempts state-law claims for indemnity and contribution. The district court concluded that
the FHA did not make these claims available, but the FHA’s preemptive effect on state common-law
remedies is a separate question from the availability of these remedies as an implied right of action
under the FHA or under federal common law. See Musson Theatrical, Inc. v. Fed. Express Corp.,
89 F.3d 1244, 1256 (6th Cir. 1996) (“[T]he preemption defense to the state claims and the ‘federal
common law’ claims are conceptually distinct, and resolution of one issue does not affect resolution
of the other.”). The district court may find it beneficial to clarify its ruling should it eventually reach
Defendants. See Calphalon Corp. v. Rowlette, 228 F.3d 718, 721 (6th Cir. 2000); Ohio Rev. Code
§ 2307.382. The district court never ruled on those motions, but it should have. A federal court may
not assume jurisdiction to decide the merits of a dispute; it must satisfy itself in the first instance that
it has jurisdiction over the parties and the subject matter. Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better
Environment, 523 U.S. 83, 94–95 (1998). “The requirement that jurisdiction be established as a
threshold matter ‘spring[s] from the nature and limits of the judicial power of the United States’ and
is ‘inflexible and without exception.’” Id. (quoting Mansfield, C. & L.M.R. Co. v. Swan, 111 U.S.
379, 382 (1884)). Given the paramount importance of the court’s jurisdiction over Third-Party
Defendants, and the fact that the Third-Party Defendants properly asserted their objection to personal
jurisdiction, the district court should have decided that question before determining whether ThirdParty Plaintiffs failed to state a claim. See Bird v. Parsons, 289 F.3d 865, 872–73 (6th Cir. 2002).
And while it is conceivable that we could decide the question of personal jurisdiction without such
a decision by the district court, we typically consider an issue not decided in the court below only
in “exceptional cases,” and this case is not one of those. St. Mary’s Foundry, Inc. v. Employers Ins.
of Wausau, 332 F.3d 989, 996 (6th Cir. 2003). It is more appropriate for the district court to pass
upon the fact-intensive issue of personal jurisdiction before we do so. See 28 U.S.C. § 2106. The
issue is ripe for adjudication by the district court, because Third-Party Defendants have maintained
their objections to personal jurisdiction in front of this Court.
For the reasons stated above, we VACATE the district court’s judgment and REMAND for
further proceedings in accordance with this opinion.
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