Johnston v. HUD
MEMORANDUM OPINION Signed by Chief Judge Karon O Bowdre on 4/5/18. (SAC )
2018 Apr-05 AM 09:21
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
CASE NO.: 4:17-CV-1415-KOB
This matter is before the court on Defendant HUD’s “Motion to Dismiss”
(doc. 14), and Plaintiff Johnston’s response to the court’s order that she show cause
why this case should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim for which relief can
be granted (doc. 18). Ms. Johnston filed this suit against HUD, alleging physical and
economic injury resulting from deficient maintenance of her housing complex.
(Doc. 5 at 3).
HUD neither owns nor manages Ms. Johnston’s housing complex, and Ms.
Johnston provides no other means by which HUD could be held liable for Ms.
Johnston’s alleged injuries. Therefore, HUD’s motion to dismiss Ms. Johnston’s
claims is due to be GRANTED. The court also finds that granting Ms. Johnston
leave to amend would be futile, and her case is due to be DISMISSED WITH
STANDARD OF REVIEW
A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss attacks the legal sufficiency of the
complaint. Generally, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require only that the
complaint provide “‘a short and plain statement of the claim’ that will give the
defendant fair notice of what the plaintiff’s claim is and the grounds upon which it
rests.” Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)). A
plaintiff must provide the grounds of her entitlement, but Rule 8 generally does not
require “detailed factual allegations.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555
(2007) (quoting Conley, 355 U.S. at 47). It does, however, “demand[ ] more than an
unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal
556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Pleadings that contain nothing more than “a formulaic
recitation of the elements of a cause of action” do not meet Rule 8 standards nor do
pleadings suffice that are based merely upon “labels or conclusions” or “naked
assertions” without supporting factual allegations. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 557.
The Supreme Court explained that “[t]o 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.’” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting and explaining its
decision in Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). To be plausible on its face, the claim must
contain enough facts that “allow[ ] the court to draw the reasonable inference that the
defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Although
“[t]he plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement,’” the complaint
must demonstrate “more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted
unlawfully.” Id. “Where a complaint pleads facts that are merely consistent with a
defendant’s liability, it ‘stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of
entitlement to relief.’” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557). If the court
determines that well-pleaded facts, accepted as true, do not state a claim that is
plausible, the claim must be dismissed. Id.
Plaintiff Johnston, pro se, filed this suit against HUD on August 21, 2017.
(Doc. 1). On August 22, 2017, the court ordered her to file an amended complaint
complying with Rule 8 of the Fed. R. Civ. P. (Doc. 3). In her amended complaint,
Ms. Johnston alleges that the management of Tom Brown Village and the Housing
Authority of the Birmingham District failed to respond to her complaints regarding
“a broken refrigerator, water leakage and damages, serious mold, bed bugs, roaches,
structural, electrical and other issues.” (Doc. 5 at 3). Ms. Johnston claims that their
failure to respond to her complaints caused her and her four children to become ill
and to be hospitalized on various occasions. (Id.). Notably, her only mention of
HUD is that Legal Aid filed a grievance with HUD against the HABD. (Docs. 1 at 4;
5 at 5).
HUD then filed its motion to dismiss Ms. Johnston’s suit for failure to state a
claim for which relief can be granted, arguing that Ms. Johnston based her lawsuit on
the mistaken belief that HUD owns or manages Tom Brown Village and the HABD.
(Doc. 14). In support of the motion, HUD produced evidence showing that Tom
Brown Village is owned and managed by the HABD, which is governed by a board
of commissioners appointed by the mayor of the City of Birmingham. HUD also
produced persuasive authority showing that it has no legal duty to ensure the
habitability of housing leased by Tom Brown Village or the HABD. See Hale v.
Chicago Housing Authority, 642 F. Supp. 1107, 1109 (N.D. Ill. 1986) (the United
States Housing Act does not create such a duty, nor is there an implied cause of
action against HUD for failure to enforce regulations governing safety and
In Ms. Johnston’s response to HUD’s motion to dismiss, she concedes that
she misunderstood HUD’s relationship to the HABD and Tom Brown Village, and
appears to allege that her claims should be directed at Tom Brown Village or the
HABD rather than HUD. (Doc. 18 at 1). Given this concession, along with the
absence of any argument or showing that she has a plausible cause of action against
HUD, the court finds that Ms. Johnston has not provided any legitimate reason that
her claims against HUD should not be dismissed. Therefore, the court will dismiss
Ms. Johnston’s claims against HUD for failure to state a claim for which relief can
Despite the fact that Ms. Johnston named only HUD as a defendant in her
lawsuit, Ms. Johnston’s response to the court’s show cause order asks the court to
allow her suit to move forward, presumably against the owners and management of
Tom Brown Village and the HABD. (Doc. 18 at 1). While the court does recognize
that a pro se complaint, “however inartfully pleaded,” is held “to less stringent
standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers,” Hughes v. Rowe, 449 U.S. 5, 9
(1980), the court finds no basis for which it could assert subject matter jurisdiction
over Ms. Johnston’s potential claims against the supposed defendants.
While Ms. Johnston could potentially bring her claims in an Alabama state
court, nothing suggests that she could bring them in a federal court: the court lacks
any basis for concluding that Tom Brown Village or HADB is a citizen of a different
state than Ms. Johnston, and her potential claims are state-law claims that do not
arise under federal law. Therefore, even if the court dismissed this action with leave
to amend, such an order would be futile.
Because Ms. Johnston has failed to state a claim against HUD for which relief
can be granted, her claims against HUD are due to be DISMISSED WITH
PREJUDICE. The court also finds that extending Ms. Johnston a second
opportunity to amend her complaint would be futile because this court would not
have subject matter jurisdiction over her possible claims against Tom Brown Village
or the HABD.
Therefore, the court will DIRECT the Clerk to close the case, costs taxed as
DONE this the 5th day of April, 2018.
KARON OWEN BOWDRE
CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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