Blanton et al v. Torrey Pines Property Management, Inc. et al

Filing 83

ORDER granting in part and denying in part 72 Defendants' Motion to Dismiss. Specifically, Plaintiff Joa's first two causes of action are dismissed. The motion is otherwise denied. Signed by Judge Thomas J. Whelan on 4/20/2017. (jao)

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1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 9 SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 10 11 MONYA BLANTON, et al., Case No.: 15-CV-0892 W (NLS) Plaintiffs, 12 13 v. 14 ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANTS’ MOTION TO DISMISS [DOC. 72] TORREY PINES PROPERTY MANAGEMENT, INC., et al., 15 Defendants. 16 17 Pending before the Court is Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs’ first two 18 19 causes of action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. [Doc. 72.] Plaintiffs Monya 20 Blanton and Diane Joa oppose. [Doc. 73.] The Court decides the motion on the papers 21 submitted and without oral argument pursuant to Civil Local Rule 7.1(d)(1). For the 22 reasons that follow, the Court GRANTS IN PART AND DENIES IN PART 23 Defendants’ motion. 24 // 25 // 26 // 27 // 28 // 1 15-CV-0892 W (NLS) 1 I. BACKGROUND 2 A. 3 Monya Blanton allegedly began renting an apartment managed by Torrey Pines 4 Property Management (“TPPM”) in September of 2011. (Second Amended Complaint 5 (“SAC”) [Doc. 13] ¶ 13.) Corinne Lampman, an employee of TPPM, allegedly told 6 Blanton during the application process that she and her three children could not rent a 7 two-bedroom apartment, but rather would have to rent a more expensive three-bedroom 8 unit.1 (Id.) The SAC alleges that Blanton then rented the more expensive unit. (See id.) 9 Monya Blanton According to the SAC, Blanton was pregnant with her fourth child in January of 10 2013. (SAC [Doc. 29] ¶ 14.) At that time, the apartment complex’s manager, Peggy 11 Warny, allegedly told her that her lease would not be renewed if she exceeded the 12 occupancy limit of four residents. (Id. [Doc. 13] ¶¶ 7, 14.) TPPM allegedly raised the 13 rent for Blanton’s apartment in May of 2013. (Id. [Doc. 13] ¶ 15.) The SAC alleges that 14 the next month, Blanton informed Warny that for medical reasons she could not access 15 her bank account in order to pay her July rent on time. (See SAC [Doc. 13] ¶ 16.) Warny 16 told Blanton that TPPM would accept her rent after the due date. (Id.) 17 When Blanton attempted to pay her rent after giving birth to her fourth child on 18 July 13, 2013, TPPM allegedly returned the rent payment to her by taping it to her door. 19 (SAC [Doc. 9] ¶ 17.) TPPM thereafter informed Blanton that the payment was deficient 20 for lack of late fees. (Id.) Before the end of July, TPPM evicted Blanton and her family. 21 (See id.) Blanton alleges that her eviction was a result of her violating the occupancy 22 policy. (See id.) 23 // 24 // 25 // 26 27 1 28 Blanton alleges that TPPM enforces an occupancy policy. (See SAC [Doc. 29] ¶ 9.) According to the SAC, this policy restricts occupancy to one person per bedroom plus one. (See id.) 2 15-CV-0892 W (NLS) 1 B. 2 Diane Joa was another resident at the same property managed by TPPM. (SAC Diane Joa 3 [Doc. 29] ¶¶ 13, 18.) She and her five children, two of whom were minors at the time, 4 began renting a three-bedroom apartment in 2009. (See id. [Doc. 13] ¶ 18.) Pursuant to 5 TPPM’s occupancy policy, the TPPM manager refused to include two of Joa’s adult sons 6 on the lease. (Id.) In May of 2013, Joa and her family executed a new lease with TPPM 7 through Warny. (Id. [Doc. 29] ¶ 19.) The lease Warny prepared for Joa and her family 8 also excluded two of her children, both adults. (See Joa Depo. [Doc. 72-4, Exh. 1; Doc. 9 73-3, Exh. B] 12–13, 42–45; 2013 Joa Lease [Doc. 73-3, Exh. C].) On April 28, 2014, TPPM sent Joa a “Three-day Notice to Perform Conditions 10 11 and/or Covenants or Quit” as to the number of occupants in her unit. (Three-Day Notice 12 [Doc. 73-3, Exh. E].) Joa received an eviction notice three days later. (Eviction Notice 13 [Doc. 73-3, Exh. F].) Her adult son Michael Howard then moved out of the unit so that 14 the family could remain. (See Michael Howard Intent to Vacate [Doc. 73-3, Exh. G].) 15 Apparently Joa was allowed to remain, as the next year, TPPM sent Joa another notice as 16 to the number of occupants in her unit, causing to spend another $100 to add her adult 17 son Douglas Howard to the lease. (See Resident Change Addendum [Doc. 73-3, Exh. I].) 18 19 C. 20 Joa and Blanton filed this action on April 22, 2015. (Compl. [Doc. 1].) The SAC Procedural History 21 asserts seven causes of action against TPPM and its employees: (i) violation of the 22 federal Fair Housing Act (“FHA”), 42 U.S.C. § 3601, et seq.; (ii) violation of the 23 California Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”), Cal. Gov. Code §§ 12927, 24 12955, et seq.; (iii) violation of the Unruh Act, Cal. Civ. Code § 51; (iv) breach of the 25 covenant of quiet use and enjoyment; (v) invasion of privacy; (vi) unfair business 26 practices in violation of Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 17200; and (vii) negligence. (SAC 27 [Doc. 29] ¶¶ 34–47.) 28 // 3 15-CV-0892 W (NLS) Defendants now move to dismiss both Plaintiffs’ first and second causes of action 1 2 only, on the basis that both plaintiffs lack standing. 2 (See Defs.’ Mot. [Doc. 72-1].) 3 Plaintiffs oppose. [Doc. 73.] 4 5 II. LEGAL STANDARD 6 A. 7 The Court must dismiss a cause of action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Standing 8 See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1). “The party asserting federal subject matter jurisdiction 9 bears the burden of proving its existence.” Chandler v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 10 598 F.3d 1115, 1122 (9th Cir. 2010) (citing Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co., 511 11 U.S. 375, 377 (1994)). Article III of the United States Constitution limits the subject 12 matter jurisdiction of federal courts to “Cases” and “Controversies.” Lujan v. Defs. of 13 Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 559 (1992). This limitation forms “the core component of 14 standing[,]” a doctrine that ensures federal courts decide only those cases “that are of the 15 justiciable sort referred to in Article III[,]” those that are “ ‘appropriately resolved 16 through the judicial process[.]’ ” Id. at 560 (quoting Whitmore v. Arkansas, 495 U.S. 17 149, 155 (1990)). As an “irreducible constitutional minimum” and a constraint on federal courts’ 18 19 subject matter jurisdiction, standing is a fundamental part of every federal case. See 20 Lujan, 504 U.S. at 560; Chandler, 598 F.3d at 1122. It consists of three elements—all of 21 which the party asserting federal jurisdiction must establish: (i) injury; (ii) causation; and 22 (iii) redressability. See id. 23 24 25 26 27 28 2 Defendants do not specify which causes of action they seek to dismiss. Their motion discusses only the legal standards applicable to the two statutes invoked in the first two causes of action. Accordingly, the Court construes this motion as seeking to dismiss the first two causes of action only. 4 15-CV-0892 W (NLS) 1 First, the plaintiff must prove that he suffered an “injury in fact”, i.e., an 2 “invasion of a legally protected interest which is (a) concrete and 3 particularized, and (b) actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical.” 4 5 Second, the plaintiff must establish a causal connection by proving that [his] 6 injury is fairly traceable to the challenged conduct of the defendant. 7 8 Third, the plaintiff must show that [his] injury will likely be redressed by a 9 favorable decision. 10 Chandler, 598 F.3d at 1122 (quoting and citing Lujan, 504 U.S. at 560–61) (internal 11 citations omitted). 12 Upon a 12(b)(1) motion facially attacking subject matter jurisdiction, the Court 13 assumes true all allegations of fact in the Complaint and draws all reasonable inferences 14 in the plaintiff’s favor. See Doe v. Holy See, 557 F.3d 1066, 1073 (9th Cir. 2009) 15 (quoting Wolfe v. Strankman, 392 F.3d 358, 362 (9th Cir. 2004)); see also City of Los 16 Angeles v. Wells Fargo & Co., 22 F. Supp. 3d 1047, 1052 (C.D. Cal. 2014). “In a facial 17 attack, the challenger asserts that the allegations contained in a complaint are insufficient 18 on their face to invoke federal jurisdiction.” Safe Air for Everyone v. Meyer, 373 F.3d 19 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 2004). “By contrast, in a factual attack, the challenger disputes the truth of the allegations 20 21 that, by themselves, would otherwise invoke federal jurisdiction.” Meyer, 373 F.3d at 22 1039. “If the moving party converts ‘the motion to dismiss into a factual motion by 23 presenting affidavits or other evidence properly brought before the court, the party 24 opposing the motion must furnish affidavits or other evidence necessary to satisfy its 25 burden of establishing subject matter jurisdiction.’ ” Wolfe, 392 F.3d at 362 (quoting 26 Meyer, 373 F.3d at 1039). 27 // 28 // 5 15-CV-0892 W (NLS) 1 2 3 4 III. DISCUSSION A. Plaintiff Diane Joa Lacks Standing to Maintain her FHA and FEHA Familial Status Discrimination Causes of Action. Defendants pose a factual attack on the Court’s jurisdiction over Joa’s first two 5 causes of action. They present evidence that Joa could not have been injured by 6 Defendant’s allegedly discriminatory housing practice because by the time TPPM took 7 action against her because of occupancy issues, all of her children were above the age of 8 majority. (See Defs.’ Mot. [Doc. 72-1] 3:18–7:12.) 9 The term “familial status,” as used in the Fair Housing Act, is restricted to 10 individuals “who have not attained the age of 18 years.” 42 U.S.C. § 3602(k). 11 California’s FEHA contains the same restriction. See Cal. Gov. Code § 12955.2. 12 Defendants first leased to the Joa family in 2009. (See 2009 Joa Lease [Doc. 73-3, 13 Exh. A].) At that time, according to evidence filed along with Defendants’ motion, two 14 of Plaintiff Joa’s children were minors, and Defendants knew that all five of Joa’s 15 children lived with her in the apartment. (See Joa Depo. [Docs. 72-4, Exh. 1; Doc. 73-3 16 Exh. A] 12–13, 24–25, 26–27.) Despite apparent knowledge of the fact that six people 17 were living in a three-bedroom apartment, Defendants appear to have acquiesced to the 18 breach of their alleged occupancy policy for a number of years. (See Id. [Doc. 72-4, Exh. 19 1; Doc. 73-3, Exh. A] 24–25.) In May of 2013, the Joa family executed a new lease with 20 TPPM, which again included as occupants only three of Joa’s five children—who by this 21 point were all adults. (See id. [Doc. 72-4, Exh. 1; Doc. 73-3, Exh. A] 12–13, 42–45; 22 2013 Joa Lease [Doc. 73-3, Exh. C].) 23 On April 28, 2014, TPPM first began to enforce its occupancy policy against Joa, 24 when it sent her a three-day notice as to the number of occupants in her unit. (Three-Day 25 Notice [Doc. 73-3, Exh. E].) Joa received an eviction notice three days later. (Eviction 26 Notice [Doc. 73-3, Exh. F].) Her adult son Michael Howard then moved out of the unit 27 so that the family could remain. (See Michael Howard Intent to Vacate [Doc. 73-3, Exh. 28 G].) The next year, TPPM sent Joa another notice as to the number of occupants in her 6 15-CV-0892 W (NLS) 1 unit, thereby causing her to spend another $100 to add her adult son Douglas Howard to 2 the lease. (See Resident Change Addendum [Doc. 73-3, Exh. I].) 3 By the time TPPM enforced the allegedly discriminatory policy against Joa’s 4 family, all members of the family had reached 18 years of age. (See Joa Depo. [Doc. 72- 5 4, Exh. 1; Doc. 73-3, Exh. A] 12–13 (containing the birthdates of all members of the Joa 6 family).) Thus, all of Joa’s family members were outside the definition of both the state 7 and federal statutory definitions of familial status. See 42 U.S.C. § 3602(k); Cal. Gov. 8 Code § 12955.2. Even assuming for the sake of argument that TPPM’s occupancy policy 9 did discriminate on the basis of familial status, by the time TPPM enforced it as to the Joa 10 family it could not have caused her harm on that basis because there was no one under 18 11 in the family at that time. Indeed, every member of the family was at least 18 when the 12 then-operative lease was executed in 2013. (See Joa Depo. [Doc. 72-4, Exh. 1; Doc. 73- 13 3, Exh. A] 12–13; 2013 Joa Lease [Doc. 73-3, Exh. C].) 14 Joa contends that her minor children suffered familial status discrimination from 15 the date her family first moved in, when two of her children were still minors. (See Pls.’ 16 Opp’n [Doc. 73] 5:25–6:9.) According to her, “[t]hough Joa was able to physically have 17 all of her children residing in the unit with her, Joa’s children were not able to live . . . 18 with all the rights a named occupant would have on the lease.” (Id. [Doc. 73] 6:3–5.) Joa 19 continues, “[b]y defendants not allowing Joa to name all of her children on the lease, 20 defendants forced Joa’s children to live in a precarious situation where they could be 21 evicted at any point.” (Id. [Doc. 73] 6:5–7.) The problem with this is that TPPM did not 22 actually enforce the occupancy policy at issue while there were any minors in Joa’s 23 family. Because TPPM never enforced the policy against Joa’s family until all of its 24 members had reached the age of majority, the fact that it could have done so is a mere 25 counterfactual—not a concrete injury sufficient to confer Article III standing. See 26 Chandler, 598 F.3d at 1122. 27 Plaintiff Joa’s first two causes of action, for violation of the FHA and California’s 28 FEHA, respectively, will be dismissed for lack of standing. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1). 7 15-CV-0892 W (NLS) 1 B. 2 Defendants bring a factual attack on the Court’s jurisdiction over Plaintiff 3 Blanton’s first two causes of action by contending that: (1) TPPM allowed her to move 4 into a three-bedroom apartment with three children while pregnant, thus ostensibly failing 5 to apply their own occupancy policy; and (2) TPPM ostensibly then waited a year and a 6 half after the child was born before finally evicting Blanton. (Defs.’ Mot. [Doc. 72-1] 7 7:14–10:10.) Plaintiff Monya Blanton 8 Even if Defendants are correct on both points, this does not imply the absence of 9 standing. Defendants fail to address allegations in the SAC that TPPM denied Blanton 10 access to a two-bedroom unit, causing her to rent a larger and more expensive unit 11 because of her familial status3—or that TPPM subsequently evicted Blanton for the same 12 reason. (See SAC [Doc. 29] ¶¶ 13–17.) They provide no cogent reasoning as to why 13 these injuries might be insufficient to confer standing, or as to why causation or 14 redressability might be lacking here. See Chandler, 598 F.3d at 1122. 15 Defendants’ motion as to Plaintiff Blanton will be denied. 16 // 17 // 18 // 19 // 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 Defendants represent to the Court in a footnote that, “[t]hough not at issue for purposes of this [m]otion, discovery has made it apparent that “[Blanton’s] claim [as to the availability of the twobedroom unit] cannot be true, for evidence has clearly substantiated that the 2-bedroom unit . . . [Blanton] alleged to have been ‘perfect’ for her had already been rented prior to her looking at the subject unit.” (Defs.’ Mot. [Doc. 72-1] 8:1 n.4.) They provide no citations to any evidence whatsoever to substantiate these assertions. 3 Defendants are incorrect that injury in fact is not at issue in an Article III standing inquiry. See Chandler, 598 F.3d at 1122. As Defendants do not support their representations on this point with any evidentiary citations, the Court disregards them. 8 15-CV-0892 W (NLS) 1 2 3 IV. CONCLUSION & ORDER In light of the foregoing, Defendant’s motion to dismiss for lack of standing is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART. [Doc. 72.] 4 Specifically, Plaintiff Joa’s first two causes of action are dismissed. 5 The motion is otherwise denied. 6 7 8 IT IS SO ORDERED. Dated: April 20, 2017 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 9 15-CV-0892 W (NLS)

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