Pierson et al v. Martinelli et al

Filing 21

ORDER Denying Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 17 ). The Court denies with prejudice Defendants' Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss forlack of standing. The Court denies with prejudice Defendants' Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss Plaintiffs' claims for failure to state a cause of action. Defendants' Rule 12(e) motion for a more definite statement is denied. Signed by Judge Cynthia Bashant on 9/15/20. (jmo)

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1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 9 SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 10 11 Plaintiffs, 12 13 Case No. 19-cv-1755-BAS-KSC CHRISTINA PIERSON, et al., ORDER DENYING DEFENDANTS’ MOTION TO DISMISS (ECF No. 17) v. 16 JANICE E. MARTINELLI, Individually and as TRUSTEE OF THE JANICE MARTINELLI TRUST DATED JUNE 27, 2005, et al., 17 Defendants. 14 15 18 19 Pending before the Court is Defendants’ second motion to dismiss. (ECF No. 17.) 20 Defendants move to dismiss Plaintiffs’ First Amended Complaint under Rule 12(b)(1), 21 alleging a lack of standing, and under Rule 12 (b)(6), alleging insufficient facts to support 22 Plaintiffs’ claims of discrimination based on sex or disability. Alternatively, Defendants 23 move for a more definite statement under Rule 12(e). (ECF No. 17.) Plaintiffs filed an 24 opposition to the motion (ECF No. 18), and Defendants filed a reply. (ECF No. 20.) The 25 Court finds this motion suitable for determination on the papers and without oral argument. 26 Civ. L. R. 7.1(d)(1). For the reasons stated below, the Court DENIES Defendants’ motion. 27 28 -119cv1755 1 I. BACKGROUND 2 Plaintiffs Christina Pierson and her boyfriend Brandon Bolic allege that Ms. 3 Pierson’s former landlord, Janice Martinelli violated the Fair Housing Act (“FHA”), 4 California Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”) and the Unruh Civil Rights Act 5 (“Unruh Act”) by banning Mr. Bolic from visiting Ms. Pierson at her apartment that she 6 rented from Ms. Martinelli. Ms. Pierson also alleges that Ms. Martinelli discriminated 7 against her based on her disability. The details of Plaintiffs’ allegations are summarized in 8 the Court’s April 29, 2020 Order. (ECF No. 15.) In that Order, the Court granted in part 9 and denied in part Ms. Martinelli’s first motion to dismiss (ECF No. 11), holding that 10 (1) the Complaint included enough facts to establish Ms. Pierson’s standing but not Mr. 11 Bolic’s; (2) Ms. Pierson plausibly stated disability discrimination claims; and (3) Ms. 12 Pierson did not plausibly state gender discrimination claims. (ECF No. 15.) The Court 13 allowed Plaintiffs to amend the Complaint, which Plaintiffs have done. 14 According to Plaintiffs’ First Amended Complaint (“FAC,” ECF No. 16), Ms. 15 Martinelli told Ms. Pierson on multiple occasions that men are not allowed to visit her 16 apartment. Ms. Martinelli is quoted as stating 17 • “I told you I don’t want men at my unit. I’m calling the police”; 18 • “I don’t like men”; 19 • “I don’t rent to men”; 20 • “I don’t want any men at my property”; and 21 • “I see [Mr. Bolic] is here again. I told you no visitors. No men. Your parents 22 can visit you but not [Mr. Bolic] and not your son.” 23 (FAC ¶¶ 15, 25.) The FAC states that Ms. Martinelli would call the police on Mr. Bolic, 24 totaling more than fifty times between September 2016 and January 2018, when he visited 25 Mr. Pierson’s apartment. (Id. ¶ 18.) In December 2017, Ms. Martinelli went so far as to 26 change the locks on Ms. Pierson’s door. (Id. ¶ 27.) When the police questioned Ms. 27 Martinelli about the incident, she told the police that she did not want Mr. Bolic at the 28 apartment complex but did not explain whether Mr. Bolic had done anything wrong. (Id.) -219cv1755 1 The FAC raises new allegations about the injury Plaintiffs endured because of Ms. 2 Martinelli’s actions, which include loss of consortium and emotional distress. (FAC ¶¶ 18– 3 19, 23, 25.) Plaintiffs allege that Ms. Martinelli’s actions were especially damaging 4 because Ms. Pierson could not leave her apartment between October 2017 and January 5 2018 due to the intensification of her Lupus disease, which made her apartment the only 6 place where the couple could visit with each other. (Id. ¶ 19.) 7 II. 8 9 ANALYSIS A. Rule 12(b)(1) 1. Legal Standards 10 A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 11 challenges a federal court’s subject matter jurisdiction. “Federal courts are courts of 12 limited jurisdiction.” Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994). 13 “They possess only that power authorized by Constitution and statute.” Id. “It is to be 14 presumed that a cause lies outside this limited jurisdiction, and the burden of establishing 15 the contrary rests upon the party asserting jurisdiction.” Id. (citations omitted). 16 When a Rule 12(b)(1) motion is filed in conjunction with other Rule 12 motions, 17 courts should consider the jurisdictional issue first, which “does not require” analysis of 18 the merits. Maya v. Centex Corp., 658 F.3d 1060, 1068 (9th Cir. 2011). “For purposes of 19 ruling on a motion to dismiss for want of standing, [the court] must accept as true all 20 material allegations of the complaint, and must construe the complaint in favor of the 21 complaining party.” Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 501 (1975). “This is not to say that 22 Plaintiff may rely on a bare legal conclusion to assert injury-in-fact, or engage in an 23 ‘ingenious academic exercise in the conceivable’ to explain how Defendants’ actions 24 caused his injury.” Maya, 658 F.3d at 1068. 25 Standing is an essential element for determining a right to bring a claim in federal 26 court. City of South Lake Tahoe v. California Tahoe Reg’l Plan. Agency, 625 F.2d 231, 27 233 (9th Cir. 1980). To satisfy the standing requirement, a party generally needs to 28 demonstrate “‘a personal stake in the outcome’ in order to ‘assure that concrete adverseness -319cv1755 1 which sharpens the presentation of issues’ necessary for the proper resolution of 2 constitutional issues.” City of Los Angeles v. Lyons, 461 U.S. 95, 101 (1983) (quoting 3 Baker v. Carr, 369 U.S. 186, 204 (1962)). 4 For each claim, Plaintiffs must demonstrate that they satisfy the three constitutional 5 requirements of standing: (1) injury in fact; (2) causation; and (3) redressability. Bennett 6 v. Spear, 520 U.S. 154, 167 (1997); Lujan v. Defs. of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560–61 (1992). 7 The injury-in-fact requirement must implicate “an invasion of a legally protected interest 8 which is (a) concrete and particularized, and (b) actual or imminent, not conjectural or 9 hypothetical.” Lujan, 504 U.S. at 560. 10 2. Application 11 Ms. Martinelli argues that Plaintiffs did not establish an injury in fact and thus their 12 claims should be dismissed under Rule 12(b)(1) for lack of standing. As an initial matter, 13 this Court has already held that Ms. Pierson has standing (ECF No. 15 at 5:24–28), and 14 Defendants may not re-raise the issue. See Beauchamp v. Anaheim Union High Sch. Dist., 15 816 F.3d 1216, 1225 (9th Cir. 2016) (holding that collateral estoppel barred the court from 16 relitigating an issue that the court previously resolved in the same action). 17 As to Mr. Bolic’s standing, Plaintiffs’ amendment of the complaint have cured the 18 prior deficiency the Court noted in the April 29, 2020 Order—that the original Complaint 19 did not state whether Mr. Bolic suffered any palpable, distinct injury. The FAC states that 20 Mr. Bolic suffered severe distress due to Ms. Martinelli’s calls to the police. He could not 21 visit Ms. Pierson without having to worry about being subjected to extensive questioning 22 by the police. (FAC ¶ 18.) The FAC states that whenever Ms. Martinelli called the police 23 or otherwise interfered with the couple’s visits, Mr. Bolic felt pressured and left the 24 property. (Id. ¶ 25.) The couple would fight, become upset, and lose consortium with each 25 other. (Id. ¶¶ 18–19, 25.) According to the FAC, the resultant toll on the couple’s 26 relationship was amplified by the fact that Ms. Pierson’s apartment was the only place 27 where the couple could visit with each other between October 2017 and January 2018, 28 when Ms. Pierson’s health deteriorated and prevented her from leaving her apartment. (Id. -419cv1755 1 ¶ 19.) 2 These facts make it plausible that Ms. Martinelli’s actions materially deterred Mr. 3 Bolic from visiting Ms. Pierson in her apartment, which constitutes an injury-in-fact. See 4 Moua v. City of Chico, 324 F. Supp. 2d 1132, 1142 (E.D. Cal. 2004) (finding that the 5 plaintiffs have stated an injury-in-fact by alleging that they were deterred from visiting a 6 friend’s residence because of the landlord’s discriminatory actions). The FAC contains 7 allegations that support the existence of a causal connection between Mr. Bolic’s injury 8 and Ms. Martinelli’s actions, and the injury will be redressed by a favorable decision. 9 Because the facts alleged in the FAC satisfy all elements of Article III standing as 10 to both Plaintiffs, the Court denies Ms. Martinelli’s Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss for 11 lack of standing. 12 B. 13 Rule 12(b)(6) 1. Legal Standards 14 A motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil 15 Procedure tests the legal sufficiency of the claims asserted in the complaint. Fed. R. Civ. 16 P. 12(b)(6); Navarro v. Block, 250 F.3d 729, 732 (9th Cir. 2001). The court must accept 17 all factual allegations pleaded in the complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences 18 from them in favor of the non-moving party. Cahill v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., 80 F.3d 336, 19 337–38 (9th Cir. 1996). To avoid a Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal, a complaint need not contain 20 detailed factual allegations; rather, it must plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that 21 is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). “A claim 22 has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw 23 the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft 24 v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). “Where a complaint 25 pleads facts that are ‘merely consistent with’ a defendant’s liability, it ‘stops short of the 26 line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.’” Id. (quoting Twombly, 27 550 U.S. at 557). 28 -519cv1755 1 “[A] plaintiff’s obligation to provide the ‘grounds’ of his ‘entitle[ment] to relief’ 2 requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a 3 cause of action will not do.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (alteration in original) (quoting 4 Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)). A court need not accept “legal conclusions” 5 as true. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Although the court accepts plaintiff’s allegations as true, 6 it is not proper for the court to assume that “the [plaintiff] can prove facts that it has not 7 alleged or that the defendants have violated the . . . law[] in ways that have not been 8 alleged.” Assoc. Gen. Contractors of Cal., Inc. v. Cal. State Council of Carpenters, 459 9 U.S. 519, 526 (1983) 10 2. Application 11 Ms. Martinelli moves to dismiss Plaintiffs’ disability and gender discrimination 12 claims for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6). The Court has already denied 13 Defendants’ Rule 12(b)(6) motion as to Ms. Pierson’s disability discrimination claims 14 (ECF No. 15 at 8) and finds no reason to revisit the issue. 15 As to Plaintiffs’ gender discrimination claims, Plaintiffs raised new allegations in 16 the FAC, after the Court found that Ms. Pierson did not state a plausible claim of gender 17 discrimination. The Court’s April 29, 2020 Order did not rule on Mr. Bolic’s gender 18 discrimination claims. 19 discrimination claims survive Defendants’ Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. The Court thus turns to resolve whether Plaintiffs’ gender 20 FHA protects against discrimination “in the terms, conditions, or privileges of sale 21 or rental of a dwelling . . . because of . . . sex.” 42 U.S.C. § 3604(b). The same analysis 22 that applies to Plaintiffs’ FHA antidiscrimination claims applies to the claims brought 23 under FEHA and Unruh Act. Pac. Shores Props., LLC v. City of Newport Beach, 730 F.3d 24 1142, 1156 (9th Cir. 2013). 25 Where the allegation is that the violative policy “on its face applies less favorably to 26 a protected group,” the policy is considered “facially discriminatory,” and the question is 27 not whether the defendant treats people differently based on protected class, or the 28 defendant has a discriminatory motive, but whether the defendant can offer a legally -619cv1755 1 sufficient reason for the discrimination. See Int’l Union, United Auto., Aerospace & Agr. 2 Implement Workers of Am., UAW v. Johnson Controls, Inc., 499 U.S. 187, 200 (1991) 3 (finding that the employer’s policy was facially discriminatory against female employees 4 and thus the appropriate test to determine the lawfulness of the the facially discriminatory 5 policy was whether an employee’s sex was a bona fide qualification); Cmty. House, Inc. v. 6 City of Boise, 490 F.3d 1041, 1048–49 (9th Cir. 2007) (applying Johnson Controls to a fair 7 housing claim). 8 In the fair housing context, “‘a plaintiff makes out a prima facie case of intentional 9 discrimination under the [Fair Housing Act] merely by showing that a protected group has 10 been subjected to explicitly differential—i.e. discriminatory—treatment.’” Cmty. House, 11 490 F.3d at 1050 (quoting Bangerter v. Orem City Corp., 46 F.3d 1491, 1501 (10th Cir. 12 1995)); e.g., Blackington v. Quiogue Family Tr., No. 11-CV-1670 W WVG, 2013 WL 13 1701883, at *4–5 (S.D. Cal. Apr. 18, 2013) (finding that an apartment policy that limits 14 when children may use the facilities is facially discriminatory because it applies only to 15 families with children). “[T]he bar for establishing that a rule is ‘facially discriminatory’ 16 is extremely low.” Blackington, 2013 WL 1701883, at *4. A defendant may defend its 17 facially discriminatory policy by showing “either: (1) that the restriction benefits the 18 protected class or (2) that it responds to legitimate safety concerns raised by the individuals 19 affected, rather than being based on stereotypes.” Id. 20 Here, Plaintiffs have alleged that Ms. Martinelli repeatedly informed Ms. Pierson 21 that males may not be present in the apartment complex. (FAC ¶¶ 15–16, 18, 25.) 22 Specifically, Plaintiffs have quoted Ms. Martinelli as stating 23 • “I told you I don’t want men at my unit. I’m calling the police”; 24 • “I don’t like men”; 25 • “I don’t rent to men”; 26 • “I don’t want any men at my property”; and 27 • “I told you no visitors. No men. Your parents can visit you but not Brandon 28 and not your son.” -719cv1755 1 (FAC ¶¶ 15, 25.) Reading the allegations in the light most favorable to Plaintiffs, these 2 facts plausibly state that Ms. Martinelli instituted a facially discriminatory policy against 3 males at the apartment complex. 4 Although Ms. Martinelli argues that Plaintiffs have not shown that she engaged in a 5 pattern of discrimination or that her actions were motivated by discriminatory intent, 6 neither factor is relevant to the present analysis, which involves a facially discriminatory 7 policy. Johnson Controls, 499 U.S. at 199 (“[T]he absence of a malevolent motive does 8 not convert a facially discriminatory policy into a neutral policy with a discriminatory 9 effect.”) All that Plaintiffs needed allege were facts that allow a plausible inference that 10 Defendants subjected males to explicitly differential treatment at Defendants’ property. 11 Cmty. House, 490 F.3d at 1050. Plaintiffs have met that burden. 12 The facts raised in the FAC give rise to a plausible inference that Ms. Martinelli 13 enforced a facially discriminatory policy against males at the subject apartment complex. 14 Therefore, the Court denies Defendants’ Rule 12(b)(6) motion. 15 C. Rule 12(e) 16 A motion for a more definite statement filed under Rule 12(e) is reserved only for 17 pleadings that are “so vague or ambiguous that a party cannot reasonably be required to 18 frame a responsive pleading.” CMAX, Inc. v. Hall, 290 F.2d 736, 738 (9th Cir. 1961). 19 Here, Plaintiffs have alleged enough facts that enable Defendants to frame a responsive 20 pleading. Therefore, Defendants’ motion for a more definite statement is DENIED. 21 III. CONCLUSION 22 The Court DENIES with prejudice Defendants’ Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss for 23 lack of standing. The Court DENIES with prejudice Defendants’ Rule 12(b)(6) motion to 24 dismiss Plaintiffs’ claims for failure to state a cause of action. Defendants’ Rule 12(e) 25 motion for a more definite statement is DENIED. 26 IT IS SO ORDERED. 27 28 DATED: September 15, 2020 -819cv1755

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