Metropolitan St. Louis Equal Housing and Opportunity Council v. City of Maplewood,Missouri
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER: IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Defendant City of Maplewood, Missouri's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs Complaint for Failure to State a Claim (ECF No. 19 ) is GRANTED. Aseparate Order of Dismissal will accompany this Memorandum and Order. Signed by District Judge Ronnie L. White on December 8, 2017. (BRP)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MISSOURI
METROPOLITAN ST. LOUIS EQUAL
HOUSING AND OPPORTUNITY COUNCIL,
CITY OF MAPLEWOOD, MISSOURI,
No. 4:17CV886 RLW
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
This matter is before the Court on Defendant City of Maplewood, Missouri's Motion to
Dismiss Plaintiffs Complaint for Failure to State a Claim (ECF No. 19). The motion is fully
briefed and ready for disposition. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant
Defendant City of Maplewood, Missouri ("Maplewood") is a municipality located in St.
Louis County which has enacted a comprehensive Code of Ordinances ("City Code"). 1
Maplewood requires renters to obtain an occupancy permit for $15, and without such occupancy
permit, a person is not allowed to rent a dwelling or reside at another renter's dwelling. (Compl.
Courts "may consider materials that necessarily are embraced by the pleadings or that are part
of the public record and do not contradict the complaint." Mickelson v. Cty. of Ramsey, 823 F.3d
918, 923 (8th Cir. 2016) (citation omitted). "For example, courts may consider 'matters of
public record, orders, items appearing in the record of the case, and exhibits attached to the
complaint."' Greenman v. Jessen, 787 F.3d 882, 887 (8th Cir. 2015) (quoting Porous Media
Corp. v. Pall Corp., 186 F.3d 1077, 1079 (8th Cir.1999) (internal quotation omitted)). Here,
Plaintiffs Complaint references the nuisance ordinance and related provisions enacted by
Maplewood such that the Court will consider the relevant portions of the City Code. (Def.' s Exs.
A & B, ECF Nos. 20-1, 20-2)
iii! 18-19, ECF No.
1) In 2006, Maplewood enacted a nuisance ordinance that permits occupancy
to be revoked where the person is deemed a "nuisance." (Id. at iii! 17, 19) Plaintiff
Metropolitan St. Louis Equal Housing and Opportunity Council ("EHOC") contends that the
nuisance ordinance is drafted so broadly that the city has enormous discretion to decide which
people the city will "exile." (Id. at iii! 19-24) Specifically, the nuisance ordinance provides in
In addition to any other act declared to be a nuisance by this Code or other
ordinances of the city, nuisances are hereby defined and declared to be as follows:
Any act done or committed, permitted or allowed to be done or
committed, by any person, or any substance or thing kept,
maintained, placed or found in or upon any public or private place
which is injurious or dangerous to public health;
Any pursuit followed or act done by any person to the hurt, injury,
annoyance, inconvenience or damage of the public;
Any premises upon which any of the following acts or conditions
have occurred or continue to occur, whether by the owner,
occupants or persons frequenting or congregating about the
More than two instances within a 180-day period of
incidents of peace disturbance or domestic violence
resulting in calls to calls to the police;
(Id. at iii! 21-22; Def.'s Ex. A, City Code§ 34-240, ECF No. 20-1) When a nuisance has been
identified, the city manager or designee holds a hearing, and if a nuisance exists, the nuisance
may be abated by revoking the occupancy permit for a period not to exceed six months. (Def.
Ex. A, City Code § 34-242, ECF No. 20-1)
On March 13, 2017, PlaintiffEHOC filed a Complaint alleging violations of the Fair
Housing Act ("FHA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 3601, et seq., and the Missouri Human Rights Act
("MHRA"), Mo. Rev. Stat. §§ 213.040, et seq. Plaintiff alleges that the nuisance ordinance
discriminates against and disproportionately impacts non-white residents, women, and people
with disabilities. Specifically, Plaintiff asserts that Maplewood disproportionately enforces the
ordinance against its small African-American population to perpetuate Maplewood's status as a
"white" community. (Compl.
iii! 2, 3, 16)
Plaintiff further avers that enforcement of the nuisance
ordinance punishes victims of domestic violence, African-American women in particular, and
exiles them from Maplewood. (Id. at iii! 22-23, 28-33) Plaintiff also contends that the nuisance
ordinance is enforced against individuals with disabilities, including those with mental illnesses.
(Id. at iii! 34-39)
Plaintiff EHOC claims that Maplewood does not enforce its ordinance evenhandedly but
instead knowingly and intentionally enforces the ordinance in a selective manner that
discriminates against and has a disproportionate impact based on race, sex, and disability. (Id.
at iii! 41-44) Plaintiff contends that Maplewood's discriminatory enforcement of its nuisance
ordinance has frustrated and continues to frustrate the EHOC's mission of ensuring all people
have equal access to housing. (Id. at if 57) Plaintiff seeks declaratory judgment that Defendant's
actions violate the FHA and the MHRA; a permanent injunction restraining Defendant
Plaintiff alleges that it investigated 4 3 enforcement hearings between March 2010 and August
2015. (Compl. if 25) Plaintiff ascertained the race of the household in 34 of the hearings, and 19
of those enforcement actions were against African-Americans, even though African-Americans
constitute only 17 percent of the City's population. (Id. at if 26) Six of the 43 enforcement
actions involved domestic disturbances where a female African American resident was
"attacked" by a male. (Id. at if 29) Finally, 11 of the actions involved incidents that allegedly
resulted from the "manifestation of mental illness or other disabilities." (Id. at if 35)
Maplewood from enforcing the nuisance ordinance; compensatory damages; punitive damages;
and attorneys' fees and costs.
II. Legal Standard
With regard to motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)( 6), a complaint must be dismissed if it fails to plead "enough facts to state a
claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570
(2007) (abrogating the "no set of facts" standard set forth in Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 4546 (1957)). While the Court cautioned that the holding does not require a heightened fact
pleading of specifics, "a plaintiffs obligation to provide the 'grounds' of his 'entitle[ment] to
relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a
cause of action will not do." Id. at 555. In other words, "[fJactual allegations must be enough to
raise a right to relief above the speculative level .... " Id. This standard simply calls for enough
facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the claim. Id. at
Courts must liberally construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff
and accept the factual allegations as true. See Id. at 555; see also Schaaf v. Residential Funding
Corp., 517 F.3d 544, 549 (8th Cir. 2008) (stating that in a motion to dismiss, courts accept as
true all factual allegations in the complaint); Eckert v. Titan Tire Corp., 514 F.3d 801, 806 (8th
Cir. 2008) (explaining that courts should liberally construe the complaint in the light most
favorable to the plaintiff). Further a court should not dismiss the complaint simply because the
court is doubtful that the plaintiff will be able to prove all of the necessary factual allegations.
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556. However, "[w]here the allegations show on the face of the complaint
there is some insuperable bar to relief, dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) is appropriate." Benton v.
Merrill Lynch & Co., 524 F .3d 866, 870 (8th Cir. 2008) (citation omitted). Courts '"are not
bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal,
556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). When considering a motion to
dismiss, a court can "begin by identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than
conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth." Id. at 679. Legal conclusions must be
supported by factual allegations to survive a motion to dismiss. Id.
The Fair Housing Act makes it unlawful to "refuse to sell or rent ... or otherwise make
unavailable or deny, a dwelling to any person because of race, color, religion, sex, familial
status, or national origin." 42 U.S.C. § 3604(a). Further, it is unlawful to "discriminate against
any person in the terms, conditions, or privileges of sale or rental of a dwelling, or in the
provision of services or facilities in connection therewith, because of race, color, religion, sex,
familial status, or national origin. 42 U.S.C. § 3604(b). The FHA also makes it unlawful to
discriminate in the sale or rental, or in the terms, conditions, or privileges of sale or rental of a
dwelling because of a handicap. 42 U.S.C. § 3604(f)(l)-(2). The Missouri Human Rights Act
similarly makes it unlawful to discriminate in the sale or rental of a dwelling based on race,
color, religion, national origin, ancestry, sex, disability, or familial status. Mo. Rev. Stat. §
In its motion to dismiss, Defendant Maplewood argues that Plaintiffs Complaint should
be dismissed because it contains no factual support for the claim of disparate treatment. Further,
Defendant contends that Plaintiff is unable to demonstrate a prima facie case of disparate impact
discrimination. Finally, Defendant asserts that Plaintiffs cause of action under the MHRA in
Count II should be dismissed as duplicative of Count I under the FHA. The Court will discuss
each argument in tum.
A. Disparate Treatment
Defendant first argues that Plaintiffs disparate treatment claims lack the required factual
support such that dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) is warranted. '"Disparate-treatment claims
under the FHA are tested under the same framework as Title VII disparate-treatment claims,' the
question being whether Defendant treated Plaintiffs 'less favorably than other based on their
race, color, religion, sex or national origin."' Folger v. City of Minneapolis, 43 F. Supp. 3d 922,
931 (D. Minn. 2014) (quoting Gallagher v. Magner, 619 F.3d 823, 831 (8th Cir. 2010)). '"Proof
of discriminatory purpose is crucial for a disparate treatment claim.'" Id Discriminatory
purpose implies that the decision maker selected a course of action because of its adverse effects
on an identifiable group. Spirit Lake Tribe of Indians ex rel. Comm. of Understanding and
Respect v. Nat'! Coll. Athletic Ass'n, 715 F.3d 1089, 1092 (8th Cir. 2013) (quotations and
Here, Plaintiff alleges that "Maplewood intentionally targets its African-American
residents for enforcement actions - then banishes them from the City - based on conduct that
would not result in such enforcement against white residents." (Compl. ~ 2) Likewise, Plaintiff
contends that "a large percentage of Maplewood' s enforcement actions have been taken against
women who are survivors of domestic violence and/or people with disabilities." (Id.) Plaintiff
asserts that the nuisance ordinance discriminates against African-American residents, women,
and individuals with disabilities in that "Maplewood does not enforce its ordinance
evenhandedly against all residents who could be eligible for such enforcement, but instead
enforces the ordinance selectively against those residents whom it deems undesirable for other
reasons." (Id. at iii! 27-28, 34, 40)
Plaintiffs Complaint merely sets forth conclusory allegations that do not give an
inference of discrimination. As stated above, "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter,
accepted as true, to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678
(internal quotation omitted). "A claim is facially plausible 'where the plaintiff pleads factual
content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the
misconduct alleged."' Wilson v. Ark. Dep 't of Human Servs., 850 F.3d 368, 371 (8th Cir. 2017)
(quoting Blomker v. Jewell, 831 F .3d 1051, 1055 (8th Cir. 2016) (quotation omitted)). While a
plaintiff need not plead facts sufficient to establish a prima facie case of discrimination, the
elements of a prima facie case '"are part of the background against which a plausibility
determination should be made.'" Blomker, 831 F .3d at 1056 (quoting Rodriguez-Reyes v.
Molina-Rodriguez, 711 F.3d 49, 54 (1st Cir. 2013)).
The Court finds that the facts contained in Plaintiffs Complaint do not create an
inference that Maplewood enforces its nuisance ordinance for the purpose of adversely affecting
African American residents, women, and/or disabled residents. While Plaintiff purports to cite
statistics and percentages, nothing on the face of the pleading sets forth facts or examples of
white residents receiving more favorable treatment than African-American residents, or of nondisabled residents receiving better treatment because of an intent or motive to discriminate
against these groups. Plaintiff baldly claims that the statement on Maplewood's website that
"[ o]ver the past decade, Maplewood' s central location and housing values have brought many
young professionals and their families to our community" demonstrates a discriminatory purpose
of enforcing the ordinance to exile African-American residents, people with disabilities, and
women facing domestic violence. (Compl. iii! 16, 24) Other than conclusory assertions and
conjecture upon information and belief, Plaintiffs Complaint fails to assert any facts which
would infer that Maplewood ignores similar conduct by other residents and only enforces its
nuisance ordinance against African-American, female, and disabled residents. See Pope v. Fed.
Home Loan Mortg. Corp., 561 Fed. App'x 569, 573 (8th Cir. 2014) (finding that a pleading
based on information and belief with no facts that would lead to an inference of a plausible claim
is insufficient under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 8 and 12).
In short, Plaintiffs Complaint fails to identify specific instances where Defendant
Maplewood had a discriminatory intent or motive in providing favorable treatment to white
and/or non-disabled residents over other residents based on race, gender, disability, or any other
improper criteria when enforcing its nuisance ordinance. See Folger, 43 F. Supp. 3d at 931-37
(D. Minn. 2014) (granting judgment on the pleadings with respect to plaintiffs disparate
treatment claim under the FHA where the "Complaint consist[ ed] of nothing more than
conclusory allegations devoid of any plausible basis that the City enforced its housing code with
the motive of intent to discriminate against any protected class .... "). Therefore, the Court finds
that Plaintiff has failed to state a claim of disparate treatment that "nudge[s] [its] claims across
the line from conceivable to plausible" such that dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) is warranted.
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570.
B. Disparate Impact
Plaintiff also claims that Defendant Maplewood' s overbroad definition of nuisance
activity has an unlawful disparate impact on African-American, female, and disabled residents.
Defendant Maplewood contends that Plaintiff has failed to state a claim because the allegations
are not supported by the necessary causal connection between a Maplewood policy and the
alleged disparity required to adequately plead disparate impact.
"The Eighth Circuit has long recognized disparate-impact claims are cognizable under
the FHA." Ellis v. City of Minneapolis, 860 F.3d 1106, 1110 (8th Cir. 2017) (citation omitted).
'"In contrast to a disparate-treatment case, where a plaintiff must establish that the defendant had
a discriminatory intent or motive, a plaintiff bringing a disparate-impact claim challenges
practices that have a disproportionately adverse effect on minorities and are otherwise unjustified
by a legitimate rationale."' Id. (quoting Tex. Dep 't of Housing and Cmty. Affairs v. Inclusive
Communities Project,_ U.S._, 135 S. Ct. 2507, 2513 (2009) (internal quotation omitted)).
"But disparate-impact liability has always been properly limited in key respects that avoid the
serious constitutional questions that might arise under the FHA, for instance, if such liability
were imposed based solely on a showing of statistical disparity." Inclusive Communities, 135 S.
Ct. at 2522. The Supreme Court has emphasized, "'prompt resolution of these cases is
important. A plaintiff who fails to allege facts at the pleading stage ... demonstrating a causal
connection [between a defendant's policy and a disparity] cannot make out a prima facie case of
disparate impact."' Ellis, 860 F.3d at 1111 (quoting Inclusive Communities, 135 S. Ct. at 2523).
Such "robust causality requirement ensures that '[r]acial imbalance ... does not, without more,
establish a prima facie case of disparate impact' and thus protects defendants from being held
liable for racial disparities they did not create." Inclusive Communities, 135 S. Ct. at 2523
(quoting Wards Cove Packing Co. v. Atonio, 490 U.S. 642, 653 (1989)). The Supreme Court
held that limitations on disparate-impact liability are "necessary to protect potential defendants
against abusive disparate-impact claims." Id. at 2524. For example, governmental entities "must
not be prevented from achieving legitimate objectives, such as ensuring compliance with health
and safety codes." Id.
Here, Plaintiff contests Maplewood' s definition of nuisance in the ordinance has a
disparate impact on African Americans, women, and people with disabilities, asserting that the
enforcement results in exiling these groups from the City. (Pl.'s Opp. to Mot. to Dismiss pp. 910, ECF No. 23) In support, Plaintiff presents statistical data allegedly demonstrating that the
ordinance has a causal connection to disparate outcomes and a larger discriminatory pattern.
Defendant contends that Plaintiff's statistical analysis fails to meet the causal connection
standard required by Inclusive Communities.
The Court finds that Plaintiff has failed to sufficiently plead a causal connection between
the alleged discriminatory policy, Maplewood's nuisance ordinance, and the alleged
discriminatory disparate impact on African Americans, women, and disabled residents. As
previously stated, at the motion to dismiss stage, Plaintiff must plead a prima facie case of
disparate impact under the FHA. Ellis, 860 F.3d at 1111. "[A] plaintiff must, at the very least,
point to an 'artificial, arbitrary, and unnecessary' policy causing the problematic disparity." Id.
at 1114. In addition, Plaintiff must "allege facts at the pleading stage or produce statistical
evidence demonstrating a causal connection" to make a prima facie case of disparate impact.
Inclusive Communities, 135 S. Ct. at 2523.
Here, the policy complained of is a nuisance ordinance enacted to promote public health,
safety, and welfare. While Plaintiff has identified a policy, at best the statistical evidence merely
shows an imbalance resulting from enforcement of the ordinance. Plaintiff fails to plausibly
allege that the ordinance causes the disparity. See Id. ("A robust causality requirement ensures
that racial imbalance ... does not, without more, establish a prima facie case of disparate impact
and thus protects defendants from being held liable for racial disparities they did not create.")
(internal quotation omitted); see also TBS Grp., LLC v. City of Zion, Ill., No. 16-cv-5855, at *9
(N.D. Ill. Nov. 6, 2017) (dismissing the complaint where plaintiff failed to "lay out a chain of
inferences explaining how the Ordinance will cause a racially disparate impact, as distinct from
just resulting in disparate impact").
Instead, Plaintiff points to only 43 selected enforcement hearings over the course of
nearly 5 years that Plaintiff contends are evidence of a causal connection between the definitions
in the nuisance ordinance and a disparate impact on African-Americans, women, and people with
disabilities. The Court finds that this data is insufficient to state a plausible prima facie case
"demonstrating that the [nuisance ordinance] complained of [is] arbitrary and unnecessary under
the FHA." Ellis, 860 F.3d at 1112. As stated by the Supreme Court, "[w]ere standards for
proceeding with disparate-impact suits not to incorporate at least the safeguards discussed here,
then disparate-impact liability might displace valid governmental and private priorities, rather
than solely 'remov[ing] ... artificial, arbitrary, and unnecessary barriers."' Inclusive
Communities, 135 S. Ct. at 2524 (quoting Griggs v. Duke Power Co, 401U.S.424, 431 (1971)).
Thus, the Court finds that Plaintiffs Complaint fails to set forth factual allegations sufficient to
move its disparate impact claim over the plausibility threshold, and dismissal under Rule
12(b)( 6) is warranted.
Because the Court will dismiss Plaintiffs federal FHA claims against Defendant
Maplewood pursuant to Rule 12(b)( 6), the Court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction
under 28 U.S.C. § 1367 over Plaintiffs state law claims under the MHRA.
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Defendant City of Maplewood, Missouri's Motion to
Dismiss Plaintiffs Complaint for Failure to State a Claim (ECF No. 19) is GRANTED. A
separate Order of Dismissal will accompany this Memorandum and Order.
Dated this &h day of December, 2017.
RONNIE L. WHITE
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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