Thompson v. Owner's Management Company
Memorandum of Opinion and Order: Plaintiff's Application to Proceed In Forma Pauperis (Doc. No. 2 ) is granted and this action is dismissed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §1915(e). The Court certifies, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(3), that an appeal from this decision could not be taken in good faith. Judge Patricia A. Gaughan on 10/23/17. (LC,S)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF OHIO
Owner’s Management Company,
CASE NO. 1:17 CV 1119
JUDGE PATRICIA A. GAUGHAN
Memorandum of Opinion and Order
Pro se Plaintiff Michael Thompson filed this action under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e,
against Owner’s Management Company (defendant or the Management Company). In the
Complaint, Plaintiff alleges he renegotiated his lease with Defendant’s employee, but Defendant
did not recognize the revision and sued him for damages for breach of the lease. He claims he
has a disability. He does not specify the relief he seeks.
Plaintiff also filed an Application to Proceed In Forma Pauperis (Doc. No. 2). That
Application is granted.
Plaintiff’s Complaint is very brief. He alleges he suffered a seizure in the winter of
2015. When he was released from the hospital, he approached his building manager and asked
her if he could amend his lease from a longer term lease to a month to month tenancy. Plaintiff
contends the manager agreed to this arrangement. It does not appear, however, that this
understanding was approved by the Management Company or commemorated in writing. He
states he gave notice to the building manager in June 2015 that he was moving. The
Management Company indicates Plaintiff vacated the premises on September 21, 2015.
Plaintiff’s rent was subsidized, however, when he did not pay rent for July and August 2015, the
Management Company assessed the full market value of the rental unit for the second half of
September and the month of October. The Management Company also assessed him for
replacement of the locks, cleaning and repairs. On October 9, 2015, the Management Company
mailed him an itemized statement of damages to an address which Plaintiff acknowledges as his
forwarding address. When Plaintiff did not pay the sum it demanded, the Management
Company brought an eviction action for damages in the Cleveland Municipal Court. The Court
awarded judgment to the Management Company. Plaintiff claims he was unaware of the action
or the judgment until January 2017 when he received a letter from the Cuyahoga Metropolitan
Housing Authority telling him he is ineligible for housing because he owed a prior debt to a
federal subsidized property. Plaintiff contends he has a disability and brings this action under
Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Although pro se pleadings are liberally construed, Boag v. MacDougall, 454 U.S. 364,
365 (1982) (per curiam); Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972), the Court is required to
dismiss an in forma pauperis action under 28 U.S.C. §1915(e) if it fails to state a claim upon
which relief can be granted, or if it lacks an arguable basis in law or fact. Neitzke v. Williams,
490 U.S. 319 (1989); Lawler v. Marshall, 898 F.2d 1196 (6th Cir. 1990); Sistrunk v. City of
Strongsville, 99 F.3d 194, 197 (6th Cir. 1996). A claim lacks an arguable basis in law or fact
when it is premised on an indisputably meritless legal theory or when the factual contentions are
clearly baseless. Neitzke, 490 U.S. at 327. A cause of action fails to state a claim upon which
relief may be granted when it lacks “plausibility in the complaint.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly,
550 U.S. 544, 564 (2007). A pleading must contain a “short and plain statement of the claim
showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 677-78 (2009).
The factual allegations in the pleading must be sufficient to raise the right to relief above the
speculative level on the assumption that all the allegations in the Complaint are true. Bell Atl.
Corp., 550 U.S. at 555. The Plaintiff is not required to include detailed factual allegations, but
must provide more than “an unadorned, the-Defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.”
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. A pleading that offers legal conclusions or a simple recitation of the
elements of a cause of action will not meet this pleading standard. Id. In reviewing a
Complaint, the Court must construe the pleading in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff.
Bibbo v. Dean Witter Reynolds, Inc., 151 F.3d 559, 561 (6th Cir. 1998).
Plaintiff fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. His only stated legal
claim is under Title VII. This statute governs discrimination in the context of employment.
This case does not involve employment discrimination. Moreover, Title VII prohibits
discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. 42 U.S.C. §
2000e–2(a). It does not cover disability discrimination claims. Clark v. City of Dublin, Ohio,
No. 05-3186, 2006 WL 1133577 at *2 (6th Cir. Apr. 27, 2006).
It is possible Plaintiff may have been attempting to bring an action under the Fair
Housing Act (“FHA”), 42 U.S.C. § 3604; however, he failed to allege sufficient facts to state a
plausible claim for relief. The FHA makes it unlawful to:
(a) To refuse to sell or rent after the making of a bona fide offer,
or to refuse to negotiate for the sale or rental of, or otherwise
make unavailable or deny, a dwelling to any person because of
race, color, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin.
(b) 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. Congress extended the FHA’s protections to disabled persons in 1988, 42
U.S.C. § 3604(f)(2), and expanded the definition of unlawful discrimination to include “a
refusal to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices, or services, when such
accommodations may be necessary to afford such person equal opportunity to use and enjoy a
dwelling.” 42 U.S.C. § 3604(f)(3)(B).
Here, Plaintiff fails to allege any facts to suggest Defendant discriminated against him
on the basis of disability with respect to his housing. As an initial matter, he does not provide
any information on the condition he believes to be a disability. Moreover, he does not allege
facts to suggest how his condition motivated the Defendant’s actions. He contends he attempted
to renegotiate the length of his lease so that he could terminate it several months earlier than
originally agreed upon. However, he discussed this modification with the building manager, not
the Defendant. There is no indication that the Defendant knew of and agreed to the
modification. There is no suggestion that the Defendant was aware of Plaintiff’s disability and
committed acts prohibited by the FHA because of Plaintiff’s disability.
If Plaintiff intended to proceed under some other legal theory, he failed to state a claim
upon which relief could be granted. Principles requiring generous construction of pro se
pleadings are not without limits. See Wells v. Brown, 891 F.2d 591, 594 (6th Cir. 1989);
Beaudett v. City of Hampton, 775 F.2d 1274, 1277 (4th Cir. 1985). A Complaint must contain
either direct or inferential allegations respecting all the material elements of some viable legal
theory to satisfy federal notice pleading requirements. See Schied v. Fanny Farmer Candy
Shops, Inc., 859 F.2d 434, 437 (6th Cir. 1988). District Courts are not required to conjure up
questions never squarely presented to them or to construct full blown claims from sentence
fragments. Beaudett, 775 F.2d at 1278. To do so would “require ...[the Courts] to explore
exhaustively all potential claims of a pro se Plaintiff, ... [and] would...transform the District
Court from its legitimate advisory role to the improper role of an advocate seeking out the
strongest arguments and most successful strategies for a party.” Id. at 1278. Plaintiff fails to
identify another viable cause of action for discrimination and none is apparent on the face of the
Finally, to the extent that Plaintiff is seeking to relitigate the issue of damages owed to
the Defendant, he is barred from proceeding with his claims by the doctrine of res judicata.
Plaintiff cannot file an action in federal court to relitigate matters that were already decided in
state court proceedings. Federal Courts must give the same preclusive effect to a state court
judgment as that judgment receives in the state courts. 28 U.S.C. § 1738; Abbott v. Michigan,
474 F.3d 324, 330 (6th Cir. 2007); Young v. Twp. of Green Oak, 471 F.3d 674, 680 (6th Cir.
2006). Therefore, if a Plaintiff cannot file another action in state court to relitigate a matter that
was already determined in a prior state court proceeding, he cannot file the action in federal
court to bypass this procedural bar.
The issue of damages under Plaintiff’s lease with the Management Company was
litigated in the Cleveland Municipal Court. To determine the preclusive effect that state court
judgment would have on the present federal action, the Court must apply the law of preclusion
of the State of Ohio. Migra v. Warren City School District Board of Educ.465 U.S. 75, 81
(1984). Under the Ohio doctrine of claim preclusion, “a valid, final judgment rendered upon the
merits bars all subsequent actions based upon any claim arising out of the transaction or
occurrence that was the subject matter of the previous action.” Grava v. Parkman Twp., 73
Ohio St.3d 379, 382 (1995). The doctrine of claim preclusion encompasses “all claims which
were or might have been litigated in a first lawsuit.” Id. By contrast, issue preclusion, or
collateral estoppel, “precludes the relitigation of an issue that has been actually and necessarily
litigated and determined in a prior action.” MetroHealth Med. Ctr. v. Hoffman-LaRoche, Inc.,
80 Ohio St.3d 212, 217 (1997). Issue preclusion applies when a fact or issue “(1) was actually
and directly litigated in the prior action; (2) was passed upon and determined by a court of
competent jurisdiction; and (3) when the party against whom [issue preclusion] is asserted was a
party in privity with a party to the prior action.” Thompson v. Wing, 70 Ohio St.3d 176, 183
In this case, Plaintiff is barred by both issue and claim preclusion. The Management
Company filed an eviction action seeking damages. In determining that Plaintiff owed the
Defendants for back rent, the court necessarily determined that Plaintiff had not altered the lease
with his request to the building manager. When he attempted to reopen that case, the state court
denied his request due to the passage of time. Those claims and issues appear to be the basis of
Plaintiff’s Federal Court Complaint. This Court must give full faith and credit to those
judgments. Plaintiff is barred from relitigating those matters in this Court.
Accordingly, Plaintiff’s Application to Proceed In Forma Pauperis (Doc. No. 2) is
granted and this action is dismissed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §1915(e). The Court certifies,
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(3), that an appeal from this decision could not be taken in good
IT IS SO ORDERED.
/s/ Patricia A. Gaughan
PATRICIA A. GAUGHAN
United States District Court
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