BROWN v. MATRIX PROPERTY MANAGEMENT COMPANY
MEMORANDUM ORDER on 57 Report and Recommendations. For the reasons in the Memorandum Order filed at this docket entry, Defendant's Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 53 ) is GRANTED and Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint is DISMISSED without prej udice to Plaintiff filing a Third Amended Complaint. The Court cautions Plaintiff that this is the final opportunity to amend the Complaint. If Plaintiff does not file a Third Amended Complaint by February 28, 2018, or if the Third Amended Complaint remains deficient, the Court will dismiss this action with prejudice. Signed by Judge Cathy Bissoon on 2/14/18. (rdl)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
VERNON L. BROWN,
MATRIX PROPERTY MANAGEMENT
Civil Action No. 16-1824
Judge Cathy Bissoon
Magistrate Judge Maureen P. Kelly
This case has been referred to United States Magistrate Judge Maureen P. Kelly for
pretrial proceedings in accordance with the Magistrates Act, 28 U.S.C. §§ 636 and Local Rule of
Civil Procedure 72.
On January 3, 2018, the Magistrate Judge issued a Report (Doc. 57) recommending that
Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 53) be granted and Plaintiff’s Second Amended Complaint
be dismissed with prejudice due to lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Plaintiff has not filed
objections to the Report. For the reasons that follow, the Court will reject the recommendation
and will dismiss the Second Amended Complaint without prejudice to Plaintiff filing a third
amended complaint. The Court cautions Plaintiff that this is the final opportunity to amend
the Complaint. If Plaintiff does not file a Third Amended Complaint by February 28,
2018, or if the Third Amended Complaint remains deficient, the Court will dismiss this
action with prejudice.
The Court will summarize only the facts and procedural history material to the instant
Motion to Dismiss.
Plaintiff Vernon Brown, proceeding in forma pauperis (“IFP”) and pro se, alleges that
Defendant Matrix Property Management Company (“Matrix Property”) discriminated against
him in various ways, including by denying him access to housing due to his sex, that is, due to
“not adhering to traditional male and female roles.” (See Second Amended Complaint, ¶ II.B.C.,
Doc. 51.) Matrix Property filed its first Motion to Dismiss on June 30, 2017. (Motion to
Dismiss, hereafter “First MTD,” Doc. 34.) The First MTD argued, in relevant part, that Plaintiff
had failed to state an adequate basis for the Court’s jurisdiction in his Complaint, (Doc. 3).1 The
Magistrate Judge prepared a Report (Doc. 43) recommending dismissal without prejudice, which
was adopted as the opinion of the Court. (Memorandum Order, Sept. 6, 2017, Doc. 45.) The
Court stated that its dismissal was “without prejudice to Plaintiff filing an Amended Complaint
that establishes jurisdiction by alleging a violation of an applicable provision of federal law.”
Plaintiff timely filed an Amended Complaint on September 12, 2017 (Doc. 46). Without
leave to do so, Plaintiff also filed a Second Amended Complaint on November 21, 2017 (Doc.
51) before Matrix Property had answered or otherwise responded to the Amended Complaint.2
A complaint must contain “a short and plain statement of the grounds for the court’s
jurisdiction, unless the court already has jurisdiction and the claim needs no new jurisdictional
support.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(1). Concerning jurisdiction, the initial Complaint stated only that
“I am filing in this court room due to it being the closest Federal Court Branch.” (Complaint, p.
The Court will treat the Second Amended Complaint as the operative complaint. The Court
notes that the Amended Complaint, which contains detailed allegations of housing
discrimination, bears little resemblance to the Second Amended Complaint, which focuses on
alleged interference with medical records and mentions alleged housing discrimination briefly.
Matrix Property moved to dismiss the Second Amended Complaint on two grounds:
(1) Plaintiff’s failure to provide a sufficient basis for jurisdiction and (2) Plaintiff’s failure to
state a claim on which relief can be granted. (Motion to Dismiss, hereafter “Second MTD,” Doc.
53.) The Magistrate Judge issued a Report recommending dismissal with prejudice on
jurisdictional grounds (Doc. 57). No objections to the Report were filed. Defendant’s Motion is
ripe for adjudication.
1. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(1)
Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(1), a complaint must contain “a short and
plain statement of the grounds for the court’s jurisdiction.” Without such a statement, the Court
may dismiss a complaint. Jackson v. Sec’y Pa. Dep’t of Corr., 438 Fed. App’x 74, 75 (3d Cir.
2011). For pro se pleadings, however, the Court must apply a lenient standard in construing a
statement of jurisdiction. Coleman v. Camacho, 2012 WL 5986455, at *2 (D.N.J. Nov. 27,
2012) (citing Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972)); see Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89,
94 (2007); Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(e) (“Pleadings must be construed so as to do justice.”). Thus, if a
pro se complaint alleges facts sufficient to vest a court with jurisdiction, the Court may retain
jurisdiction. Coleman, 2012 WL 5986455, at *2. Similarly, “[i]f a party seeking to invoke
federal jurisdiction asserts a substantial claim under a federal statute, then this jurisdictional
However, “prejudice to the non-moving party is the touchstone for the denial of an amendment.”
Arthur v. Maersk, Inc., 434 F.3d 196, 204 (3d Cir. 2006) (internal citations omitted). As
Defendant has responded to the Second Amended Complaint and has not objected to its filing,
the Court finds that Defendant would be prejudiced by failing to treat the Second Amended
Complaint as the operative complaint. Cf. Small v. Camden County, 2008 WL 3154727, at *2
(D.N.J. Aug. 1, 2008) (the court should treat the second amended complaint as operative where
Defendants responded to a second amended complaint filed without leave of court and did not
object to its filing). Consequently, the Court will allow Plaintiff’s Second Amended Complaint.
prerequisite is satisfied.” Chasis v. Progress Mfg. Co., 382 F.2d 773, 776 (3d Cir. 1967); see
Smith v. Spina, 477 F.2d 1140, 1143 (3d Cir. 1973) (“the jurisdiction of the federal court must
appear in the plaintiff’s statement of his claim”). A complaint’s citation of extraneous or
inapplicable law cannot deprive a court of jurisdiction. Beeler v. U.S., 338 F.2d 687, 689 (3d
Cir. 1964) (“the recitation of a statute can neither deprive a court of jurisdiction nor confer
jurisdiction upon it”).
2. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6)
A complaint may be dismissed under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) if it does
not allege “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). To test the sufficiency of a complaint under this
standard, the court must accept as true all well-pled factual allegations in the complaint and view
them in a light most favorable to Plaintiff. Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234
(3d Cir. 2008). If these facts permit the Court to infer a plausibly valid claim for relief under the
relevant substantive law, then the complaint survives a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6).
See Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 211-212 (3d Cir. 2009). However, if the facts
alleged in the complaint fail to “raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal
evidence of [each] necessary element” under the substantive law, then the complaint should be
dismissed. See id. at 213 (citation omitted).
1. Plaintiff has satisfied the requirements of Rule 8(a)(1)
In the Second MTD, Defendant concedes that Plaintiff’s Second Amended Complaint
cites relevant federal law as a basis for jurisdiction, including Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act
of 1968. (Second MTD, p. 2.) However, Defendant argues that the context for Plaintiff’s
jurisdictional citation renders it “gibberish” to the point that there is “no recognizable statement
of jurisdiction” that could satisfy Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(1). (Id.) Defendant also
takes 42 U.S.C. § 1983 as the asserted rationale for jurisdiction,3 (id. at 1-2), which the Report
analyzed as the sole asserted basis for jurisdiction, (Report, pp. 3-4).
Contrary to Defendant’s argument, the Court finds that Plaintiff has stated an adequate
jurisdictional basis in his Second Amended Complaint. Applying the standard of leniency that
this Court must concerning pro se litigants, Plaintiff’s citation of Title VIII of the Civil Rights
Act of 1968 (the Fair Housing Act) as a jurisdictional basis for his asserted housing
discrimination claim, coupled with his factual allegations supporting this claim, is more than
sufficient for this Court’s exercise of jurisdiction.4 Accordingly, the Court has subject matter
jurisdiction over Plaintiff’s federal law claim. 28 U.S.C. § 1331 (“district courts shall have
original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the
Plaintiff’s Second Amended Complaint is handwritten on form “Pro Se 15 (Rev. 12/16)
Complaint for Violation of Civil Rights (Non-Prisoner).” Under the heading “Basis for
Jurisdiction,” this form addresses claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against state officials as well as
Bivens claims against federal officials. However, beyond Plaintiff’s apparently mistaken use of
this form, there are few indications that Plaintiff genuinely intends to bring a claim against state
or federal officials in this complaint, and no such claims are mentioned in the “Statement of
Specifically, Plaintiff asserts a claim under the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 3601-3631. See
42 U.S.C. § 3613(a)(1)(A) (“An aggrieved person [under the Fair Housing Act] may commence
a civil action in an appropriate United States district court . . . .”). Plaintiff’s Second Amended
Complaint cites the Fair Housing Act several times and he claims injuries arising from a time
when he “was locked from [his] things” as a result of his sex. (Second Amended Complaint, ¶¶
II.B (citing Fair Housing Act), II.C (“it is illegal to block and forge fraudulent medical records
and [coerce] a housing block along with a block on employment based on what [is] in the forged
medical documents[, which] would be the label ‘transgender’, when my protected class is sex;
not [adhering] to traditional male and female roles”), III.B (“I was locked from my things on
7/13/2015 until the time I got back my things with a threat in court from Mr. Haak on
4/4/2016”), IV (describing interference with housing), V (citing the Fair Housing Act).)
2. Defendant’s 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss must be granted
Turning to the Defendant’s second ground for dismissal, the Court finds that Plaintiff has
failed to state a claim on which relief can be granted and that his complaint must be dismissed.
As a preliminary matter, the Court will address only claims for relief that are brought
against Matrix Property, the one Defendant in this lawsuit.5 Paring away the superfluities,
Plaintiff’s only claim asserted against Defendant concerns housing discrimination on the basis of
The Fair Housing Act makes it unlawful to refuse to rent, or to otherwise make
unavailable or deny, a dwelling to a person because of sex. 42 U.S.C. § 3604(a). The Act also
makes it unlawful to discriminate on the basis of sex against any person in the terms, conditions,
or privileges associated with the rental of a dwelling. Id. at § 3604(b). Further, the Act prohibits
coercion, intimidation, threats, or interference with any person’s exercise of the rights above. Id.
at § 3617. To sufficiently allege a violation, Plaintiff must state facts that would allow the Court
to infer that Defendant did one of the unlawful acts listed in Sections 3604 or 3617. Cf.
Alexander v. Riga, 208 F.3d 419, 427 (3d Cir. 2000); Braun v. Bolton, 2013 WL 1869031, at *2*3 (D. Del. May 3, 2013).
Plaintiff’s factual allegations relevant to a claim of housing discrimination, conveyed in a
light most favorable to Plaintiff, are as follows: Plaintiff claims he “was locked from my things
While Plaintiff captioned his Second Amended Complaint as an action against Defendant
alone, the complaint also appears to allege separate instances of wrongdoing by the Allegheny
County Health Network Health Clinic, Carlow University, Bistro to Go, McDonald’s, and the
City Section 8 & Allegheny Link Housing Program. It is not clear what relief Plaintiff seeks
against these entities, and Plaintiff has not made any showing that would permit the Court to
consider relief against non-parties to this lawsuit. See Pew v. Boggio, 2016 WL 704955, at *1
(M.D. Pa. Feb. 23, 2016) (adopting recommendation at 2015 WL 10353631).
on 7/13/2015 until the time I got back my things with a threat in court from Mr. Haak on
4/4/2016.” (Second Amended Complaint, ¶ III.B.) His asserted basis for discrimination against
him is “sex; not adhering to traditional male and female roles.” (Id. at ¶ II.C.) Plaintiff also
claims that his medical records were manipulated, with Mr. Haak’s involvement, to falsely label
Plaintiff as transgender. (Id. at ¶¶ III.C, IV.) This, in turn, interfered with Plaintiff’s medical
care, housing, employment and education. (Id. at ¶ IV.) Plaintiff avers that this act was
committed in retaliation for his exercise of rights, and claims that he is now blacklisted “from
government agencies.” (Id.)
As correctly stated in Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss, Plaintiff’s factual allegations fail
to reference Matrix Property, although they do reference Mr. Haak, counsel for Matrix Property.
(Second MTD, p. 4). Moreover, Plaintiff fails to explain precisely what occurred to him, where
he resided (where he “was locked from”), whether he was a tenant or resident at a property
owned or managed by Defendant at the relevant time, or the grounds for his assertion that his sex
was the basis for any adverse action against him. Collectively, Plaintiff’s allegations fall far
below the standard of raising a reasonable expectation that discovery would allow Plaintiff to
establish the elements of a claim under the Fair Housing Act.7 Accordingly, Plaintiff’s Second
Amended Complaint will be dismissed.
Mr. Haak is counsel for Defendant in this case.
Many of these elements are contained in Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint (Doc. 46), which is no
longer the operative complaint and which the Court cannot consider for purposes of evaluating
Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss. West Run Student Hous. Assocs., LLC v. Huntington Nat’l
Bank, 712 F.3d 165, 171 (3d Cir. 2013) (an “amended complaint supersedes the original and
renders it of no legal effect, unless the amended complaint specifically refers to or adopts the
earlier pleading” (internal citations and quotation marks omitted)). However, the Court must
consider the Amended Complaint in determining whether an opportunity to amend would be
futile or inequitable. See Rhett v. Disman, 228 Fed. App’x 225, 227 (3d Cir. 2007).
Mindful of the Court’s obligation to provide a pro se plaintiff with an additional
opportunity “to amend their complaint unless doing so would be inequitable or futile,” Rhett v.
Disman, 228 Fed. App’x 225, 227 (3d Cir. 2007) (quoting Grayson v. Mayview State Hosp., 293
F.3d 103, 111 (3d Cir. 2002)), the Court will allow Plaintiff a final opportunity to amend and
refile his complaint. However, this will be the last such opportunity. Plaintiff shall have until
February 28, 2018 to file a Third Amended Complaint. If Plaintiff fails to file a Third Amended
Complaint or if that complaint remains deficient, the Court will dismiss this action with
For the reasons above, Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 53) is GRANTED.
Plaintiff’s Second Amended Complaint (Doc. 51) is hereby DISMISSED without prejudice to
Plaintiff filing a Third Amended Complaint.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
February 14, 2018
United States District Judge
cc (via First-Class U.S. mail):
VERNON L. BROWN
P.O. Box 6814
Pittsburgh, PA 15212
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