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Hardaway v. Equity Residential Services, LLC

United States District Court, D. Maryland

February 26, 2015

HARDAWAY, et al.,
v.
EQUITY RESIDENTIAL SERVICES, LLC, et al.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

DEBORAH K. CHASANOW, District Judge.

Presently pending and ready for resolution in this case are the following motions: (1) motion to dismiss filed by Defendants Equity Residential Services, LLC, Equity Residential Services II, LLC, and Equity Residential REIT Services, Inc. (collectively, "Defendants") (ECF No 27); (2) motion to strike as untimely Defendants' motion filed by pro se Plaintiffs Angelene Hardaway and Lena Hardaway (collectively, "Plaintiffs") (ECF No. 31); and (3) motion for entry of default filed by Plaintiffs (ECF No. 32). The issues have been briefed, and the court now rules, no hearing being deemed necessary. Local Rule 105.6. For the following reasons, the motion to dismiss filed by the named defendants will be granted, but Plaintiffs will be given leave to file an amended complaint within fourteen (14) days, naming proper parties in accordance with the memorandum opinion. The motions to strike and for entry of default filed by Plaintiffs will be denied.

I. Background

The thorny procedural history in this case has been set forth in prior orders, but will be discussed here for clarity purposes. Plaintiff Angelene Hardaway ("Angelene") resides at The Veridian - an apartment complex in Silver Spring, Maryland. Angelene Hardaway asserts that she is disabled, although she does not specifically identify her disability. Plaintiff Lena Hardaway is Angelene's sister and is the payee of her disability benefits. Plaintiffs commenced this action on January 14, 2013, by filing a complaint against Equity Residential Holding, LLC. Concomitantly with their complaint, Plaintiffs filed separate motions for leave to proceed in forma pauperis, which the court granted the following day. The complaint relates to a dispute over rent between Plaintiffs and the manager of Angelene's apartment building. Similar allegations of discrimination were alleged by Plaintiffs in two prior actions. See Civ. No. DKC 11-1924; Civ. No. DKC 11-2224. On March 12, 2013, defense counsel filed correspondence advising that "Equity Residential Holding LLC... has no relationship to Equity Residential Management, L.L.C., the entity that manages The Veridian apartment complex, where Ms. Angelene Hardaway currently resides." (ECF No. 9). Noting that "Defendant contends that Plaintiffs have sued the wrong party, and suggests that the proper party is Equity Residential Management, LLC, which was a defendant in the prior suit[s], " the court directed Plaintiffs to show cause why their complaint should not be dismissed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. ยง 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii). (ECF No. 10). Plaintiffs responded on May 3, 2013, by filing an amended complaint, asserting substantively similar claims as the original pleading against three new defendants - Equity Residential Services, L.L.C., Equity Residential Services II, LLC, and Equity Residential Services Inc. (ECF No. 11). They separately filed a motion for leave to file an amended complaint, contending that there has been no prior complaint related to the facts alleged in this action. (ECF No. 12).

On May 10, 2013, the court entered an order dismissing the case. (ECF No. 13). The court determined that Plaintiffs have already litigated their disability discrimination and associated retaliation claims and that the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over any race or gender discrimination claim because Plaintiffs failed to exhaust. (Id. at 2). Plaintiffs appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, which vacated the order of dismissal and remanded for further proceedings on December 5, 2013. (ECF No. 17-1). The Fourth Circuit determined, inter alia, that "[t]he district court erred... in concluding summarily on the bare record before it, that the Hardaways' prior claims, asserted against different defendants from those sued here, were precluded as a matter of law. This is because, as the Hardaways assert in their informal brief on appeal, the claims alleged here arose after the district court had dismissed their earlier case." (Id. at 4-5). The appellate court "express[ed] no view as to how the district court might best proceed upon remand, or whether any asserted claims might survive further preliminary proceedings." (Id. at 5). On December 30, 2013, the undersigned entered an order reopening the case and granting Plaintiffs' motion for leave to file an amended complaint. (ECF No. 19).

The following factual account is construed from the amended complaint. Plaintiffs assert that Angelene "is being coerced, intimidated[, ] and discriminated against because she is an African American, [w]oman[, ] and a person with disabilities." (ECF No. 11, at 2). Angelene allegedly filed a complaint with "Equity Residential Corporate office, HUD fair housing authority[, ] and The Equal Rights Center." (Id. ). Angelene Hardaway avers that one month after she filed the complaint, "Equity Residential served [her] with a Notice to Quit." She broadly states that Defendants have "unjustly received and retained benefits of rent, water[, ] and sewer payments over the rental agreement amount, " but that Equity Residential dismissed her complaint that she was overcharged, which prompted her to file a lawsuit on July 14, 2011. Plaintiffs further contend that Equity Residential failed to supply Angelene Hardaway with accurate monthly rental statements. (Id. at 3). They state that "[w]hen Plaintiff Angelene complained about the overcharge, defendant's agent ignored her, and refuse[d] to correct their mistake, until Plaintiff filed a lawsuit in August 2011." (Id. ). Plaintiffs aver:

In Defendant['s] bizarre monthly statements from June 2012-October 2012, the defendant credited Angelene thousands of dollars. Plaintiff believes, the Property Manager [Matthew Moffett] wanted to lure her into a false sense [] "that Equity Residential was paying back the money they defrauded from plaintiff." However, Angelene's trustee kept paying the required monthly rent. (Plaintiff believes[] the Property Manager was trying to lure plaintiff into a trap to stop paying the monthly rent, so he can have a reason to evict Angelene.). In November, the Property Management reversed the credit and overcharged plaintiff another $300. [O]n November 12, 2012, the Property Manager once again[] harassed, intimidated, and endangered plaintiff safety.

Plaintiffs further aver that Angelene's rent was raised without informing Montgomery Housing Authority and Moderated Priced Dwelling Unit agency. Angelene avers that her rent was increased to $2, 313.00 per month, and that she is "being charged with the highest rent in the building." (Id. at 4). Plaintiffs believe that "[t]he 2, 797.56% increase[] proves [that] Equity Residential agents are illegally taking advantage of Angelene's disability. Angelene Hardaway is the only tenant in the building who received a $2, 797.56% increase." (Id. ). Plaintiffs assert that the Property Manager withheld the Moderated Priced Dwelling Unit documents from Angelene, but that she completed all such documents for the May 2012 to May 2013 term. Plaintiffs state that Equity Residential served Angelene with a Notice to Quit on December 18, 2012 as a result of her complaints regarding discrimination. (Id. at 5-6).

The amended complaint asserts violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") and the Civil Rights Act, and contains the following causes of action: discrimination based on disability, sex, and race (count I); negligence (count II); fraud (count III); and unjust enrichment (count IV). Defendants moved to dismiss on March 14, 2014. (ECF No. 27). Plaintiffs were provided with a Roseboro notice, which advised them of the pendency of the motion to dismiss and their entitlement to respond within seventeen (17) days from the date of the letter. Roseboro v. Garrison, 528 F.2d 309, 310 (4th Cir.1975) (holding pro se plaintiffs should be advised of their right to file responsive material to a motion for summary judgment). On March 21, 2014, Plaintiffs filed separate motions to strike as untimely the motion to dismiss and for entry of default against Defendants. (ECF Nos. 31 & 32). On May 28, 2014, Plaintiffs opposed Defendants' motion to dismiss (ECF No. 35), and Defendants replied (ECF No. 36).

II. Analysis

A. Defendants' Motion to Dismiss

1. Standard of Review

The purpose of a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) is to test the sufficiency of the complaint. Presley v. City of Charlottesville, 464 F.3d 480, 483 (4th Cir. 2006). A plaintiff's complaint need only satisfy the standard of Rule 8(a), which requires a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). "Rule 8(a)(2) still requires a showing, ' rather than a blanket assertion, of entitlement to relief." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556 n.3 (2007). That showing must consist of more than "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action" or "naked assertion[s] devoid of further factual enhancement." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (internal citations omitted).

At this stage, all well-pleaded allegations in a complaint must be considered as true, Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 268 (1994), and all factual allegations must be construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, see Harrison v. Westinghouse Savannah River Co., 176 F.3d 776, 783 (4th Cir. 1999) ( citing Mylan Labs., Inc. v. Matkari, 7 F.3d 1130, 1134 (4th Cir. 1993)). In evaluating the complaint, unsupported legal allegations need not be accepted. Revene v. Charles Cnty. Comm'rs, 882 F.2d 870, 873 (4th Cir. 1989). Legal conclusions couched as factual allegations are insufficient, Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, as are conclusory factual allegations devoid of any reference to actual events, United Black Firefighters v. Hirst, 604 F.2d 844, 847 (4th Cir. 1979); see also Francis v. Giacomelli, 588 F.3d 186, 193 (4th Cir. 2009). "[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged, but it has not show[n]... that the pleader is entitled to ...


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