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Nichols v. Carriage House Condominiums at Perry Hall Farms, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Maryland

July 15, 2015

BRIAN NICHOLS, Plaintiff,
v.
CARRIAGE HOUSE CONDOMINIUMS AT PERRY HALL FARMS, INC., et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

RICHARD D. BENNETT, District Judge.

Plaintiff Brian Nichols ("Nichols" or "Plaintiff") filed the subject action against Defendants Carriage House Condominiums at Perry Hall Farms, Inc. ("Carriage House") and Residential Realty Group, Inc. ("Residential Realty") (collectively, "Defendants"), alleging violations of the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. § 3601, et seq., and the parallel Maryland housing discrimination law, Md. Code Ann., State Gov't, § 20-701, et seq. Nichols claims that Defendants discriminated and retaliated against him in denying his request for a modification to accommodate his disability.

Currently pending before this Court are Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 7) and Defendants' Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint (ECF No. 11). The parties' submissions have been reviewed and no hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2014). For the following reasons, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 7) is MOOT[1] and Defendants' Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint (ECF No. 11) is GRANTED.

BACKGROUND

In a ruling on a motion to dismiss, this Court must accept the factual allegations in the plaintiff's complaint as true and construe those facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs. See, e.g., Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 244 (4th Cir. 1999).

In 2001, Nichols purchased a condominium from Carriage House and Residential Realty in Perry Hall, Maryland. Amended Compl. ¶ 6, ECF No. 10. Nichols suffers from a variety of illnesses and disorders, including osteoarthritis, gout, and an "anxiety-based[] driving disorder." Id. ¶¶ 7, 8, 12. These illnesses have severely reduced his mobility, requiring Plaintiff to use a cane, crutches, and a wheelchair. Id. ¶ 10. Due to his anxiety, he does not drive, and thus relies on friends and co-workers for transportation. Id. ¶ 12.

The present action stems from Plaintiff's October 13, 2010 letter to Carriage House[2] asking to modify his driveway to accommodate his disability.[3] Id. ¶ 29. Two weeks after submitting this request, Nichols filed a housing discrimination complaint against Defendants with the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development ("HUD").[4] Id. ¶ 30. Nichols claimed that Defendants "unlawfully denied his requests for reasonable accommodations." Id. On November 17, 2010, counsel for Carriage House sent Nichols a letter denying his October 13 request. Id. ¶ 31. The letter noted that Plaintiff "[had] not ever requested a reasonable modification due to [his] claimed handicap, [Carriage House] has decided to treat [his] cover letter dated October 13, 2010 and accompanying Exterior Alteration Application as a request for a reasonable modification of the driveway adjacent to your Unit under the Fair Housing Act." Id. ¶ 32. Counsel for Carriage House thus requested that Nichols provide documentation of his claimed disability and an explanation of the nexus between the disability and the modification in question. Id. ¶ 33. Carriage House holds the position that, once Plaintiff had provided the requisite documentation, Carriage House would consider approval of a modification of 156 inches, as set forth by the Americans with Disability Act Accessibility Guidelines (the "Guidelines"). Id. ¶ 34.

After Nichols provided the requested disability documentation, the parties attended a fact-finding conference before the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights (the "Commission") on February 29, 2012. Id. ¶¶ 39-40. During the conference, Nichols alleges that Carriage House offered to approve an extension of 156 inches in exchange for a release of Carriage House's liability. Id. ¶ 45. On March 22, 2012, the Commission issued its written findings. Id. ¶ 41. The Commission concluded that Defendants "could have reasonably concluded that [Nichols] intended to pay for the modifications when he initially submitted his application in 2010, " even though he made no explicit offer. Id. ¶ 42; see also Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss Ex. B, ECF No. 7-3. The Commission noted, however, that Plaintiff refused to pay for the modification during the fact-finding conference.[5] Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss Ex. B, at 5.

Additionally, the Commission found that the circumstances did not support the approval of Nichol's request for a modification that would include a second parking space, beyond the 156 inches set by the Guidelines. Compl. ¶ 43. Plaintiff refused to accept a modification of 156 inches, instead asserting that he required a driveway of 228 inches that would accommodate the vehicles of persons transporting him. Id. ¶¶ 43-44; see also Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss Ex. B, at 5. At the present time, Nichols remains without a handicapaccessible parking space or a handicap-accessible aisle.

Plaintiff filed the subject action on November 17, 2014 seeking $100, 000, 000 in compensatory damages, punitive damages, and an order permitting the installation of his requested modified driveway. Defendants subsequently moved to dismiss the Complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 7. Instead of filing a response to Defendants' Motion, Nichols filed an Amended Complaint (ECF No. 10), attempting to cure the timeliness issues highlighted by Defendants in their Motion.[6] Defendants again moved to dismiss the Amended Complaint (ECF No. 11).

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Under Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a complaint must contain a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. P 8(a)(2). Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure authorizes the dismissal of a complaint if it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The purpose of Rule 12(b)(6) is "to test the sufficiency of a complaint and not to resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses." Presley v. City of Charlottesville, 464 F.3d 480, 483 (4th Cir. 2006).

The Supreme Court's recent opinions in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), "require that complaints in civil actions be alleged with greater specificity than previously was required." Walters v. McMahen, 684 F.3d 435, 439 (4th Cir. 2012) (citation omitted). In Twombly, the Supreme Court articulated "[t]wo working principles" that courts must employ when ruling on Rule 12(b)(6) motions to dismiss. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. First, while a court must accept as true all the factual allegations contained in the complaint, legal conclusions drawn from those facts are not afforded such deference. Id. (stating that "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice" to plead a claim); see also Wag More Dogs, LLC v. Cozart, 680 F.3d 359, 365 (4th Cir. 2012) ("Although we are constrained to take the facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, we need not accept legal conclusions couched as facts or unwarranted inferences, unreasonable conclusions, or arguments." (internal quotation marks omitted)).

Second, a complaint must be dismissed if it does not allege "a plausible claim for relief." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. Although a "plaintiff need not plead the evidentiary standard for proving" her claim, she may no longer rely on the mere possibility that she could later establish her claim. McCleary-Evans v. Maryland Department of Transportation, State Highway Administration, ___ F.3d ___, 2015 WL 1088931, *11-12 (4th Cir. 2015) (emphasis omitted) (discussing Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506 (2002) in light of Twombly and Iqbal ). Under the plausibility standard, a complaint must contain "more than labels and conclusions" or a "formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. While the plausibility requirement does not impose a "probability requirement, " id. at 556, "[a] claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678; see also Robertson v. Sea Pines Real Estate Cos., 679 F.3d 278, 291 (4th Cir. 2012) ("A complaint need not make a case against a defendant or forecast evidence sufficient to prove an element of the claim. It need only allege facts sufficient to state elements of the claim." (emphasis in original) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted)). In making this ...


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