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West v. Southern Management Corp.

United States District Court, D. Maryland

December 19, 2016

VESTA ROMAINE WEST, Plaintiff,
v.
SOUTHERN MANAGEMENT CORP., et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Richard D. Bennett United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Vesta Romaine West (“plaintiff” or “West”) has filed a pro se Complaint alleging that defendant Southern Management Corp. (“SMC”) and its agents David Hillman, Judson Kerr, and Carrie Doe (collectively, “defendants”) unlawfully discriminated and conspired against her by refusing to receive her application to lease an apartment at a property managed by defendants.[1] (ECF No. 1.)

         Two motions are now pending before this Court: (1) plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (“Plaintiff's Motion”) (ECF No. 12); and (2) defendants' Motion to Dismiss (“Defendants' Motion”) (ECF No. 15). The parties' submissions have been reviewed, and no hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the reasons stated below, Plaintiff's Motion is DENIED, Defendants' Motion is GRANTED, and this case is DISMISSED.

         BACKGROUND

         In February of 2016, plaintiff contacted SMC to inquire about leasing an apartment at SMC's “39 West Lexington” property in Baltimore, Maryland. (ECF No. 1 at 2.) SMC initially notified plaintiff that because she previously vacated her lease at 39 West Lexington with a balance owed to SMC, she would not be able to return as a tenant. (Id.) SMC later confirmed this message in a letter dated February 26, 2016. (ECF No. 1-2 at 3.) In its letter, SMC explained that because “on each of the three prior occasions you lived in a [SMC] apartment, you vacated the leased premises leaving a debt due and owing, which [SMC] had to pursue in collections, ” SMC “is not willing to receive your application to become a leaseholder at any of its apartment communities.” (Id.)

         Less than one month after receiving SMC's letter, plaintiff filed her Complaint in this Court. (ECF No. 1.) In her Complaint, plaintiff alleges that SMC unlawfully discriminated against her based on her “known mental illness.” (Id. at 2.) Plaintiff does not identify her “known mental illness” anywhere in her Complaint. In addition, plaintiff alleges that defendants “have entered into a civil conspiracy” against her by altering their leasing policies so as to prevent plaintiff from obtaining a fourth leasehold from SMC. (Id.)

         STANDARDS OF REVIEW

         I. Motion for Summary Judgment Pursuant to Rule 56

         Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that a court “shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). A material fact is one that “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Libertarian Party of Va. v. Judd, 718 F.3d 308, 313 (4th Cir. 2013) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Thus, summary judgment is proper “only when no ‘reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.'” Monon Corp. v. Stoughton Trailers, Inc., 239 F.3d 1253, 1257 (Fed. Cir. 2001) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255)). When considering a motion for summary judgment, a judge's function is limited to determining whether sufficient evidence exists on a claimed factual dispute to warrant submission of the matter to a jury for resolution at trial. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249.

         In undertaking this inquiry, this Court must consider the facts and all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Libertarian Party of Va., 718 F.3d at 312; see also Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007). However, this Court must also abide by its affirmative obligation to prevent factually unsupported claims and defenses from going to trial. Drewitt v. Pratt, 999 F.2d 774, 778-79 (4th Cir. 1993). If the evidence presented by the nonmoving party is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment must be granted. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50. On the other hand, a party opposing summary judgment must “do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986); see also In re Apex Express Corp., 190 F.3d 624, 633 (4th Cir. 1999). As this Court has previously explained, a “party cannot create a genuine dispute of material fact through mere speculation or compilation of inferences.” Shin v. Shalala, 166 F.Supp.2d 373, 375 (D. Md. 2001) (citations omitted).

         II. Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6)

         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. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). 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); see also Goines v. Valley Cmty. Servs. Bd., 822 F.3d 159, 165-66 (4th Cir. 2016). The sufficiency of a complaint is assessed by reference to the pleading requirements of Rule 8(a)(2), which provides that 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).

         To survive a motion under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), a complaint must contain facts sufficient to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl., Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007); Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 684 (2009). 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; see Painter's Mill Grille, LLC v. Brown, 716 F.3d 342, 350 (4th Cir. 2013).

         In reviewing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court “‘must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint'” and must “‘draw all reasonable inferences [from those facts] in favor of the plaintiff.'” E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. v. Kolon Indus., Inc., 637 F.3d 435, 440 (4th Cir. 2011) (citations omitted); see Houck v. Substitute Tr. Servs., Inc., 791 F.3d 473, 484 (4th Cir. 2015). 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. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (“[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a ...


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