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Lee v. Retail Store Employee Building Corporation

United States District Court, N.D. California, San Jose Division

August 9, 2016

MARIA W. LEE, et al., Plaintiffs,


          LUCY H. KOH, United States District Judge.

         Plaintiffs Maria and Wen Lee (collectively, “Plaintiffs”) bring this action against Retail Store Employee Building Corporation; Casa del Pueblo Apartment; and Barcelon Associates Management Corp. (collectively, “Defendants”).[1] Before the Court are two motions to dismiss the First Amended Complaint, one filed by Barcelon Associates Management Corp. and another filed by Retail Store Employee Building Corporation and Casa del Pueblo Apartment. ECF No. 60 (“Retail Mot.”); ECF No. 69 (“Barcelon Mot.”); ECF No. 52 (“FAC”). The Court finds these motions suitable for decision without oral argument pursuant to Civil Local Rule 7-1(b) and thus VACATES the motions hearing set for August 11, 2016, at 1:30 p.m. The case management conference, currently set for August 11, 2016, at 1:30 p.m., is CONTINUED to September 14, 2016, at 2:00 p.m. Having considered the submissions of the parties, the relevant law, and the record in this case, the Court GRANTS Defendants’ motion to dismiss.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Background

         From 2000 to 2013, Maria Lee (“Maria”) lived at the Casa del Pueblo Apartment (“CDP”) complex, a senior living facility. During this period, CDP was owned by Retail Store Employees Building Corporation (“Retail Store”) and managed by Barcelon Associates Management Corp. (“Barcelon”). FAC ¶¶ 5-4; 5-5; 5-7.

         Maria is in her late 80s and suffers from dementia. From 2000 to 2010, it appears that Maria lived alone at CDP, while her husband, Joseph Lee (“Joseph”), lived at a nursing home. Id. ¶ 5-11. In late 2010, Joseph suffered a stroke. Id. As a result of his stroke, Joseph left the nursing home and “came back to [live with Maria at] CDP.” Id. After Joseph returned to CDP, Maria’s son, Wen Lee (“Wen”), stayed at CDP from time to time to care for Joseph and Maria. Id. Joseph passed away on November 17, 2012. Id. ¶ 5-12.

         According to Plaintiffs, during Maria’s tenancy at CDP, Maria was subject to “bullying” by several CDP staff members. Id. ¶ 5-8. In particular, in 2004, Plaintiffs allege that a resident stole coats from Maria and Joseph while the couple was abroad. When Maria asked for help in recovering these items, CDP staff mocked Maria. Id. ¶ 5-9. After Joseph’s death, CDP staff allegedly entered Maria’s apartment to search the apartment without Maria’s consent. Id. ¶¶ 5-13; 5-18. Finally, from December 2012 to September 2013, Plaintiffs allege that Defendants repeatedly threatened to evict Maria.

         On September 19, 2013, Retail Store and CDP filed an unlawful detainer complaint against Maria, Wen, and Maria’s daughter, Lin Lee (“Lin”) in Santa Clara County Superior Court. The unlawful detainer complaint states that Maria “materially violated the terms of the lease agreement and created and/or allowed the creation of a nuisance upon the premises.” ECF No. 52 at 28. In particular, Maria allowed Lin to reside at CDP without “obtaining the prior written approval” of Retail Store and CDP-a violation of Maria’s rental agreement. Id. The complaint further states that Maria’s “tenancy has been fraught with constant complaints from neighbors who have been terrified by threatening, hostile, bizarre, and alarming behavior.” Id.

         In 2010, for example, Lin “locked [Maria] out of the apartment and angrily abused [CDP] staff when they attempted to intervene.” Id. Maria was also given infraction notices from CDP on March 6, 2012; April 24, 2012; June 19, 2012; July 25, 2012; October 23, 2012; and November 30, 2012 for “harassing residents, staff and caregivers; knocking on their doors; making unwanted contact; and physically assaulting others.” Id. at 29. The unlawful detainer complainer also produced notes that CDP staff members had received from Maria which stated, among other things, that “[e]vil fate will befall you soon. Your parents die and your son die, ” and that “[y]ou stinky prostitute putting stuff in my garlic bowl. Almighty will punish you. Your parents will die. You are dirty and rotten.” Id. at 30. Maria, Wen, and Lin did not respond to the unlawful detainer complaint. Id. ¶ 5-25. Accordingly, on October 17, 2013, the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office evicted Maria from CDP.

         B. Procedural History

         On October 17, 2014, Maria filed a housing discrimination complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”), which asserted that she was the subject of discriminatory treatment by CDP staff. Pursuant to HUD policy, Maria’s complaint was forwarded to the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (“DFEH”). On November 6, 2015, DFEH closed Maria’s case after finding that she had presented insufficient evidence of discrimination.

         Plaintiffs filed the original complaint in federal court on October 15, 2015, which mirrored the allegations set forth in Maria’s HUD complaint. The original complaint asserted causes of action under the Fair Housing Amendments Act (“FHAA”) and Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”). ECF No. 1. On April 6, 2016, Retail Store and CDP moved to dismiss the original complaint. ECF No. 39. In lieu of opposing this motion, Plaintiffs filed the FAC, which kept the same two causes of action but added Barcelon as a Defendant. On June 17, 2016, Barcelon declined magistrate judge jurisdiction, and on June 21, 2016, the instant action was reassigned to the undersigned judge. ECF No. 79.

         Retail Store and CDP moved to dismiss the FAC on May 13, 2016. Maria and Wen filed a response on June 20, 2016, and Retail Store and CDP filed a reply on June 29, 2016. ECF No. 76 (“Retail Opp’n”); ECF No. 81 (“Retail Reply”). Barcelon moved to dismiss the FAC on June 9, 2016. Maria and Wen filed a response on June 21, 2016, and Barcelon filed a reply on June 30, 2016. ECF No. 78 (“Barcelon Opp’n”); ECF No. 82 (“Barcelon Reply”).


         A. Motion to Dismiss

         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a defendant may move to dismiss an action for failure to allege “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). “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. The plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement, ’ but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (internal citations omitted). For purposes of ruling on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court “accept[s] factual allegations in the complaint as true and construe[s] the pleadings in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Manzarek v. St. Paul Fire & Marine Ins. Co., 519 F.3d 1025, 1031 (9th Cir. 2008).

         Nonetheless, the Court is not required to “‘assume the truth of legal conclusions merely because they are cast in the form of factual allegations.’” Fayer v. Vaughn, 649 F.3d 1061, 1064 (9th Cir. 2011) (quoting W. Mining Council v. Watt, 643 F.2d 618, 624 (9th Cir. 1981)). Mere “conclusory allegations of law and unwarranted inferences are insufficient to defeat a motion to dismiss.” Adams v. Johnson, 355 F.3d 1179, 1183 (9th Cir. 2004); accord Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Furthermore, “‘a plaintiff may plead [him]self out of court’” if he “plead[s] facts which establish that he cannot prevail on his . . . claim.” Weisbuch v. Cnty. of L.A., 119 F.3d 778, 783 n.1 (9th Cir. 1997) (quoting Warzon v. Drew, 60 F.3d 1234, 1239 (7th Cir. 1995)).

         B. Leave to Amend

         Under Rule 15(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, leave to amend “shall be freely granted when justice so requires, ” bearing in mind “the underlying purpose of Rule 15 to facilitate decision on the merits, rather than on the pleadings or technicalities.” Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1127 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc) (ellipses omitted). Generally, leave to amend shall be denied only if allowing amendment would unduly prejudice the opposing party, cause undue delay, or be futile, or if the moving party has acted in bad faith. Leadsinger, Inc. v. BMG Music Publ’g, 512 F.3d 522, 532 (9th Cir. 2008).

         III. ...

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