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Thomas v. San Francisco Housing Authority

United States District Court, N.D. California

March 6, 2017

CAROL THOMAS, Plaintiff,



         Defendant San Francisco Housing Authority (“SFHA” or “Defendant”) moves to dismiss pro se Plaintiff Carol Thomas's (“Thomas” or “Plaintiff”) Second Amended Complaint (“SAC”) (dkt. 17) pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).[1]Amended Motion to Dismiss (“MTD”) (dkt. 30). Thomas alleges violations of Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 (Fair Housing Act), as amended by the Fair Housing Act Amendments of 1988 (“FHA” or “Act”), based on: (1) racial discrimination; (2) retaliation; and (3) failure to reasonably accommodate her disability.[2] See generally SAC.

         The Court dismisses with leave to amend the racial discrimination and retaliation claims because Thomas is proceeding pro se, and the deficiencies in her SAC appear curable by amendment. The Court dismisses the disability accommodation claim with prejudice because it is time-barred.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Allegations

         The gravamen of Thomas's claims is that from “January 2012 to the present she has been subject to disparate impact and disparate treatment” because SFHA “imposed certain terms and conditions upon [her] and offered more favorable terms and conditions to Asian Americans [sic].” SAC at 3. Thomas has been a resident at the Ping Yuen North (“PYN”) building since December April 2009. Id. at 6. PYN was under the management and ownership of SFHA until March 9, 2015, when it transferred to subsidized housing under the management of Chinatown Community Development Center (“CCDC”).[3] Id. at 2. It appears that CCDC has assumed ownership of PYN, because Thomas signed a new lease with CCDC on September 2, 2016. Id. at 10. However, Thomas alleges that “she has been barred from having that lease operative” because of back rent owed to SFHA. Id.

         The SAC complains of miscalculation of monthly rent and inflated back rent, discriminatory treatment of African-American tenants, preferential treatment for Asian-Americans in terms of initial placement in public housing and the size of assigned rental units, refusal to transfer Thomas to a larger rental unit to accommodate her disability, inconvenience and nuisance related to the transition of PYN from SFHA to CCDC control, and damage to Thomas's private property. See generally id.; see also Opp'n (dkt. 31).

         Prior to filing her complaint in district court, Thomas filed a “discrimination complaint” against SFHA with the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”) on September 6, 2013. See SAC at 2. HUD dismissed that complaint with a “Determination of No Reasonable Cause on August 4, 2014.” Opp'n Ex. D.[4] Thomas filed a “second HUD complaint [against SFHA] alleg[ing] one or more discriminatory housing practices” on June 29, 2016. SAC at 3. According to Thomas, the second HUD complaint alleges that SFHA violated the FHA “when [it] denied her request to transfer her to another unit on Ping Yuen North (PYN) property.” SAC at 3. However, the second HUD complaint does not mention Thomas's request to transfer to another unit or challenge the denial of any such request, but instead alleges “Race and Retaliation” claims under the FHA.[5] See 1st Opp'n Ex. A at 11-12. It appears that the second HUD complaint is pending.

         B. Procedural History

         On July 7, 2016, Thomas filed a complaint alleging violations of the FHA, and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Compl. (dkt. 1). On July 13, 2016, Magistrate Judge Laporte granted Thomas's request to proceed in forma pauperis (“IFP”). Order Re IFP (dkt. 6); see also IFP App. (dkt. 3). After Thomas declined magistrate jurisdiction, see Declination (dkt. 7), on July 19, 2016, Magistrate Judge Laporte recommended that the case be dismissed with leave to amend and directed that it be reassigned to a district court judge, Report and Recommendation (dkt. 8) at 1 (“R&R”). Accordingly, the case was reassigned to this Court. Order Reassigning Case (dkt. 9). The Court adopted Magistrate Judge Laporte's recommendation dismissing the case and giving Thomas leave to amend. Order Adopting R&R (dkt. 12).

         On August 26, 2016, Thomas filed the First Amended Complaint (“FAC”). FAC (dkt. 14). The Court dismissed the FAC with leave to amend on September 15, 2016, finding that it “[did] not provide the requisite facts necessary for [the] Court to reasonably infer that Defendants are liable under” Thomas's claims, and that it “[did] not identify the legal basis for either claim.” Order Dismissing With Leave to Amend (dkt. 15) at 3-5. Thomas filed the SAC on October 12, 2016. SAC. In response, Defendant SFHA filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) on December 19, 2016. MTD (dkt. 25). On January 9, 2017, Thomas filed opposition briefing in response to SFHA's motion to dismiss. 1st Opp'n (dkt. 29). On January 10, 2017, SFHA filed an amended MTD in response to a Court order issued the same day that found procedural deficiencies in the original MTD. See Amended MTD (dkt. 30); see also Order re MTD (dkt. 28). Thomas filed opposition briefing in response to the amended MTD on February 1, 2017. Opp'n. SFHA filed a reply on February 10, 2017. Reply (dkt. 32).


         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) provides that a complaint must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” A defendant may move to dismiss a complaint under Rule 12(b)(6), asserting that the complaint fails “to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Dismissal may be based on either “the lack of a cognizable legal theory or the absence of sufficient facts alleged under a cognizable legal theory.” Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990). For purposes of evaluating a motion to dismiss, a court “must presume all factual allegations of the complaint to be true and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party.” Usher v. City of L.A.; 828 F.2d 556, 561 (9th Cir. 1987).

         To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must plead “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 is plausible “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Id.; see also Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (noting that a plaintiff must plead facts sufficient to “raise a right to relief above the speculative level.”).

         A complaint filed pro se “is to be liberally construed, and . . . however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). If a district court grants a motion to dismiss, it “should liberally allow a party to amend its pleading.” Sonoma Cty. Ass'n of Retired Emps. v. Sonoma Cty., 708 F.3d 1109, 1117 (9th Cir. 2013) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)). A court “may decline to grant leave to amend only if there is strong evidence of undue delay, bad faith or dilatory motive on the part of the movant, repeated failure to cure deficiencies by amendments previously allowed, undue prejudice to the opposing party by virtue of the amendment, [or] futility of amendment, etc.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted).


         As noted above, Thomas alleges discriminatory conduct under the FHA. See generally SAC. The FHA prohibits “discriminat[ion] against any person in the terms, conditions, or privileges of sale or rental of a dwelling, or in the provision of services or facilities in connection therewith, because of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin.” 42 U.S.C. § 3604(b). The Act also prohibits discrimination based on denial of reasonable accommodations due to disability or “handicap.” 42 U.S.C. § 3604(f)(3)(B); see also Giebeler v. M & B Associates, 343 F.3d 1143, 1146-47 (9th Cir. 2003) (noting that the Act “imposes an affirmative duty upon landlords to reasonably accommodate the needs of handicapped persons” with “regard to physical accommodations” and “administrative policies governing rentals.”). The FHA defines a “handicap” as: “(1) a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more of such person's major life activities, (2) a record of having such an impairment, or (3) being regarded as having such an impairment.” 42 U.S.C. § 3602(h).

         Under Section 3613(a)(1)(A) of the Act, a claimant may file a civil action in district court “not later than 2 years after the occurrence or the termination of an alleged discriminatory housing practice.” The two year statute of limitations is tolled during any administrative proceeding regarding a complaint “based upon [a] discriminatory housing practice.” 42 U.S.C. § 3613(a)(1)(B).

         Defendant SFHA moves to dismiss Thomas's claims for (A) racial discrimination; (B) retaliation; and (C) failure to reasonably accommodate her disability, arguing that she fails to sufficiently plead causes of action under the FHA. See generally MTD. Additionally, SFHA asserts that “insofar as [Thomas's] claims extend back more than two years from the filing of her original complaint, ” they are time-barred by the statute of limitations. Id. at 7.

         A. Racial ...

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