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Espinoza v. Gentry Courts Home Owners Association, Antioch, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. California

May 26, 2017




         Regarding Docket Nos. 10, 11 Defendants Gentry Courts Home Owners Association Antioch, Inc. and Homeowners Management Company, LLC (“Defendants”), move to dismiss this action pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) because Plaintiff allegedly lacks standing to bring claims. Defendants further move pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) to dismiss for failure to state actionable claims. Finally, Defendants move to strike portions of the Complaint that seek or otherwise refer to punitive or exemplary damages. Having heard argument, reviewed the papers and the record in this case, the motions are granted in part and denied in part as set forth below.


         This action arises out of a dispute between Plaintiff Lisa Espinoza, owner of a condominium in the Gentry Courts condominium project (“Gentry Courts”) located in Antioch, California. Defendants are the Gentry Courts Homeowners Association, Antioch, Inc. (“HOA”) and Homeowners Management Company, LLC (“HMC”), the property manager for Gentry Courts. According to the Complaint (Dkt. 1), Plaintiff was “diagnosed with crippling anxiety, making her a person with a disability.” (Dkt. 1, ¶4.) Plaintiff asserts that she originally sought a reasonable accommodation from the HOA's rule limiting residents to one pet so that Plaintiff's mother could keep an emotional support dog, in addition to Plaintiff's own dog. (Id., ¶¶ 11, 12.) Plaintiff's mother eventually died of cancer, but Plaintiff later sought the emotional support dog for herself. (Id., ¶¶ 11, 12.) Plaintiff's mother died in December 2015, and in January 2016, the HOA denied the requested variance for a second dog. (Id.) In the meantime, fines for violation of the HOA rules accrued and were the subject of a small claims action in state court, which Defendants lost. (Id., ¶¶1, 15.)

         Plaintiff alleges that she continuously sought reasonable accommodation for her disability, and that she provided Defendants with a letter on February 4, 2016 from her “medical treater” stating the nature of disability and the need for an emotional support animal. (Id., ¶ 14.) Plaintiff asserts that she made another request in July 2016. (Id., ¶19.) Defendants ceased issuing fines in September 2016 and withdrew the claim that Plaintiff is in violation of the one pet policy. (Id., ¶24.) Nevertheless, Plaintiff pursues this action, alleging claims for violation of the Fair Housing Act (“FHA”), California Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”), and the Unruh Act. She also claims intentional infliction of emotional distress and entitlement to declaratory relief. Finally, Plaintiff claims that she is entitled to exemplary damages.


         Defendants move to dismiss the claims asserted in the Complaint pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). (Dkt. 10-1.) In their motion to dismiss, Defendants assert that Plaintiff lacks subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) because she lacks standing to bring her mother's claims and because there is no active controversy at the center of the dispute. Defendants also move to dismiss each claim pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). Finally, Defendants move to strike pursuant to Rule 12 (f), those portions of the complaint that refer to or seek punitive or exemplary damages.

         A. Motions to Dismiss

         1. Legal Standards

         A party moving to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1) may make a facial or factual attack on jurisdiction. A facial attack challenges the sufficiency of the jurisdictional allegations in a complaint. Safe Air for Everyone v. Meyer, 373 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 2004). A factual challenge instead “attack[s] the substance of a complaint's jurisdictional allegations despite their formal sufficiency, and in so doing rel[ies] on affidavits or any other evidence properly before the court.” St. Clair v. City of Chico, 880 F.2d 199, 201 (9th Cir. 1989) (citation omitted); accord Safe Air, 373 F.3d at 1039. In resolving a factual attack on jurisdiction, the court “need not assume the truthfulness of the plaintiff's allegations.” Id. (citation omitted). Federal Courts are courts of limited jurisdiction that “may not grant relief absent a constitutional or valid statutory grant of jurisdiction.” A-Z International v. Phillips, 323 F.3d 1141, 1145 (9th Cir. 2003).

         When “the question of jurisdiction is dependent on the resolution of factual issues going to the merits of an action, ” a jurisdictional finding of genuinely disputed facts is inappropriate. Id. (internal quotations and citations omitted). “The question of jurisdiction and the merits of an action are intertwined where a statute provides the basis for both the subject matter jurisdiction of the federal court and the plaintiff's substantive claim for relief.” Id. (internal quotation and citation omitted). Notwithstanding this general rule, dismissal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, even when intertwined with the merits, may be appropriate “when the allegations of the complaint are frivolous.” Thornhill Publishing Co. v. Gen. Tel. & Elec. Corp., 594 F.2d 730, 734 (9th Cir. 1979) (citations omitted).

         A motion to dismiss is proper under Rule 12(b)(6) where the pleadings fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The complaint is construed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and the Court must treat all material allegations in the complaint as true. Sanders v. Kennedy, 794 F.2d 478, 481 (9th Cir. 1986). However, even under the liberal pleading standard of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), “a plaintiff's obligation to provide the ‘grounds' of his ‘entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (citing Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)).

         Pursuant to Twombly, a plaintiff must not merely allege conduct that is conceivable but instead must allege “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Id. at 570. “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.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal,556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). “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. . . . When a complaint pleads facts that are merely consistent with a defendant's liability, it stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556-57) (internal quotations marks omitted). If the allegations are insufficient to state a claim, a ...

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