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Moore v. Equity Residential Management, L.L.C.

United States District Court, N.D. California

June 21, 2017

LEROY MOORE, et al., Plaintiffs,


          MARIA-ELENA JAMES United States Magistrate Judge


         Pending before the Court is Defendant Equity Residential Management, L.L.C.'s (“Defendant”) Motion to Dismiss the First Amended Complaint (“FAC”) pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (“Rule”) 12(b)(6). Dkt. No. 30. Plaintiffs Leroy Moore, Dominika Bednarska, Perlita Payne, Brett Estes, and Annamarie Hara (collectively, “Plaintiffs”) filed an Opposition (Dkt. No. 32) and Defendant filed a Reply (Dkt. No. 33). The Court previously vacated the June 22, 2017 hearing. See Dkt. No. 34. Having considered the parties' positions, the relevant legal authority, and the record in this case, the Court GRANTS IN PART Defendant's Motion for the following reasons.


         Defendant owns and operates a building in Berkeley, California (the “Property”) that contains at least five dwelling units, and is marketed as a “Mobility Impaired Living Enhancement Property.” FAC (as corrected) ¶¶ 3, 11, Dkt. No. 31-1. Moore, Bednarska, Payne, and Estes are current residents of the Property. Id. ¶¶ 22(a)-(d). Moore uses a cane or walking stick for balance; he has difficulty managing stairs, and is dependent on using an elevator to get into and out of the Property. Id. ¶ 22(a). Bednarska uses a scooter and crutches to ambulate, and is dependent upon the elevator to get into and out of her dwelling unit. Id. ¶ 22(b). Payne is married to Bednarska. Id. ¶ 22(c). Estes is a quadriplegic who is dependent upon the elevator to leave the Property. Id. ¶ 22(d). Hara is a former resident of the Property; she has difficulty walking and at times requires a cane or walker; she cannot negotiate stairs and was dependent upon elevator access. Id. ¶¶ 1, 22(e). Plaintiffs allege Defendant has failed to maintain the only elevator on the Property, such that it has “frequently malfunctioned to such a degree that i[t] had to be taken out of service.” Id. ¶ 16. Specifically, in November 2015, the elevator was out for more than 10 days. Id. The elevator outages force Plaintiffs to choose between negotiating stairs “to their great embarrassment, discomfort and personal injury or, to be prisoners in their home while excluding disabled friends and family from visiting them.” Id. ¶ 17.

         Plaintiffs allege Defendant has failed to provide reasonable accommodations to them in connection with the elevator. When Defendant has relocated disabled tenants to hotels pending repair of the elevator, it has failed to ensure those accommodations were accessible. Id. ¶ 18. Defendant also has refused to provide advance notice of times during which the elevator would be out of commission, and failed to keep residents reasonably informed about the length of time the elevator would be out of service. Id. ¶ 19. Defendant also has failed to institute policies and procedures to maintain the elevator properly, and to accommodate disabled residents' needs while the elevator was out of service. Id. ¶ 20. Plaintiffs allege they have missed employment opportunities or work; have been forced to change or miss travel and social plans; and have experienced physical discomfort, anxiety, and/or depression as a result of the elevator being out of service. Id. ¶ 22. Furthermore, they allege that each of them “made at least one specific request for reasonable accommodation of his/her disability and special needs during or as a result of the aforementioned elevator outage. These requests included requests for expedited repair of the elevator, advance notice of scheduled elevator maintenance or other construction work that would take the elevator out of service, a commitment to regular and proactive maintenance of the elevator, and suitable accessible alternative accommodation at local hotels during unavoidable elevator outages.” Id. ¶ 23. Plaintiffs allege Defendant refused to grant their requests for accommodation. Id. ¶ 24.

         The FAC further alleges that the Property's “public use areas are not accessible and usable by disabled/handicapped persons” and its dwelling units “do not contain the features of accessible design required under the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988”. Id. ¶ 13 (public access and courtyard access doors have thresholds that exceed 1/4 inch unbeveled and require excessive opening force; courtyard door is too narrow to allow a wheelchair user access to the courtyard; unsafe changes in level exceeding 1/2 inch), ¶ 15 (among other things, light switches, electrical outlets, and thermostats not located in accessible locations; kitchens and bathrooms not adaptable and usable by wheelchair users).

         The FAC asserts two federal claims for violations of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (the “Rehabilitation Act”), 29 U.S.C. § 794; and the Federal Fair Housing Act (“FHA”), 42 U.S.C. § 3601 et seq. FAC ¶¶ 25-36. Plaintiffs also assert related state law claims under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”), Cal. Gov't Code § 12926 et seq.; the California Disabled Persons Act (“CDPA”), Cal. Civ. Code § 54.1; and the California Unruh Civil Rights Act (“Unruh Act”), Cal. Civ. Code § 51; as well as a claim under the Berkeley Municipal Code § 19.50.010 et seq. Id.¶¶ 37-62. They seek injunctive relief and damages. Id., Prayer.


         Rule 8(a) requires that a complaint contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). A complaint must therefore provide a defendant with “fair notice” of the claims against it and the grounds for relief. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (internal quotations and citation omitted).

         A court may dismiss a complaint under Rule 12(b)(6) when it does not contain 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). “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.” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557). “While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, 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. Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (internal citations and parentheticals omitted).

         In considering a motion to dismiss, a court must accept all of the plaintiff's allegations as true and construe them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Id. at 550; Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93-94 (2007); Vasquez v. Los Angeles Cty., 487 F.3d 1246, 1249 (9th Cir. 2007). In addition, courts may consider documents attached to the complaint. Parks Sch. of Bus., Inc. v. Symington, 51 F.3d 1480, 1484 (9th Cir. 1995) (citation omitted).

         If a Rule 12(b)(6) motion is granted, the “court should grant leave to amend even if no request to amend the pleading was made, unless it determines that the pleading could not possibly be cured by the allegation of other facts.” Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1127 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc) (internal quotations and citations omitted). However, the Court may deny leave to amend for a number of reasons, including “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 allowance of the amendment, [and] futility of amendment.” Eminence Capital, LLC v. Aspeon, Inc., 316 F.3d 1048, 1052 (9th Cir. 2003) (citing Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962)).


         A. Failure to Accommodate

         The Court previously dismissed Plaintiffs' FHA claim because they had failed to allege they had requested specific reasonable accommodations. See Order at 7-8, Dkt. No. 23. In amending their complaint, Plaintiffs include Paragraph 23, which alleges Plaintiffs requested accommodations and that Defendant refused to provide such accommodations. See FAC ¶¶ 23, 24. The FAC, however, does not identify with any specificity which Plaintiff requested what accommodation, or when. See Mot. at 5-8. Defendant argues this warrants dismissal of Plaintiffs' Rehabilitation Act, FHA, and state law claims.

         In order to prevail on their failure to accommodate claims, Plaintiffs bear the burden of showing (1) they had disabilities that Defendant knew or should have known about, (2) Plaintiffs actually requested an accommodation, (3) the accommodation was reasonable, and (4) Defendant refused. See Huynh v. Harasz, 2016 WL 2757219, at *11-13 (N.D. Cal. May 12, 2016) (summarizing elements of failure to accommodate claims brought under numerous federal and state theories, and summarizing that plaintiffs must establish the aforementioned elements for each theory); see also id. at *12 (“[C]ourts have generally held that this reasonable accommodation requirement should be interpreted consistently across state and federal antidiscrimination laws.”). Whether a particular accommodation is reasonable requires a “fact-specific, individualized analysis of the disabled individual's circumstances and the accommodations that might allow him to meet the program's standards.” Vinson v. Thomas, 288 F.3d 1145, 1154 (9th Cir. 2002). In relevant part, Plaintiffs need to show that the ...

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