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Mitchell v. Imperato

United States District Court, E.D. California

June 24, 2019

FREDERICK MITCHELL, an individual; KELLY MITCHELL, an individual; KRISTA MITCHELL, an individual; and ELK GROVE ANIMAL RESCUE, a sole proprietorship, Plaintiffs,
v.
DAYLE A. IMPERATO, an individual and in her capacity as TRUSTEE for the D. IMPERATO TRUST dated 2/3/12; SCHAKANA, a California Corporation; JOHN and JANE DOES 1-10; and XYZ CORPORATIONS 1-10, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER RE: DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS

          WILLIAM B. SHUBB UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiffs Frederick Mitchell, Kelly Mitchell, and Krista Mitchell brought this lawsuit, alleging that defendant Dayle Imperato[1] discriminated against them on the basis of race in renting out her property. Before the court is defendant's Motion to Dismiss.[2] (Docket No. 40.)

         I. Discussion

         A. Legal Standard

         On a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the inquiry before the court is whether, accepting the allegations in the complaint as true and drawing all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor, the plaintiff has stated a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. See 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. “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.” Id. A complaint that offers mere “labels and conclusions” will not survive a motion to dismiss. Id. (citations and quotations omitted). However, “[i]n civil rights cases where the plaintiff[s] appear[] pro se, the court must construe the pleadings liberally and must afford plaintiff[s] the benefit of any doubt.” Karim-Panahi v. Los Angeles Police Dep't, 839 F.2d 621, 623 (9th Cir. 1988).[3]

         B. 42 U.S.C. § 2000a & 42 U.S.C. § 2000a-2

         In relevant part, 42 U.S.C. § 2000a provides that “[a]ll persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation . . . without discrimination or segregation on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin.” Relatedly, 42 U.S.C. § 2000a-2 prohibits persons from depriving, interfering with, and punishing individuals for exercising rights and privileges secured by Section 2000a. Plaintiffs allege that defendant racially discriminated against them in renting out and providing access to the property in violation of Section 2000a. (See FAC ¶ 78.) Plaintiffs also contend that defendant violated Section 2000a-2 by harassing and intimidating them as they have tried to gain access to the property. (Id. ¶¶ 79-82.)

         In order to be entitled to relief under Section 2000a, plaintiffs must allege with sufficient facts that defendant's rental property “is a place of public accommodation.” See Clegg v. Cult Awareness Network, 18 F.3d 752, 756 (9th Cir. 1994). Section 2000(a) lists fifteen examples of places open to the public at large, and none of those examples include the property at issue in this case. Even though the complaint alleges that defendant rents out part of her property, “this alone falls far short of transforming [her residence] into a public accommodation.” See Welsh v. Boy Scouts of Am., 993 F.2d 1267, 1274 (7th Cir. 1993); see also Johnson v. HI Point Apts, LLC, No. CV 16-3236 JLS (AJW), 2017 WL 5634609, at *6 (C.D. Cal. Sept. 29, 2017) (“The apartment that plaintiff rents is not a place of public accommodation.”). Moreover, the court is not aware of any authority that holds that a place transforms into a public accommodation because it is zoned a particular way. While defendant may leave the gate to her property open or host events on the premises (see FAC ¶ 77), the complaint does not allege that the facilities have ever been open to the public at large. See Clegg, F.3d at 755 n.3 (“Only when the facilities are open to the public at large does Title II govern.”); see also Id. at 756 (merely holding events on a property does not transform it into public accommodation).

         Accordingly, because defendant's property is not a place of public accommodation, the court must dismiss plaintiff's claim under 42 U.S.C. § 2000a. Since plaintiffs do not have a right or privilege under Section 2000a, this court will also dismiss plaintiffs' cause of action under 42 U.S.C. § 2000a-2.

         C. 42 U.S.C. § 1981

         Section 1981 states that all persons “shall have the same right . . . to make and enforce contracts, to sue, be parties, give evidence, and to the full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of persons and property as is enjoyed by white citizens.” 42 U.S.C. § 1981(a). These rights “are protected against impairment by nongovernmental discrimination and impairment under color of State law.” Id. § 1981(c). While plaintiffs do not need to plead a prima facie case of discrimination to survive a motion to dismiss, they still must allege sufficient facts under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) that entitle them to relief. See Austin v. Univ. of Oregon, __F.3d __, 2019 WL 2347380, at *3 (9th Cir. June 4, 2019). Plaintiffs allege that defendant violated Section 1981 when she refused to enter into a written rental agreement with plaintiffs because they are black citizens. (FAC ¶ 88.)

         This claim fails, however, because plaintiffs have not claimed that defendant's alleged racial discrimination interfered with their right to make and enforce contracts. To the contrary, plaintiffs' complaint concedes that, on November 26, 2018, defendant confirmed their occupancy and a five-year lease term. (FAC ¶ 39.) Further, plaintiffs do not contend that defendant's alleged racial discrimination impaired any rights under a contractual relationship. See Domino's Pizza, Inc. v. McDonald, 546 U.S. 470, 476 (2006) (stating that parties must “identify an impaired ‘contractual relationship'”). Plaintiffs do not explain what rights were specifically impaired and, even if some were, how defendant's discriminatory conduct relates to any impairment. Plaintiffs must, but have failed to, connect defendant's alleged racial animus to the parties' contractual relationship. See id.

         Accordingly, the court must dismiss plaintiffs' claim ...


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