Ballinger v. City of Oakland

Decision Date02 August 2019
Docket NumberCase No. 18-cv-07186-HSG
Parties Lyndsey BALLINGER, et al., Plaintiffs, v. CITY OF OAKLAND, Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of California

Jan David Breemer, Meriem Lee Hubbard, Pacific Legal Foundation, Sacramento, CA, for Plaintiffs.

Kevin P. McLaughlin, Oakland City Attorney's Office, Oakland, CA, for Defendant.

ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO DISMISS

Re: Dkt. No. 32

HAYWOOD S. GILLIAM, JR., United States District Judge

Plaintiffs Lyndsey and Sharon Ballinger brought this challenge to Defendant City of Oakland's Uniform Residential Tenant Relocation Ordinance, under which they were required to pay their tenants nearly $7,000 to move back into their Oakland home. The City of Oakland moved to dismiss. See Dkt. No. 32. The Court finds that the Ballingers have not pled a cognizable legal theory and therefore GRANTS the City's motion without leave to amend.

I. BACKGROUND

The Court begins by summarizing the relevant City of Oakland ordinances before turning to the Ballingers' allegations.

A. City of Oakland Ordinances

In 2003, the City of Oakland passed the Just Cause for Eviction Ordinance, which prohibits landlords from evicting their tenants without cause. See Oakland, Cal., Mun. Code ("OMC" or "Code") § 8.22.300–390.1 The City Council found that Oakland had a "prolonged affordable housing crisis" and that similar good cause protections in neighboring cities (such as San Francisco, Berkeley, and Hayward) "have aided community stability and reduced urban problems associated with arbitrary disruption of stable households." OMC § 8.22.300. That ordinance specifies what constitutes good cause for eviction, such as when a tenant fails to pay rent or violates a material term of the lease. See OMC § 8.22.360.A.1–2. In addition, two categories of permissible no-fault evictions (as defined in the ordinance) are relevant to this lawsuit.2 First, a tenant may be evicted if the "owner of record seeks in good faith, without ulterior reasons and with honest intent, to recover possession of the rental unit for his or her occupancy as a principal residence where he or she has previously occupied the rental unit as his or her principal residence and has the right to recover possession for his or her occupancy as a principal residence under a written rental agreement with the current tenants." OMC § 8.22.360.A.8. Second, a tenant may be evicted if the "owner of record seeks in good faith, without ulterior reasons and with honest intent, to recover possession for his or her own use and occupancy as his or her principal residence." OMC § 8.22.360.A.9.

On March 1, 2016, the Oakland City Council adopted Ordinance Number 13358, which requires landlords that evict tenants when withdrawing a unit from the rental market under the Ellis Act to make a relocation payment to the evicted tenants. See RJN Ex. B; see also OMC § 8.22.450(A).

On January 16, 2018, the Oakland City Council adopted the ordinance at issue in this lawsuit—the Uniform Residential Tenant Relocation Ordinance ("the Ordinance"). See First Amended Complaint ("FAC"), Dkt. No. 29-1 Ex. A; see also OMC § 8.22.800–870. The City Council found that "all major California rent-controlled jurisdictions surveyed ... require relocation payments for no-fault evictions" and that evicted tenants "face displacement and great hardship" and "are forced to incur substantial costs related to new housing." See FAC Ex. A at 2. Therefore, the Ordinance extended the relocation payment program established by Ordinance Number 13358 to other no-fault evictions, including owner move-in evictions and condominium conversions. See id. The Ordinance set the uniform relocation payment for qualifying no-fault evictions at $6,500 per unit for studios and one-bedroom apartments, $8,000 per unit for two-bedroom apartments, and $9,875 per unit for apartments with three or more bedrooms. See OMC § 8.22.820.A. These amounts were set to increase annually based on the Consumer Price Index adjustment. OMC § 8.22.820.D. Under the Ordinance, a tenant who was ultimately evicted would be eligible for one-third of the uniform relocation payment upon move-in, two-thirds of the uniform relocation payment after having lived in the unit for one year, and the entire amount after two years of occupancy. OMC § 8.22.850.C.

B. The Ballingers' Allegations

Lyndsey and Sharon Ballinger live with their two children in a three-bedroom home on MacArthur Boulevard in Oakland. See FAC ¶¶ 6, 22–23. Both Ballingers are members of the military: Sharon is a nurse practitioner currently stationed at Travis Air Force Base and Lyndsey is transitioning from the D.C. Air National Guard to a part-time role in the California Air National Guard. Id. ¶ 22. In 2015, the Ballingers were both active duty personnel in the United States Air Force and received orders to transfer to the Washington, D.C. area. Id. ¶ 24. Because they intended to return to Oakland following their assignment in Washington, they "decided to temporarily rent their house while on duty." Id. ¶ 25.

The Ballingers leased their MacArthur Boulevard home for one year, beginning on September 13, 2016. Id. ¶ 26; see also id. Ex. C (lease agreement). After the one-year lease expired, it would convert to a month-to-month tenancy. Id. ¶ 26. Because Oakland had not yet passed the Ordinance, the lease "did not anticipate ... a payment requirement, nor did it specifically acknowledge that the Ballingers intended to return to the home and use it as their primary residence." Id. ¶ 27.

In late 2017, the Ballingers learned that they would be reassigned to the Bay Area. Id. ¶ 28. The following March, the Ballingers gave their tenants sixty days' notice to vacate the MacArthur Boulevard house. Id. ¶ 29. Pursuant to the Ordinance, the Ballingers informed their tenants of their right to a $6,582.40 relocation payment and paid them half that amount. Id. ¶¶ 29–30. When their tenants vacated the house in late April 2018, the Ballingers paid them the remaining $3,291.20 required under the Ordinance. Id. ¶¶ 31–32. However, the Ordinance forced the Ballingers to make the relocation payment "before the tenants claimed or incurred any relocation costs and without any means to verify how or where they would spend the money." Id. ¶ 33.

C. The Ballingers Bring Suit

The Ballingers brought suit against the City of Oakland on November 28, 2018. See Dkt. No. 1. They filed the FAC on February 26, 2019, asserting six causes of action: (1) a facial Takings Clause claim for physical taking of private property for a private purpose, FAC ¶¶ 43–53; (2) facial and as-applied claims for unconstitutional exaction of private property, id. ¶¶ 54–64; (3) an as-applied claim for an uncompensated and unconstitutional physical taking, id. ¶¶ 65–73; (4) facial and as-applied claims for an unreasonable seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment, id. ¶¶ 74–84; (5) an as-applied claim for violation of due process, id. ¶¶ 85–95; and (6) a claim for unconstitutional interference with the obligation of contract, id. ¶¶ 96–104. The Ballingers seek a declaratory judgment, permanent injunction, damages, fees, and costs. See id. (Relief Sought).

D. Oakland Moves to Dismiss

Oakland moved to dismiss the amended complaint on March 12, 2019. See Dkt. No. 32 ("Mot."). The Ballingers opposed on March 25, see Dkt. No. 34 ("Opp."), and Oakland replied on April 2, see Dkt. No. 35 ("Reply"). The Court held a hearing on the motion on April 11, 2019. See Dkt. No. 36 (minute entry).

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) requires that a complaint 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 for failing to state a claim upon which relief can be granted under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). "Dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) is appropriate only where the complaint lacks a cognizable legal theory or sufficient facts to support a cognizable legal theory." Mendiondo v. Centinela Hosp. Med. Ctr. , 521 F.3d 1097, 1104 (9th Cir. 2008). To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a plaintiff 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, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). A claim is facially plausible when a 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, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009).

In reviewing the plausibility of a complaint, courts "accept factual allegations in the complaint as true and construe 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, Courts do not "accept as true allegations that are merely conclusory, unwarranted deductions of fact, or unreasonable inferences." In re Gilead Scis. Sec. Litig. , 536 F.3d 1049, 1055 (9th Cir. 2008). And even where facts are accepted as true, "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. Cty. of Los Angeles , 119 F.3d 778, 783 n.1 (9th Cir. 1997) (quotation marks and citation omitted).

If dismissal is appropriate under Rule 12(b)(6), a 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, 1130 (9th Cir. 2000) (quotation marks and citation omitted).

III. DISCUSSION

Oakland moves to dismiss all six of the Ballingers' causes of action, as well as their requests for injunctive and declaratory relief. The Court begins with the Ballingers' three Takings Clause causes of action before turning to their other constitutional causes of action.

A. Takings Clause Claims

The Takings Clause of the ...

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