Eliserio v. Floydada Housing Authority, No. CIV.A. L-05-CV-04.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Southern District of Texas
Writing for the CourtKazen
Citation455 F.Supp.2d 648
Docket NumberNo. CIV.A. L-05-CV-04.
Decision Date26 September 2006
PartiesGraciela ELISERIO, et al., Plaintiffs, v. FLOYDADA HOUSING AUTHORITY, et al., Defendants.
455 F.Supp.2d 648
Graciela ELISERIO, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
FLOYDADA HOUSING AUTHORITY, et al., Defendants.
No. CIV.A. L-05-CV-04.
United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Laredo Division.
September 26, 2006.

The District Court, Saldana, United States Magistrate Judge.

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COPYRIGHT MATERIAL OMITTED

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Linley Rebecca Boone, Lakshmi Ramakrishnan, Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid Inc., Weslaco, TX, Robert W. Doggett, Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid Inc., Austin, TX, for Plaintiffs.

Charlotte Bingham, Crenshaw Dupree et al, Lubbock, TX, Jean-Michel Voltaire, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, DC, for Defendants.

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ORDER

KAZEN, District Judge.


Pending before the Court is the Report and Recommendation of Magistrate Judge Saldaña regarding Defendant Floydada Housing Authority's Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss all the Plaintiffs' claims against it. The Report was filed on September 8, 2006, and neither party has objected to it.

Having carefully considered the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation, the Court concludes that it is well-reasoned and correct.

Accordingly, the Report and Recommendation is ADOPTED, and Floydada's Motion to Dismiss (Docket No. 45) is hereby DENIED.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

SALDANA, United States Magistrate Judge.

Pending before the Court is Defendant Floydada Housing Authority's Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss all the Plaintiffs' (the individual Plaintiffs and Plaintiff United Farmworkers of America) claims under the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 1801-1872, and Plaintiff United Farmworkers of America's claims under the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 3601-3631, for failure to state a claim. (Docket No. 45.)

Having reviewed the motion, the parties' filings, and the applicable law, this Court is of the opinion that all the Plaintiffs have stated a claim under the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act and that Plaintiff United Farmworkers of America has stated a claim under the Fair Housing Act. Therefore, Defendant's motion to dismiss should be DENIED.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

The individual Plaintiffs, Graciala Eliserio, Jose J. Eliserio, Argelio Garza, Armandina Garza, Marco Gonzalez, Jose Islas, Sonia Islas, Antonio Lopez, Eduvijes Lopez, Armando Soto, Domingo Soto, Maria Soto, Rafael Soto, Jesus Villarreal, Roxana Villarreal, and Juan Gonzalez, are migrant farm workers whose permanent place of residence is in a Texas county on the Texas—Mexico border. (Docket No. 43 ¶ 3.1, Pls.' 2d Am. Compl.) Plaintiff United Farmworkers of America (UFW) is a nonprofit membership organization composed of farm workers who regularly rely on farm labor housing programs for housing in Texas. Id. at ¶ 3.2. According to the Texas Director of the UFW, the "UFW's mission is to help farm workers seek improved working conditions, including housing." (Docket No. 50, Flores Aff. ¶ 3.) As such, the UFW has devoted resources and time trying to correct the deficiencies of farm labor housing in Texas on behalf of its members, and this burden has prevented UFW from addressing other priorities, including seeking to improve poor wages as well as access to workers compensation and health care. Id. The UFW claims that its "inability to improve housing conditions for farm workers in [the Texas Panhandle area, which includes the City of Floydada] has affected the organization's ability to make an impact for [its] members, and [has] harmed the UFW as an organization." Id. at ¶ 4.

All Plaintiffs allege that Floydada Housing Authority (Authority) operates one of the worst farm labor housing facilities in Texas. (Docket No. 43 ¶ 1.6.) According to Plaintiffs' Second Amended Complaint, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is the executive agency of the United States government that Congress charged with administering farm labor housing programs pursuant to Title 42

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U.S.C. § 1471, et seq. Id. at ¶ 4.1 Plaintiffs claim that the Authority received funding and entered into agreements with the USDA to provide decent and affordable housing to farm workers pursuant to Title 42 U.S.C. §§ 1484 and 1486, also known as the Section 514 and 516 housing programs. Id. at ¶ 4.2. As a result, the Authority built a 78-unit farm labor housing facility in Floydada, Texas under the Section 514 and 516 housing programs. Id. at ¶ 4.3. In order to save resources, Plaintiffs claim, the Authority has only attempted to maintain approximately half of the 78-unit complex for occupancy during Floydada's farm labor season. Id. at ¶ 4.11. The individual Plaintiffs and members of Plaintiff UFW have occupied the Authority's farm labor housing over the years from about June until October, during the pumpkin harvest and cotton gin production, and intend to rent these units in future seasons. Id. at ¶¶ 3.2, 4.5, 4.6.

Plaintiffs allege that the Authority's farm labor housing consistently fails to meet federal and state safety and health standards, and has consistently failed to meet these standards for many years. Id. at ¶ 4.12. In addition, Plaintiffs claim that the deficient housing conditions materially affect the health and safety of the occupants. Id. at ¶ 4.13. As such, Plaintiffs allege that the Authority has violated the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act's (AWPA) safety and health of housing provision, which provides, in relevant part:

[E]ach person who owns or controls a facility or real property which is used as housing for migrant agricultural workers shall be responsible for ensuring that the facility or real property complies with substantive Federal and State safety and health standards applicable to that housing.

29 U.S.C. § 1823(a); (Docket No. 43 ¶¶ 5.1, 5.2.)

For this violation, all Plaintiffs filed suit under AWPA's private cause-of-action provision. See 29 U.S.C. § 1854. The individual Plaintiffs request actual damages, or alternatively, statutory damages, pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 1854; and declaratory and injunctive relief from the Authority.1 (Docket No. 43 at ¶ 5.2.) Plaintiff UFW seeks declaratory and injunctive relief from the Authority. Id. at ¶ 7.1(c).

Plaintiffs also allege that the Defendants (the Authority and the USDA) harmed them by the Defendants' discriminatory conduct, based on race and national origin, with respect to: (1) the availability of housing; (2) the terms, conditions, and privileges associated with the rental of a dwelling; and (3) the provision of services and facilities in connection with the rental of a dwelling, all in violation of Sections 3604(a) and 3604(b) of the Fair Housing Act (FHA). Id. at ¶¶ 3.4, 5.7, 5.8, 5.9. The individual Plaintiffs request actual damages, punitive damages, declaratory and injunctive relief from the Authority. Id. at ¶ 5.13. The UFW seeks declaratory and injunctive relief against the Authority for its violation of the FHA. Id. at ¶¶ 5.7, 7.1(c).

SUMMARY OF ARGUMENT

Defendant Floydada Housing Authority argues that there are two reasons why they cannot be held liable under AWPA's housing provision. First, in order to be liable under this provision, the housing provider must be considered a "person" as that term is defined under the Act. See 29

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U.S.C. § 1823(a). AWPA defines "person" as, among other things, "any . . . corporation." 29 U.S.C. § 1802(9). Although the Authority concedes that they are a public corporation, they argue that they cannot be considered a "person" under AWPA because of their governmental status. (Docket No. 57 ¶¶ 2, 4, Def.'s Reply.) Specifically, the Authority argues that "statutory language and court decisions regularly distinguish government entities that are public corporations from corporations and that nothing in the AWPA indicates that this distinction should be ignored." Id. at 1. Second, the Authority contends that, even if they are considered a "person" for purposes of AWPA's housing provision, an employment relationship between them and Plaintiff migrant workers is required before the Authority is subject to liability under this provision. (Docket Nos. 45 at 6-10, 57 at 10.) The Authority contends that no such relationship exists between them. Id.

Plaintiffs maintain that the Court's inquiry with respect to the Authority's liability under AWPA should and with the plain meaning of the statutory text. (Docket No. 59 at 1-2, Pls.' Sur-Reply.) Under AWPA, Plaintiffs note, "`person' means any . . . corporation." Id.; See 29 U.S.C. § 1802(9). Plaintiffs argue that "any .. . corporation" encompasses all corporate entities on its face. (Docket No. 50 at 2, Pls.' Resp.) Since the Authority is a corporation under Texas state law, Plaintiffs note, the Court therefore should find that the Authority is a "person" under AWPA. Id.

Additionally, the Authority argues that Plaintiff UFW lacks standing—specifically prudential or statutory standing—to sue under either AWPA or the FHA in this case. (Docket No. 45 at 11.) In response, the UFW asserts that it has standing to bring this suit under the jurisdiction of federal court pursuant to Article III of the United States Constitution. (Docket No. 50 at 6-17.)

DISCUSSION

1. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6)—Standard for Failure to State a Claim

When a party files a motion to dismiss a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, the Court may not dismiss the claim unless "it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim that would entitle him to relief." Scanlan v. Texas A & M Univ., 343 F.3d 533, 536 (5th Cir.2003). In considering the 12(b)(6) motion, the Court may "not go outside the pleadings and must accept all well-pleaded facts as true, viewing those facts most favorably to the plaintiff." Id.

2. Statutory Interpretation of "Person" Under AWPA

In interpreting a statute, the Court's objective is to give effect to the intent of Congress. Stiles v. GTE Southwest,...

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1 practice notes
  • Klunder v. Trustees & Fellows of the College or Univ. in the English Colony of Rhode Island, C.A. No. 10-410 ML
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Rhode Island
    • July 13, 2011
    ...treated alike in terms of their legal status as persons capable of suing and being sued." Eliserio v. Floydada Housing Authority, 455 F. Supp. 2d 648, 654 (S.D. Tex. 2006) (emphasis added) (quoting Cook County. Ill, v. United States ex rel. Chandler, 538 U.S. 119, 126 (2003)). The "phrase [......
1 cases
  • Klunder v. Trustees & Fellows of the College or Univ. in the English Colony of Rhode Island, C.A. No. 10-410 ML
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Rhode Island
    • July 13, 2011
    ...treated alike in terms of their legal status as persons capable of suing and being sued." Eliserio v. Floydada Housing Authority, 455 F. Supp. 2d 648, 654 (S.D. Tex. 2006) (emphasis added) (quoting Cook County. Ill, v. United States ex rel. Chandler, 538 U.S. 119, 126 (2003)). The "phrase [......

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