Houston v. DTN Operating Co.

Decision Date17 October 2017
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 4:17-CV-00035
PartiesTALIA HOUSTON v. DTN OPERATING COMPANY, LLC, THE REPUBLIC AT DENTON, LLC, THE SCION GROUP, LLC, DP FUNDING CORP, KRISTIN KELLER, IN HER CAPACITY AS GENERAL MANAGER OF THE REPUBLIC AT DENTON, LLC, AND RONALD MANNING, IN HIS CAPACITY AS THE RESIDENT SERVICES MANAGER AT THE REPUBLIC AT DENTON, LLC
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Texas

Judge Mazzant

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Pending before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (Dkt. #3). Having considered the pleadings, the Court finds the motion should be granted.

BACKGROUND

On or about June 2, 2016, Plaintiff Talia Houston and DTN Operating Company, LLC ("DTN"), executed a Housing Agreement to lease a cottage at The Republic at Denton, LLC ("The Republic"), an apartment complex located in Denton, Texas (Dkt. #1 at ¶ 13). Plaintiff noted in the Housing Agreement that she would require a service dog to be with her in her residence. Plaintiff provided The Republic a letter from Jennifer Doeden ("Doeden"), a licensed marriage and family therapist from the Therapeutic Services Agency (Dkt. #1 at ¶ 16-17). The letter stated that Plaintiff had a mental disability and needed an emotional support animal (Dkt. #2, Exhibit E). On August 22, 2016, Plaintiff moved into room 44D at The Republic, with her dog, Jazz (Dkt. #1 at ¶ 18).

On September 8, 2016, Kristin Keller ("Keller"), the General Manager of The Republic, wrote Plaintiff a letter requesting additional documentation regarding Plaintiff's disability and need for a service dog (Dkt. #1 at ¶ 19; Dkt. #2, Exhibit F). On September 13, 2016, The Republic received a second letter from Doeden, which stated that Plaintiff had been under Doeden's care since April 14, 2016, and vaguely explained Plaintiff needed a therapy dog to help her cope with her mental health condition (Dkt. #1 at ¶ 20; Dkt. #2, Exhibit G). Plaintiff also provided The Republic with documentation that she had registered Jazz as an emotional support dog with the United States Animal Registry (Dkt. #1 at ¶ 21; Dkt. #2, Exhibit D).

On September 15, 2016, Ronald Manning ("Manning"), the Resident Services Manager at The Republic, wrote a letter to Plaintiff relaying several noise complaints The Republic received stemming from Jazz (Dkt. #1 at ¶ 22; Dkt. #2, Exhibit H). Later that day, Manning wrote Plaintiff again, informing her that a $200 fine was posted to her account for violating the pet policy by keeping an unregistered animal in her apartment (Dkt. #1 at ¶ 23; Dkt. #2, Exhibit I). The letter also instructed Plaintiff to remove the animal within 24 hours (Dkt. #1 at ¶ 23; Dkt. #2, Exhibit I).

On September 19, 2016, Keller wrote Plaintiff a second letter, stating The Republic would continue to evaluate Plaintiff's request for accommodation, but Jazz had not been approved and would need to be removed from the residence by 5:00 p.m. the next day (Dkt. #1 at ¶ 26; Dkt. #2, Exhibit J). The letter additionally stated that The Republic was also unable to approve her request because of recent complaints from neighbors that Jazz is disruptive and barking continuously, especially periods when the dog was left alone (Dkt. #1 at ¶ 25). The letter also threatened to terminate the Housing Agreement because Plaintiff was in material breach for failing to remove Jazz from the premises (Dkt. #1 at ¶ 26).

On September 21, 2016, Keller sent Plaintiff a three-day notice to vacate, stating Plaintiff had breached paragraphs 10(c), 12, and 18 of the Housing Agreement for not removing Jazz from the premises (Dkt. #1 at ¶ 27; Dkt. #2, Exhibit K). Soon thereafter, Plaintiff vacated the apartment. (Dkt. #1 at ¶ 28). On December 8, 2016, Plaintiff received an email from The Republic informing her she had a balance of $7,410.00, due within two weeks and any unpaid amount would be referred for third-party collection (Dkt. #1 at ¶ 29; Dkt. #2, Exhibit L).

On January 13, 2017, Plaintiff filed her Complaint asserting the following causes of action: (1) violations of the Fair Housing Act, (2) violations of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, (3) violations of the Texas Fair Housing Act, (4) violations of the Texas Civil Rights Act, (5) violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, (6) violations of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, (7) violations of the Texas Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, (8) violations of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act, (9) negligence, and (10) constructive eviction (Dkt. #1).

On March 20, 2017, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) (Dkt. #3). On May 1, 2017, Plaintiff filed a response (Dkt. #18). On May 15, 2017, Defendants filed a reply (Dkt. #24). On August 24, 2017, the Court ordered Plaintiff to file an amended complaint by 5:00 p.m. on September 7, 2017 (Dkt. #45). Plaintiff failed to do that and instead filed a deficient Motion for Extension of Time (Dkt. #47), which Plaintiff eventually corrected on September 12, 2017 (Dkt. #50). Although the Court was not required to give Plaintiff another chance to file an amended complaint, on October 2, 2017, the Court granted Plaintiff such relief and ordered Plaintiff to file an amended complaint by 5:00 p.m. on October 4, 2017 (Dkt. #62). To date, Plaintiff has not filed an amended complaint.

LEGAL STANDARD

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require that each claim in a complaint include "a short and plain statement . . . showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). The claims must include enough factual allegations "to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Thus, "[t]o survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570).

Rule 12(b)(6) provides that a party may move for dismissal of an action for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). The Court must accept as true all well-pleaded facts contained in the plaintiff's complaint and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Baker v. Putnal, 75 F.3d 190, 196 (5th Cir. 1996). In deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right of relief above the speculative level." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555; Gonzalez v. Kay, 577 F.3d 600, 603 (5th Cir. 2009). "The Supreme Court recently expounded upon the Twombly standard, explaining that '[t]o survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Gonzalez, 577 F.3d at 603 (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). "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. "It follows, that 'where the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged - but it has not 'show[n]' - 'that the pleader is entitled to relief.'" Id.

In Iqbal, the Supreme Court established a two-step approach for assessing the sufficiency of a complaint in the context of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. First, the Court identifies conclusory allegations and proceeds to disregard them, for they are "not entitled to the assumption of truth." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 681. Second, the Court "consider[s] the factual allegations in [the complaint] to determine if they plausibly suggest an entitlement to relief." Id. "This standard 'simply calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of' the necessary claims or elements." Morgan v. Hubert, 335 F. App'x 466, 470 (5th Cir. 2009). This evaluation will "be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679.

In determining whether to grant a motion to dismiss, a district court generally may not "go outside the complaint." Scanlan v. Tex. A&M Univ., 343 F.3d 533, 536 (5th Cir. 2003). However, a district court may consider documents attached to a motion to dismiss if they are referred to in the plaintiff's complaint and are central to the plaintiff's claim. Id.

ANALYSIS
Fair Housing Act & Texas Fair Housing Act

Plaintiff alleges that Defendants are in violation of the Fair Housing Act ("FHA"), 43 U.S.C. § 3604(a), for committing discriminatory housing practices due to her disability. The FHA makes it unlawful to "discriminate against an individual in the terms, conditions, or privileges of sale or rental of a dwelling, or in the provision of services or facilities in connection with such dwelling because of a handicap." 42 U.S.C. § 3604(f)(2). Discrimination includes refusing to "make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices, or services, when such accommodations may be necessary to afford such person equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling." 42 U.S.C. § 3604(f)(3)(B). The FHA defines handicap as "(1) a physical or mentalimpairment which substantially limits one or more of such person's major life activities, (2) a record of having such impairment, or (3) being regarded as having such an impairment." 42 U.S.C. § 3602(h); 24 C.F.R. § 100.201.

Plaintiff alleges that she has a disability and it is medically necessary for her to have a service dog (Dkt. # 1 at ¶ 16). When asked to provide more information in regard to her disability, Plaintiff provided The Republic with a letter from Doeden saying she needed a "Therapy Dog to help her cope with her Mental Health Condition" (Dkt. #2, Exhibit E). Despite Keller's request for more detail regarding Plaintiff's disability and for further documentation from a medical professional familiar with Plaintiff's condition, Doeden merely sent a subsequent letter stating only...

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