Worthington v. Golden Oaks Apartments, CAUSE NO. 3:11-CV-223 RM

CourtUnited States District Courts. 7th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Indiana
Writing for the CourtRobert L. Miller
Docket NumberCAUSE NO. 3:11-CV-223 RM
Decision Date04 October 2011


CAUSE NO. 3:11-CV-223 RM


ENTERED: October 4, 2011


This cause comes before the court on a motion to dismiss filed by Golden Oak Village Limited Partnership, a motion to dismiss filed by the Housing Authority of South Bend, Ms. Worthington's motion to strike the Housing Authority's reply brief, and her motion to convert the Housing Authority's motion to dismiss to one for summary judgment. The motions are all ripe for review.


Ann Worthington's complaint is based on her claim that she has been threatened with eviction from the apartment she has leased at Golden Oak Village for the past eighteen years, an apartment where she wants to remain. According to Ms. Worthington, she "is an older adult with only Social Security income," "has limitations to major life activities as a result of arthritis and auto-immune disease," "is under the care of a physician," Compl., ¶ 4, and is "an otherwise

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qualified individual" with a handicap and/or a disability, Compl., ¶¶ 19, 20, 21. Ms. Worthington says that based on her complaints about the lack of heat in her building (which she claims exacerbates her arthritis), code enforcement and Section 8 inspectors inspected the complex, "and the complex . . . encountered difficulties because of the inspection." Compl., ¶¶ 12-13. Ms. Worthington claims Golden Oak blamed her for the inspection and criticized her for speaking to other tenants about problems at the complex.

Ms. Worthington alleges that after the inspection, Golden Oak refused to renew her lease and demanded that she vacate her apartment, which amounted to harassment, discrimination, and retaliation on the basis of her disability, and the Housing Authority threatened to terminate her eligibility for Section 8 benefits and advised her to transfer her Section 8 voucher to another Section 8 landlord, all in violation of the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. § 3604(f) and implementing rules, the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794 and implementing rules, Titles II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12181 et seq. and implementing rules, the due process and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, Article I, § 23 of the Indiana Constitution, and Indiana law. She seeks compensatory and exemplary damages, attorney fees, a declaratory judgment "setting forth the rights and responsibilities of the parties," an injunction preventing Golden Oaks from evicting her and the Housing Authority from terminating her eligibility for Section 8 benefits, and a determination by the court as to whether the Housing Authority

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"is operating legally with a proper board of commissioners as required by state law."


As an initial matter, the court recognizes that the Housing Authority's motion to file its reply brief instanter has been granted and that before that ruling was issued Ms. Worthington filed a motion to strike the late filing, but because the court finds that the Housing Authority demonstrated good cause for the late filing of its brief, the court denies Ms. Worthington's motion to strike. Ms. Worthington also has filed a motion to convert the Housing Authority's motion to dismiss to one for summary judgment. Even though the court can consider additional documents when faced with a jurisdictional argument, see Casey v. Guthrie, No. 09-CV-951, 2010 WL 1657387, at *1 n.4 (S.D. Ill. Apr. 22, 2010) ("it is well-settled that a court may look outside the complaint and consider other evidence when ruling on a motion to dismiss made pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1)"), reliance on the documents attached to the Housing Authority's reply brief isn't needed to decide the motion to dismiss, so the court denies Ms. Worthington's request that the court convert that motion to one for summary judgment.


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The Housing Authority has moved to dismiss Ms. Worthington's complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction because, the Housing Authority says, Ms. Worthington's claims aren't ripe, she lacks standing to bring her claims, and she's presented no actual controversy that would warrant a declaratory judgment. The Housing Authority also moves to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), arguing that Ms. Worthington hasn't properly alleged facts showing that she suffers from a disability, that the Housing Authority knew of the alleged disability, or that the Housing Authority intentionally discriminated against her based on her disability, and the complaint doesn't contain any supporting facts relating to how her due process rights were violated.

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) authorizes dismissal of complaints that bring no actionable claim within the subject matter jurisdiction of the federal courts. The court must "accept as true all well-pleaded factual allegations and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff," yet, if necessary, may "look beyond the jurisdictional allegations of the complaint and view whatever evidence has been submitted on the issue to determine whether in fact subject matter jurisdiction exists." St. John's United Church of Christ v. City of Chicago, 502 F.3d 616, 625 (7th Cir. 2007) (internal quotations and citation omitted). A federal court must assure itself that it has jurisdiction over the subject matter of a case before it can proceed to take any action on the merits. See Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 498 (1975) ("[T]he threshold question in every federal case [is]

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determining the power of the court to entertain the suit."); Petruska v. Gannon Univ., 462 F.3d 294, 302 (3d Cir. 2006) ("At issue in a Rule 12(b)(1) motion is the court's very power to hear the case."). The party asserting jurisdiction bears the burden of demonstrating subject matter jurisdiction by competent proof. Thomas v. Gaskill, 315 U.S. 442, 446 (1942); Sprint Spectrum, L.P. v. City of Carmel, Ind., 361 F.3d 998, 1001 (7th Cir. 2004). A court must dismiss an action without reaching the merits if it concludes there is no jurisdiction. Capitol Leasing Co. v. F.D.I.C., 999 F.2d 188, 191 (7th Cir. 1993).


The existence of a case and controversy is a prerequisite for the exercise of federal judicial power under Article III. "One important element of the 'case' or 'controversy' is satisfying the ripeness doctrine, which determines when a party may go to court." Sprint Spectrum L.P. v. City of Carmel, Ind., 361 F.3d 998, 1002 (7th Cir. 2004) (citation omitted). The prudential concern underlying ripeness "is to prevent the courts, through avoidance of premature adjudication, from entangling themselves in abstract disagreements." Abbott Labs. v. Gardner, 387 U.S. 136, 148 (1967). Deciding whether a claim is ripe requires the court "'to evaluate both the fitness of the issues for judicial decision and the hardship to the parties of withholding court consideration.'" Texas v. United States, 523 U.S. 296, 300-301 (1998) (quoting Abbott Labs. v. Gardner, 387 F.3d 136, 149 (1967)). "A claim is not ripe for adjudication if it rests upon 'contingent future events that

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may not occur as anticipated, or indeed may not occur at all.'" Texas v. United States, 523 U.S. at 300 (quotingThomas v. Union Carbide Agricultural Prods. Co., 473 U.S. 568, 580-581 (1985)); see also Maryland Cas. Co. v. Pacific Coal & Oil Co., 312 U.S. 270, 273 (1941) ("Basically, the question in each case is whether the facts alleged, under all the circumstances, show that there is a substantial controversy, between parties having adverse legal interests, of sufficient immediacy and reality to warrant the issuance of a declaratory judgment."); Hinrichs v. Whitburn, 975 F.2d 1329, 1333 (7th Cir. 1992) ("Cases are unripe when the parties point only to hypothetical, speculative, or illusory disputes as opposed to actual, concrete conflicts."). "Ripeness is, essentially, a question of timing." Sprint Spectrum v. City of Carmel, 361 F.3d at 1002.

Ms. Worthington argues that her claims against the Housing Authority meet these ripeness criteria: she says her allegations are explicit and not abstract, and the hardship she will suffer "is self-evident" from her complaint. Ms. Worthington says the notice she received from the Housing Authority - informing her that if Golden Oak Village evicts her, she will lose her Section 8 benefits unless she relocates to another Section 8 tenancy - constitutes a threat by the Housing Authority to terminate her Section 8 benefits "for no reason other than the Golden Oak threatened eviction." Resp., at 3. She explains that she wants to remain in her apartment and has few other housing options available to her. Ms. Worthington maintains the Housing Authority's ripeness challenge "ignores the reality of [her] situation. She is an impoverished older adult with disabilities

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threatened with loss of her Section 8 benefits. Withholding judicial review of [the Housing Authority's] unequivocal action risks imposing hardship on this vulnerable plaintiff." Resp., at 4.

The Housing Authority explains that HUD regulations govern all actions relating to the termination of Section 8 benefits, see 24 C.F.R. § 982.552, and provide that before Ms. Worthington's...

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