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Peet v. Sidney

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

January 23, 2019

John E. Peet, et al., Plaintiffs,
Dexeter Sidney, et al., Defendants.

          John E. Peet, (pro se Plaintiff);

          Jana O'Leary Sullivan, League of Minnesota Cities, (for Defendants Debbie Goettel & Michelle Luna);

          Kari M. Dahlin & Eugene C. Shermoen, Jr. Arthur, Chapman, Kettering, Smetak & Pikala, P.A., (for Defendants Mark Jones & Sue Morfitt); and

          Bahram Samie, Assistant United States Attorney, (for Defendants Department of Housing and Urban Development, Michele K. Smith, & Lendine Darden).



         This matter is before the Court, United States Magistrate Judge Tony N. Leung, on Defendants Debbie Goettel and Michelle Luna's Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 33), Defendant Mark Jones and Sue Morfitt's Motion for Partial Dismissal with Prejudice (ECF No. 37), Defendants Department of Housing and Urban Development Minneapolis Field Office Director Michele K. Smith and Department of Housing and Urban Development Investigator Lendine Darden's Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 61), and Plaintiff John E. Peet's motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 52). These motions have been referred to the undersigned magistrate judge for a report and recommendation to the Honorable Eric C. Tostrud, United States District Judge for the District of Minnesota, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Local Rule 72.1. Based on all the files, records, and proceedings herein, and for the reasons set forth below, this Court recommends that Goettel and Luna's Motion to Dismiss be GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART, that Jones and Morfitt's Motion for Partial Dismissal with Prejudice be GRANTED, that Smith and Darden's Motion to Dismiss be GRANTED, and that Peet's motion for summary judgment be DENIED.


         On January 15, 2011, Plaintiff John Peet moved into the New Orleans Court Apartments, located in Richfield, Minnesota. Am. Compl., ¶ 3 (ECF No. 23). Approximately one month after he moved in, a fellow tenant began to harass him. Id. at ¶¶ 3-4. Peet reported the harassment to the police, the Richfield mayor's office, the Richfield Housing and Redevelopment Authority, and the corporate office responsible for managing his apartment building. Id. at ¶ 5. Peet alleges that the harassment lasted for 22 months in part because Defendant Michelle Luna told him not to file a complaint with the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”). Id. at ¶ 9. He also alleges that New Orleans Court Apartment employees falsely accused him of criminal sexual conduct in order to evict him. Id. at p. 6.

         On September 20, 2012, the manager of Peet's apartment building informed him that his lease would be terminated at the end of his tenancy in January 2013. (ECF No. 1- 2, pp. 77-80). Peet subsequently moved out his apartment on February 2, 2013. (Id. at p. 75). Before leaving his apartment, he filed a complaint with HUD, alleging that he had been discriminated against on the basis of race. (ECF No. 1-3, pp. 4-5). HUD dismissed Peet's administrative complaint on May 15, 2014, concluding that “no reasonable cause exists to believe that a discriminatory housing practice has occurred.” (Id. at pp. 8-12). It reaffirmed that finding on April 21, 2015. (ECF No. 65-1, pp. 3-4).

         Peet filed suit on behalf of himself and several other plaintiffs on June 2, 2017. (ECF No. 1). On August 28, 2017, this Court ordered that each individual plaintiff file an application to proceed in forma pauperis (IFP), that plaintiffs file an amended complaint addressing certain pleading deficiencies, and that all plaintiffs sign the complaint. (ECF No. 8). This Court then recommended that the matter be dismissed for failure to prosecute after the plaintiffs in the original complaint failed to comply with the August 28, 2017 order. (ECF No. 12). The District Judge adopted this Court's recommendation. (ECF No. 13).

         Peet then moved for reconsideration or vacation of the order dismissing the case, contending that he did not receive certain paperwork from the Court. (ECF No. 16). The District Judge vacated the order and directed Peet to file an IFP application and amended complaint. (ECF No. 16). Peet filed an amended complaint on behalf of only himself on February 21, 2018. (ECF No. 23). He named as defendants Debbie Goettel and Michelle Luna (“City Defendants”), who were the mayor and a housing specialist with the Richfield Housing and Redevelopment Authority respectively at the time of the conduct described in the complaint, Mark Jones and Sue Morfitt (“New Orleans Defendants”), who owned and managed respectively the New Orleans Court apartments, and HUD employees Michele K. Smith and Lendine Darden (“HUD Defendants”). Peet alleges that Defendants violated federal law prohibiting housing discrimination based on the harassment and criminal investigation that he experienced while a tenant at the New Orleans Court Apartments and the subsequent termination of his lease. Peet contends that Defendants violated four federal statutes: (1) 42 U.S.C. § 3604, (2) 42 U.S.C.§ 3617, (3) 42 U.S.C. § 1981, and (4) 42 U.S.C. § 1982. He asks that the Court order that his “housing record and history report” be “clean[ed];” that HUD remove the criminal sexual conduct case from his housing file; and that he be awarded monetary damages to “fully compensate[e]” him for economic losses, and physical and emotional distress. Am. Compl., ¶ 2, p. 11.

         The City and HUD Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint in its entirety. The New Orleans Defendants moved to dismiss three of the four counts. Peet also filed a motion for summary judgment. This Court heard argument on each motion on November 1, 2018 and subsequently took them under advisement.

         II. MOTIONS TO DISMISS A. Legal Standard

         When considering a Rule 12(b)(1) motion, courts must distinguish between facial attacks and factual attacks on jurisdiction. Carlsen v. GameStop, Inc., 833 F.3d 903, 908 (8th Cir. 2016). “In a facial attack, ‘the court restricts itself to the face of the pleadings, and the non-moving party receives the same protections as it would defending against a motion brought under Rule 12(b)(6).'” Id. (quoting Osborn v. United States, 918 F.2d 724, 729 n. 6 (8th Cir. 1990)). “In a factual attack, the court considers matters outside the pleadings, and the non-moving party does not have the benefit of 12(b)(6) safeguards.” Id.

         In deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court accepts as true all well-pleaded factual allegations and then determines “whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 664 (2009). In doing so, the court must draw reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. Zink v. Lombardi, 783 F.3d 1089, 1098 (8th Cir. 2015) (citation omitted). “To 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.” Sletten & Brettin Orthodontics v. Cont'l Cas. Co., 782 F.3d 931, 934 (8th Cir. 2015) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). Facial plausibility of a claim exists “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Bell Atlantic Corp v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). Although a sufficient complaint need not be detailed, it must contain “[f]actual allegations . . . enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citation omitted). Complaints are insufficient if they contain “naked assertions devoid of further factual enhancement.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         In assessing a complaint by a pro se plaintiff, the court applies “less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (per curiam) (quoting Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976)). “If the essence of an allegation is discernible, ” then the court, in applying a liberal construction to pro se complaints, “should construe the complaint in a way that permits the layperson's claim to be considered within the proper legal framework.” Solomon v. Petray, 795 F.3d 777, 787 (8th Cir. 2015) (quoting Stone v. Harry, 364 F.3d 912, 914 (8th Cir. 2004)). Despite the liberal construal of such complaints, the pro se plaintiff “still must allege sufficient facts to support the claims advanced.” Stringer v. St. James R-1 Sch. Dist., 446 F.3d 799, 802 (8th Cir. 2006) (quoting Stone, 364 F.3d at 914). Thus, pro se litigants “must set a claim forth in a manner which, taking the pleaded facts as true, states a claim as a matter of law.” Id. (quoting Cunningham v. Ray, 648 F.2d 1185, 1186 (8th Cir. 1981)).

         In this case, Peet seeks relief under two provisions of the Fair Housing Act (“FHA”). See generally 42 U.S.C. §§ 3601-3619. As relevant here, the FHA prohibits any person from refusing to sell or rent or refusing to negotiate for the sale or rental of a dwelling to any person because of race or color. 42 U.S.C. § 3604. It also prohibits the interference with another person's rights under the FHA. 42 U.S.C. § 3617.

         Peet also seeks relief under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981 and 1982. Section 1981 provides that all “persons within the jurisdiction of the United States shall have the same right in every State and Territory to make and enforce contracts . . . and to the full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of persons and property.” 42 U.S.C. § 1981(a). Section 1982 also guarantees all persons the “same right, in every State ...

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