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Castro-Jacques v. Lang-Nelson Associates, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

August 1, 2019

Michael K. Castro-Jaques, Plaintiff,
v.
Lang-Nelson Associates, Inc., Broadway Village Investors, LLC, Summit/Broadway Limited Partnership d/b/a Broadway Village Apartments, and North Suburban Towing, Inc., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          Paul A. Magnuson United States District Judge

         This matter is before the Court on three Defendants' Motion to Dismiss the Second Amended Complaint.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Michael Castro-Jaques[1] instituted this action in Minnesota state court. He claims that his landlords, Defendants Broadway Village Investors, LLC and Summit/Broadway Limited Partnership, and the apartment complex's manager, Defendant Lang-Nelson Associates, Inc., violated the Fair Housing Act, the Minnesota Human Rights Act, common law, and other state statutes by towing his car and scrapping it when he did not pay to recover it, and by keeping his security deposit without giving him the notice Minnesota law requires. Also named as a Defendant is North Suburban Towing (“NST”), the company that towed his car from the complex's parking lot.

         Castro-Jaques moved into an apartment in the Broadway Village Apartments complex in Bloomington in 2015. (2d Am. Compl. ¶ 9.) In September 2017, Castro-Jaques was diagnosed with hemochromatosis, a condition that prevented him from working or living alone, and indeed from even climbing the stairs to get to his apartment. (Id. ¶¶ 20-21.) He asked the apartment management office if he could terminate his lease early and provided a letter from his healthcare providers regarding his condition. He asked to be released from the 60-days' notice requirement and said that he could move out by the end of October. (Id. ¶¶ 22-24.) Castro-Jaques stopped living at the apartment but paid rent through the end of October and kept his car in the apartment's parking lot.

         In late October, Castro-Jaques received notice from North Suburban Towing that his car had been towed and that he had to pay $176 to get the car back. (Id. ¶ 27.) He called the towing company who claimed that the landlord had requested that the car be towed. (Id. ¶ 30.) According to Castro-Jaques, the apartment manager offered to pay to recover the vehicle, but then refused to do so when the charges were more than he expected. (Id. ¶ 34.) Because Castro-Jaques was disabled and could not work, he could not pay to get his car out of the impound lot and the car was ultimately scrapped. (Id. ¶ 35.) He claims that he still owes more than $1, 500 to the towing company. (Id. ¶ 36.)

         Castro-Jaques also claims that the moving Defendants-Lang-Nelson, Broadway Village Investors, and Summit/Broadway-wrongfully withheld his security deposit after he moved out and did not give him notice of this as required by Minnesota law. The Second Amended Complaint contains nine counts. Count 1 claims civil conversion and Count II claims civil theft, both against NST and Defendant Lang-Nelson. Counts III, IV, and V claim disability discrimination and retaliation under the Minnesota Human Rights Act (“MHRA”) against the moving Defendants. Count VI is a claim under Minn. Stat. § 570B.178 for wrongful refusal to return security deposit, also against the moving Defendants. Counts VII and VIII claim violations of the Fair Housing Act (“FHA”) against the moving Defendants, and Count IX is an unlawful-towing claim against NST.

         Defendants seek to Dismiss Castro-Jaques's Second Amended Complaint, arguing that he improperly served several Defendants and as a result, his MHRA claims are untimely, and also that several other claims fail to state claims on which relief can be granted. Castro-Jaques in turn contends that the Motion to Dismiss is untimely, as Defendants' first Motion to Dismiss was brought more than seven days after the Notice of Removal. Fed.R.Civ.P. 81(c)(2)(C). But even assuming that the first Motion to Dismiss was untimely, Castro-Jaques amended the Complaint and Defendants responded in the time the Court allowed. The instant Motion is not untimely.

         DISCUSSION

         To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint need only “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 Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)); see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). A claim bears facial plausibility when it allows the Court “to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. When evaluating a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court must accept plausible factual allegations as true. Gomez v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., 676 F.3d 655, 660 (8th Cir. 2012). But “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, ” are insufficient to support a claim. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

         A. Statute of Limitations

         The statute of limitations for MHRA claims is one year. Minn. Stat. § 363A.28, subd. 3. The Second Amended Complaint alleges that Castro-Jaques first received notice that his car had been towed in late October 2017; thus, the statute of limitations for MHRA claims arising out of the tow ran in late October 2018.

         Castro-Jaques emailed Defendants' counsel a copy of the summons and complaint on October 16, 2017, within the statute of limitations. However, the acknowledgment-of-service forms attached to the e-mail were old service forms. On November 5, 2018, defense counsel emailed Castro-Jaques and attached the current versions of the forms, asking that counsel redraft the acknowledgments of service and send them back. Castro-Jaques's attorney responded that acknowledgements were unnecessary as Defendants were served pursuant to Minnesota's rules for personal service. The parties hotly dispute the date the lawsuit can be deemed to have commenced for purposes of the MHRA statute of limitations.[2]

         Defendants point out that Minnesota courts warn litigants about filing lawsuits too close to the expiration of the statute of limitations, because under Minnesota law mailing is not service, and service by mail is not complete until the acknowledgments are executed and returned. Coons v. St. Paul Cos., 486 N.W.2d 771 (Minn.Ct.App. 1992). Moreover, because defendants have 30 days to return the acknowledgments and thus let the statute of limitations run before executing the acknowledgments, ‚Äúservice by mail ...


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